Civil War

Slavery and the South

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The practice of people owning other people is called slavery. Enslaved people have to work for the owners, doing whatever the owners ask them to do. In the past many societies had slavery. Now almost all societies consider slavery to be wrong. They consider personal freedom to be a basic human right.

Slaves picking cotton in the South

People became enslaved in many ways. Some became slaves after being captured in wars or raids. Others became slaves because they had committed crimes or could not pay their debts. Some people were sold into slavery by their relatives. Others were children of slaves.

Different societies had different rules for slavery. Many slaves of the Muslims, for example, had to be freed after six years. Slaves in the United States, however, stayed enslaved forever. They could not own any property. Their marriages were not legal, and their families could be broken up at any time.

Slaves got no pay, had no choice of jobs, and were not allowed to quit. Other kinds of workers had limits on their freedom but were still freer than slaves. Serfs were farm workers who were legally tied to the land on which they worked. They received no pay and were not free to move away, but they could not be bought or sold like slaves. Indentured servants were people who agreed to work for a master for a certain period of time. People became indentured servants to pay their debts.

Slaves did a variety of jobs. Most slaves worked on farms. Many did cooking, cleaning, child care, and other household services for the families that owned them. Others worked to make money for their owners. Some slaves worked in mines.

Early Slavery

Slavery existed throughout the ancient world. It was practiced in China before 1200 BCE. There were laws about slaves in the Middle East from about 1750 BCE and in India from about 100 BCE.

In Athens, a city of ancient Greece, about one third of the people were slaves. In ancient Rome slaves worked on farms, rowed warships, did construction work, or copied out books. In the later days of the Roman Empire slaves on farms eventually became serfs.

In the early Middle Ages, after about 500 CE, Europeans took many Slavs (a people of eastern Europe) as slaves. The word slave comes from Slav. Serfs slowly replaced slaves in all of Europe. There were serfs in parts of Europe into the 1800s.

Carving of a slave auction in ancient Egypt

Leaders and Generals You Should Know

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Listed below are some of the more important/infamous leaders of the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was born on 12 February 1809 on a farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky. His parents were Thomas and Nancy Lincoln. They had 3 children, Sarah, Abraham and Thomas. However Thomas died in infancy. When Abraham was 7 his father moved to southwestern Indiana. However his mother died in 1818. Before the end of the year his father married a widow named Sarah Bush Johnston who had 3 children of her own. Abraham had little schooling but he did learn to read and write and he was an avid reader.

In 1830 his father moved the family to Illinois. In 1831 Abraham settled in New Salem and he tried a variety of jobs. He became a storekeeper but the business failed. He became a postmaster then a surveyor. In 1834 he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. He studied the law to become a lawyer and he began to practice in 1836. He was also re-elected in 1836 and again in 1838 and 1840. Meanwhile he moved to Springfield in 1837. In 1842 he married a woman named Mary Todd. The couple had 4 sons.

Lincoln was a successful lawyer and in 1847-1849 he served in the US House of Representatives. In 1856 Lincoln became a Republican. In 1858 he stood for election as a senator but lost to a man named Stephen Douglas. Nevertheless in 1860 Lincoln became the Republican nomination for president. He duly won the presidential election in November 1860. In the months after the election some southern states ceded from the union. Civil war began shortly afterwards.

Weird Stories of the Civil War

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William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant are now known as the heroes who won the war for the sake of the Union. Sherman’s March to the Sea is regarded as the deathblow to the Confederacy, and Grant’s overall command of the Union forces would ultimately lead to the war to a decisive finish. However, neither were particularly liked or trusted going into the conflict. Grant was known to be a heavy drinker, and his early career was plagued with issues of drunkenness on off days, when he had little to do between fights. Sherman was even less liked.

In October 1861, Sherman, then commander of Union forces in Kentucky, told U.S. Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, he needed 60,000 men to defend his territory and 200,000 to go on the offensive (the Union army at this time across the country was less than 200,000 total). Cameron called Sherman’s request ‘insane’ and removed the general from command.

In a letter to his brother, a devastated Sherman wrote, “I do think I should have committed suicide were it not for my children. I do not think that I can again be trusted with command.” But in February 1862, Sherman was reassigned to Ulysses S. Grant, who saw not insanity but competence in the disgraced leader. Later in the war, when a civilian badmouthed Grant, Sherman defended his friend, saying, “General Grant is a great general. He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always.”

Gen. Sherman and Gen. Grant

A Wound with the Angel's Glow

In the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, soldiers began to report a strange phenomenon: glow-in-the-dark wounds. More than 16,000 soldiers from both armies were wounded during the battle, and neither Union or Confederate medical personnel were prepared for the carnage. Wounded soldiers laid in the mud for two days, in the midst of a rainstorm.

Many of them noticed that their wounds glowed in the dark. In fact, the injured whose wounds glowed seemed to heal better than the others. In 2001, two Maryland teenagers solved the mystery (and won a top prize at an international science fair). The wounded became hypothermic [when your body temperature drops to an unsafe temperature], and their lowered body temperatures made ideal conditions for a bioluminescent bacteria called Photorhabdus luminescens, which also stops dangerous bacteria from breeding and multiplying. They were saved by something soldiers later termed…the Angel’s Glow.

Civil War weaponry were poorly assembled and unreliable. Soldier’s rifles were cumbersome, and were very slow to reload. What’s worse, the soldiers had to meticulously [carefully attentive to every small detail] maintain and clean the barrels and keep mud and dust clear of the firing chamber as much as possible. Misfires and injuries often occurred, and sometimes in the heat of battle soldiers would forget they had loaded a cartridge into the barrel, and thus doubled up by inserting a second bullet into the already-jammed weapon. Men would often not even know that their weapons weren’t firing and would repeat the process numerous times.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, the discarded rifles on the battlefield were collected and sent to Washington, D.C. to be inspected and reissued. Of the 37,574 rifles recovered, approximately 24,000 were still loaded; 6,000 had one round in the barrel; 12,000 had two rounds in the barrel; 6,000 had three to ten rounds in the barrel. One rifle, the most remarkable of all, had been stuffed to the top with 23 rounds in the barrel!

An 1860 Civil War Army Revolver

Maj. Gen. Rutherford B. Hayes

Seven future U.S. Presidents served in the Civil War:

Ulysses S. Grant

Rutherford B. Hayes

William McKinley

James Garfield

Benjamin Harrison

Chester A. Arthur

Andrew Johnson

General James Garfield

The youngest soldier in the Civil War was a 9-year-old boy from Mississippi. The oldest was an 80-year-old from Iowa. More than 10,000 soldiers serving in the Union Army were under 18-years-old.

An estimated 800 wounded men burned to death at the Battle of the Wilderness because they were unable to crawl away from advancing brush fires set by firing weapons.

If the names of the Civil War dead were organized similar to the names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Civil War memorial would be over 10 times longer.

Nearly 3,000 people died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. About the same number of men died in the first 15 minutes at Grant’s assault at Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864.

From 1861 to 1865, the number of orphans in the U.S. more than doubled.

The average Civil War soldier was 5-foot 8-inches tall, weighed 143 pounds and was 23 years old.

Horses and other draft animals had about a 7-month life expectancy during the Civil War. As many as 300,000 horses died. More than 3,000 horses were killed at Gettysburg alone.

Most Civil War soldiers marched 15 to 20 miles a day.

After the Southern states seceded, both the United States and the Confederacy created the first ever national income tax. Ever since the Civil War, Americans have always known of the Internal Revenue Service–the IRS.

Susie King Taylor, a runaway slave from Georgia and Civil War nurse, was one of the first African American nurses in United States history. She also taught soldiers to read and write.

On average, of every 100 deaths on the battlefield, five soldiers died from limb wounds, 12 from punctures to the lower abdomen [stomach area], 15 from damage to the heart or liver, and more than 50 from cuts to the head or neck.

In 2008, the body of a Union soldier was discovered within the Antietam National Battlefield. His remains were laid to rest in the regimental home of New York State.

Nearly one-third of the Union Army soldiers were immigrants (7.5% were Irish; 10% were German). Other immigrant soldiers were French, Italian, Polish, English, and Scottish. Approximately 1 in 10 were African American.

The Gatling gun was a Civil War invention. Richard Gatling [of Indiana] hoped his rapid-fire gun (very similar to today’s machine guns) would help the Union win. It, unfortunately, came too late in the war to make any measurable difference.

The Civil War lasted 48 months. The 13th Amendment–which outlawed slavery–has 48 words.

Resource Used:

Battle of antietam facts & summary. (2020, December 15). Retrieved March 11, 2021, from

Photograph Resource Used:

Davis, W. C. (1989). Rebels and Yankees: Fighting Men of the Civil War. Sunflower Bks (Gallery).

What Civil War Soldiers Ate

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Rations-fixed daily supplies, as of food to an army; restricted provisions.
Civil War Soldier Food

Every soldier knows food is important to an army. Rations, the amount of food authorized for one soldier per day, keep an army moving. The quality of food, as well as the quantity, affects soldiers’ moods.

During the Civil War, the Union Army had two types of rations: “marching rations” and “camp rations.” Marching rations consisted of 16 ounces of hard bread, also known as ‘hardtack;’ 12 ounces of salt pork or 20 ounces of fresh meat, sugar, tea or coffee, and salt. Two or three pieces of hardtack, about 3 inches square each, fulfilled the daily ration for hard bread. Camp rations could substitute soft bread, flour, or cornmeal for hardtack, and included extras such as dried beans or peas, rice, vinegar, and molasses [a type of very sticky sweet substance], along with an amount of soap and candles. The ration was designed to fill a soldier’s stomach, not to provide energy to march or fight.

At the beginning of the war, soldiers had to cook their rations themselves. This took time, and the quality of meals depended on the cooking skills of the individual. Enlisted men would often cook with their friends, sharing the work and the food. As the war progressed company cooks were added that resulted in better food and higher morale [the amount of confidence and cheerfulness that a group of people have]. Officers did not receive rations when they were in camp; they received a money allowance to purchase food and supplies from the commissary [a military store for soldiers only] and could hire a civilian to cook their meals.

Two pieces of hardtack on a soldier's plate
This is a regiment's cook and a place for soldiers to eat

To add some variety to their food supply, soldiers would request favorite foods from home. They also received gifts of food from aid societies and could purchase food from sutlers [traveling stores that followed the army] in camp. However, the prices were often higher than they were at home..

When soldiers were on the march, the army’s supply lines stretched out and were vulnerable to attack. So, officers could send soldiers to forage for food and other supplies from Confederate citizens. This foraging happened often even though it was not “officially” allowed by Union army command.

The southern soldier’s diet was considerably different from his northern counterpart and usually in much less quantity. The average Confederate subsisted on bacon, cornmeal, molasses, peas, tobacco, vegetables and rice. They also received a coffee substitute which was not as desirable as the real coffee northerners had. Trades of tobacco for coffee were quite common throughout the war when fighting was not underway.

Resource Used:

Battle of antietam facts & summary. (2020, December 15). Retrieved March 11, 2021, from

Photograph Resource Used:

Civil war – about this collection. (2000, January 1).

How the Civil War has Changed Your Life

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8 Ways the Civil War Changed Your Life

Ambulances and hospitals

The Civil War began during a time when Medieval medicine was still being used. Each side entered the war with small squads of physicians mostly trained by textbooks (if trained at all). Four years later, armies of field-tested doctors, well-educated in anatomy, anesthesia and surgical practice, were now back in civilian communities ready to make great medical leaps in procedures and medical technology.


The nation’s first ambulance corps, organized to rush wounded soldiers to battlefront hospitals and using wagons developed and deployed for that purpose, was created during the Civil War. The idea was to collect wounded soldiers from the field, take them to a dressing station (kind of like today’s emergency room) and then transport them to the field hospital.

Before the Civil War, most people received health care at home. After the war, hospitals adapted from the battlefield model were being built all over the United States. The ambulance and nurses’ corps became fixtures, with the Civil War’s most famous nurse, Clara Barton, going on to establish the American Red Cross. Today’s modern hospital is a direct descendant of these first medical centers.

A National Paper Currency

In 1862 a national paper currency was enacted that would pay for the rapidly expanding government and at the same time drive commerce [the buying and selling of goods especially on a large scale and between different places] from coast to coast. The same year, with the Union’s expenses rising, the government had no way to continue paying for the war. The U.S. Treasury was nearly empty [of gold and silver] and Salmon P. Chase, Treasury Secretary, brought the solution-treasury notes printed on the best banking paper [with Mr. Chase’s picture]. They were mostly printed with a green color and became known as “greenbacks.”

Memorial Day

Ever wonder why we display flags and memorialize fallen soldiers just as summer begins? Flowers, that’s why!

The first memorial days were group events organized in 1865 in both the North and South, by black and white, just a month after the war ended. Quickly evolving into an annual tradition, these “decoration days” were usually set for early summer, when most flowers would be available to lay on gravestones of fallen Civil War soldiers.

Decoration days helped the torn nation heal from its wounds. People told-and retold-their war stories, honored the memory of local heroes, and reconciled with former enemies.

After World War I, communities expanded the holiday to honor all who have died in military service, although the official national observance didn’t begin until 1971.

Technology and Communication

President Abraham Lincoln was a techie!

He was fascinated with the idea of applying new technology to war: In 1861, for example, after being impressed by a demonstration of ideas of balloon surveillance, he established the Balloon Corps, which would float hot-air balloons over enemy camps and spy on them.

President Lincoln also encouraged the development of rapid-fire weapons to modernize combat. In 1862 Lincoln personally tested the new Gatling Gun (picture on the left) on the side lawn of the White House. The Gatling Gun had been develop by Dr. Richard Gatling of Indianapolis, Indiana. It was an early version of a machine gun that had a crank-handle and several barrels that revolved and reload themselves to fire bullets rapidly.

But above all this, President Lincoln loved the telegram. Invented just a few decades earlier than the Civil War, the telegraph system had reached coast-to-coast in 1844.

It is recorded that the White House did not have a telegraph system installed so twice daily President Lincoln walked to the telegraph office of the War Department (on the site of today’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building, just west of the White House Click Here) to receive updates and to send orders to his generals on the front lines.

We Usually Identify Ourselves as Democrats or Republicans

Before 1854, you might have been a Whig, or a Free Soiler. But that year the Republican Party was founded by anti-slavery activists and refugees from other political parties to fight the iron grip of powerful southern Democrats.


As the name of their party suggests, these activists believed that the republic’s interests should take priority over the states’ interests. In the years before the war, many northern Democrats joined the new Republican party-and in 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican president-while southern Democrats led the march to secession.

The Beginning of War News Reporting

The Civil War was the first war in which people at home could learn about battles before the battles themselves were over. Eyewitness  accounts by reporters and soldiers were relayed via telegraph to the country’s 2,500 newspapers, printed almost immediately and quickly read by citizens desperate to know how their boys were doing. The Civil War created a tradition of intimate war reporting that still with us today.

Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

Within 5 years of the end of the Civil War these 3 amendments to the U.S. Constitution were added:


  1. 13th Amendment (1865): Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction…
  2. 14th Amendment (1868): All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside…
  3. 15th Amendment (1870): The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude [slavery]…


Before the Civil War, the concept of liberty and justice for all meant little unless you were white and male. Going beyond the abolition of slavery, the 14th and 15th amendments were the first extensions of citizenship and voting rights to minority groups.

We are all Americans

Before 1861, the residents of the United States looked upon themselves as a collection of loosely tied states. It took the Civil War to bring all citizens together to think of themselves as Americans.


After the massive losses of life at the Battle of Gettysburg, a national cemetery was dedicated and President Lincoln delivered one of greatest speeches in human history. It was known thereafter as the Gettysburg Address. As a memorial speech for the dead of Gettysburg Lincoln said, “That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


The effect of Lincoln’s speech, just 272 words, was radical and immediate. People began thinking of themselves as a single unit with a single goal. Because of Lincoln’s speech, and the people’s response to it, we live in a different America.

Health and Medicine During the Civil War

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The Statistics of the War
Union Soldiers
Of every 1,000 soldiers, 112 were wounded
Soldier had 1 in 8 chance of dying from illness
Soldier had 1 in 18 chance of dying in battle
360,000 soldiers died-110,000 in battle and 250,000 from disease
Confederate Soldiers
Of every 1,000 soldiers, 150 were wounded
Soldier had 1 in 5 chance of dying from illness
Soldier had 1 in 8 chance of dying in battle
258,000 soldiers died-94,000 in battle and 164,000 of disease
56,000 soldiers died in prison camps-9% of all deaths

In 1865, when the Civil War was over, 620,000 soldiers had died. At this time that number was 2% of the United States population.

In 2021, if we lost 2% of the United States population, the number of dead would be 6,140,000!

6,140,000 is twice the population of Chicago.

Disease: The Number One Killer
1 in 4 soldiers who enlisted in the army died
67% of all soldiers who died did so because of disease
Dysentery: 95,000 deaths | 287,000 cases
Typhoid Fever: 29,000 deaths | 79,000 cases
Lung Inflammation: 20,000 deaths | 77,000 cases
Childhood Diseases (diphtheria, measles, scarlet fever, mumps): 7,000 deaths | 200,000 cases
Causes of Disease during the Civil War

Unfortunately doctors and nurses during the Civil War just did not know that hygiene [the practice of keeping clean to stay healthy and prevent disease] was important for health. Most of the medical people cared for the sick and dying and often risked their own lives in do so, they just did not know any better at that time in history.

The reason diseases killed so many soldiers during the Civil War was the lack of basic sanitary and hygiene practices. For example, surgeons would not clean their equipment between patients often leaving the blood from the previous patient on their tools when moving on to the next patient.

Doctors at that time had no knowledge of cross contamination, which is the passage of microorganisms that can cause disease from one object to another. Medical tools, doctors, and nurses’ hands were usually not cleaned between the treatments of different patients.

The drinking of contaminated water led to the spread of waterborne diseases and was a major problem at Civil War camps. Contaminated water can cause numerous diseases including dysentery and typhoid fever; two big killers of Civil War soldiers. Often water sources for army camps were dirty and filled with all kinds of bacteria. Quite often little thought was given to the location of the camps latrine [a toilet for use by many, with or without plumbing, as in a camp or a military barracks or bivouac] which may have been upstream from where soldiers got water for their canteens.

Army hospitals, especially at the beginning of the war, were overcrowded and poorly ventilated; conditions which allowed airborne diseases to spread rapidly. Patients would sneeze and cough into the air releasing small droplets filled with viruses or bacteria into the air; other patients who inhaled these water droplets could get tuberculosis or other infectious diseases. As the war progressed hospitals with better ventilation were constructed, especially in the North.

Army camps were almost always overcrowded (sometimes 3-6 soldiers would share one dog tent) and airborne diseases would spread quickly among the soldiers.

A Civil War Dog Tent

Early Civil War Hospital

Early photograph showing the crowded conditions in a hospital

“I had charge of a burial squad the next day and put 728 men in one grave. The trench was 6 ½ feet wide and 500 feet long and we put the men three deep. They had all been killed on less than ten acres of ground, and you could almost walk over the field on dead men. But Sherman flanked us out of this position as he had been doing all spring.”
-Captain James Madison Hudson

Did You Know?

More than 1.5 million horses and mules were killed during the Civil War.

Did You Know?

During the Battle of Gettysburg between 4,000 and 5,000 horses and mules died.

Did You Know?

Union Major General Phil Sheridan had a big and black horse named Rienzi that he rode while involved in the Civil War. Rienzi and Sheridan were together for the last 3 years of the war, through 45 battles, two cavalry raids, and 19 smaller battles. Rienzi was wounded several times, but recovered.

Did You Know?

Prior to 1861 there were approximately 3.4 million horses in the Northern states, 1.7 million in the Confederate states, and about 800,000 in the border states of Missouri and Kentucky.

Main Diseases of the Civil War
Dysentery was the worst disease of the Civil War, and the overall main killer of soldiers during the war. This disease, called ``the quickstep`` by soldiers, involved inflammation of the intestines causing stomach pain and diarrhea containing blood, and may also involve a fever.
The disease is caused by eating or drinking food or water that has been contaminated with the feces of a person with the disease. People infected with this disease get fevers, headaches, constipation, chills, and some people develop a skin rash. If you contracted this disease during the Civil War you had a 1 out of 3 chance of dying.
The third most deadly disease during the American Civil War was pneumonia. Pneumonia, which is a lung inflammation caused by a bacterial or viral infection, killed over 35,000 soldiers during the war. This disease causes coughing, chills, fever, and makes breathing extremely difficult.
Measles, also known as rubeola, killed many soldiers during the war. Measles is a very contagious (able to be passed from one individual to another through contact) disease that is spread through the air from the coughing and sneezing of infected people. The virus can survive for several hours on objects it lands on.
Malaria is an infectious disease spread by mosquitos. The symptoms of this disease can include fever, vomiting, fatigue, and headaches. In severe cases it can cause death. It is estimated around 30,000 soldiers died from this disease. This number would have been much worse had it not been for quinine, a medicine used to prevent and treat Malaria.
Tuberculosis (or 'TB') is a dangerous infectious disease that affects human lungs. Tuberculosis is spread from one person to another through the air via coughs and sneezes. It is estimated that 14,000 soldiers died from TB during the Civil War. During the era of the Civil War Tuberculosis was known by the name, 'Consumption.'
Amputations During the Civil War
A Minnie ball after it struck something

Over the course of the Civil War, an estimated 476,000 soldiers were wounded by bullets, artillery shrapnel (small metal pieces that scatter outwards from an exploding bomb or shell), or swords and bayonets. The most common wounds suffered by Civil War soldiers were from the bullets fired by muskets. The typical bullet used was called a Minnie ball, a conical bullet with hollowed groves (see picture at left). Weighing 1.5 ounces the large bullets traveled very slowly after being fired (unlike today’s bullets). When the bullet struck a human, the Minnie ball caused considerable damage, often flattening upon impact. These bullets splintered bones, damaged muscle, and drove dirt, clothing, and other debris into the wounds. As a result of the immense damage inflicted by Minnie balls, amputations were common during the Civil War.

An amputation is a surgical procedure that removes a piece of the body because of trauma or infection. Over the course of the Civil War, three out of four surgeries (or approximately 60,000 operations) were amputations. This number of amputations earned surgeons throughout the armies a reputation of being “butchers” when, in fact, amputations were one of the quickest, most effective ways for surgeons (in the Civil War) to treat as many patients as possible in a short amount of time. The medical director of the Union Army, Dr. Jonathan Letterman, was well aware of the criticisms of surgeons in the field and wrote in his report after the Battle of Antietam:

The surgery of these battlefields has been pronounced butchery. Gross misrepresentations of the conduct of medical officers have been made and scattered broadcast over the country, causing deep and heart-rending anxiety to those who had friends or relatives in the army, who might at any moment require the services of a surgeon. It is not to be supposed that there were no incompetent surgeons in the army. It is certainly true that there were; but these sweeping attacks against a class of men who will favorably compare with the military surgeons of any country, because of the incompetency and short-comings of a few, are wrong, and do injustice to a body of men who have labored faithfully and well.

There were several types of wounds that required an amputation according to medical military manuals, including “…when an entire limb is carried off by a cannon-ball leaving a ragged stump; also if the principle vessels and nerves are extensively torn even without injury to the bone; or if the soft parts (muscles) are much lacerated; or in cases of extensive destruction of the skin.” However, when amputation was necessary, the limb was not simply ‘chopped off’ as commonly believed. The procedure was practical, and like most surgical procedures over the course of the war, were conducted with patients under anesthesia (is a substance that stops pain. It makes people either stop hurting, or go completely to sleep during surgery) in the form of either chloroform or ether.

Before undergoing an amputation, a tourniquet (pronounced: tur·nuh·kut) was tightened around the limb in order to reduce bleeding when the damaged limb was removed. The surgeon began with either a circular or flap amputation procedure. A circular amputation cut through the skin, muscle, and bone all at the same point on the limb creating an open wound at the stump that healed on its own. It proved the simplest and fastest method of amputation, but it took longer for the limb to heal. The flap method used skin from the amputation limb to cover the stump, closing the wound. This surgery took longer but healed faster and was less prone to infection. Whenever possible surgeons opted for the flap method.

The chances of survival for an amputation depended on where the amputation was performed and how fast medical treatment was administered after the wounding. Many amputations over the Civil War occurred at the fingers, wrist, thigh, lower leg, or upper arm. The closer the amputation was to the chest and torso, the lower the chances were of survival as the result of blood loss or other complications. Many surgeons preferred to perform primary amputations, which were completed within 48 hours of the injury. They had a higher chance of survival rather than intermediary amputations which took place between 3 and 30 days. Poor nutrition, blood loss, and infection all contributed to the lower survival rates of intermediary amputations after 48 hours.

An illustration from a Civil War medical textbook showing how to perform an arm amputation


This is a Civil War-era tourniquet
Walt Whitman
Uncovering a limb-pit where amputated limbs were buried. This is at the Manassas Battlefield.

After completing numerous amputations after a battle, medical personnel were left with another problem-what to do with the piles of discarded limbs. The sight of a pile of amputated limbs frightened many, contributing to the soldiers’ views that surgeons were more butchers than actual doctors.

After the Battle of Fredericksburg, the poet Walt Whitman [click here] described the scene at a Union hospital at Chatham, near Fredericksburg, Virginia:

…it was used as a hospital since the battle, and seems to have received only the worst cases. Outdoors, at the foot of a tree, within 10 yards of the front of the house, I noticed a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, etc…about a load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near, each covered with its own brown woolen blanket. In the doorway, toward the river, are fresh graves, mostly of officers, their names on pieces of scrap wood or broken boards, stuck in the dirt.

What were surgeons to do with these amputated limbs? Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer for little was written about the subject since it was a shocking and sickening sight. From research it appears that many amputated limbs were buried in mass graves or less likely burned.

Soldiers After the War

For soldiers who survived amputations, mental and physical struggles followed them home. In the 1800s, one of the many signs of manhood was the ability to support one’s family. Having a disability meant that once handicap soldiers returned home they were no longer the prominent member of their families, but instead had to rely on others. In the 1800s, men who were not the primary supporters of their household were looked upon unfavorably by society, and many handicap soldiers were seen as a curse on society. In fact, the slang term ‘invalid’ in the 1800s meant a person wasn’t considered a valid member of society. Once handicap soldiers returned home most of them struggled with depression, shamefulness, and finding a meaningful role in society again. This created a mounting need for pensions [an amount of money paid to soldiers from the U.S. government] and prosthetics [‘Pro-sted-dics] a device made to replace a missing human body part] for wounded soldiers.

A Civil War era artificial leg
A Civil War era artificial arm

A federal pension system was created in 1862 to assist wounded Union veterans. However, the system to apply for a pension was very black and white: either a veteran had the physical ability to work, or they did not. According to the United States Pension Office, disability was defined as the inability to perform manual labor meaning that in order to get what many soldiers believed was a fair payment, they had to swear that they could no longer work at all. For many veterans, this was a huge step to take because it took away their manliness because they had to rely on the government for money to live and support their families. If a disabled soldier decided to apply for a pension, the amount they received on a monthly basis depended on their rank and the severity of their injury.

For example, a disabled private received just $8 per month (about $205 a month in 2020) from the first pension system. Dependents, such as widows and children, of soldiers who were killed on duty, were also eligible. Because of the negative views of the 1800s around receiving a pension (or government aid), many veterans did all they could to try and prove that they were able to work.

Many veterans wanted to continue to work after recovering from their wartime injuries, but as a disabled veteran, they were often discriminated against [discrimination is unfair treatment of one particular person or group of people] for it was often assumed they could not perform a job as well as an able-bodied employee. As a result, some veterans went to extreme lengths to prove they could work, including learning to write with their left hands for clerical work, as well as relying on prosthetics. Prior to the Civil War, there were few choices for artificial limbs for soldiers that needed them. The limbs that were available  were uncomfortable and not really functional. As early as 1861, amputees began developing their own improved prosthetics allowing for greater movement and allowing them to reenter their communities. One of the first soldiers to undergo an amputation during the Civil War was Private James Hanger of Churchville, Virginia, who lost his leg during the Battle of Philippi on June 3, 1861.

Over the course of the war, he began distributing his new “Hanger Limb” to other soldiers in need and after the war ended, he began his own company-the J.E. Hanger Company. Today, Hanger Incorporated is one of the leading artificial limb companies today. Check out

J.E. Hanger, maker of artificial limbs. The company is still in business.

The Civil War created thousands of ‘maimed men’ who returned home with empty sleeves and had to readjust to life without limbs that many take for granted. These men not only had to deal with uncomfortable and painful prosthetics, they also had to come to terms with how they were treated by their family and local community. Like many aspects of Civil War medicine, because there were so many cases of amputations, the procedures, recovery methods, quality of prosthetics, and an increased awareness for mental health were all to develop and mature into the modern medicine that many of us take for granted today.

Resources Used:

Paige Gibbons Backus, “Amputations and the Civil War,” March 25, 2021,

Groeling, Meg. The Aftermath of Battle: the Burial of the Civil War Dead. El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2015.

Indiana and the Civil War

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Many Hoosiers were glad that the Indiana Constitution of 1816 prohibited slavery within the state. However, most white Hoosiers felt blacks, slave or free, were inferior to whites. Indiana laws prohibited free black women and men from voting, to give testimony in a trial that involved whites, or to marry anyone white.

One problem with race in Indiana prior to the Civil War was deciding who was actually black. In 1840 the Indiana legislature officially defined an African American by the one-eighth rule. This rule stated that if a person had one black great-grandparent and seven white great-grandparents, then that person was officially considered to be black.

One of the most strict rules was placed in the 1851 Indiana Constitution. Article XIII stated that “No negro or mulatto [a person of mixed white and black ancestry, especially a person with one white and one black parent] shall come into or settle in the State.” Most Hoosiers wanted Indiana’s borders to be completely shut except for new white settlers. However, there were some Hoosiers who spoke out against Article XIII. South Bend newspaper editor (and future Vice President) Schuyler Colfax, said that in the future Hoosiers would “burn with shame” at the exclusion of black settlement within Indiana. He argued that there should be “equal and exact justice, regardless of creed, race, or color.”

Schuyler Colfax

Colfax was a South Bend newspaper editor and future Vice President who spoke out against Indiana's Article XIII

Indiana's 1816 Constitution

The Constitution of 1816 prohibited slavery within the borders of Indiana.

Read the 1816 Indiana Constitution
The Civil War Comes to Indiana

19th Indiana Infantry Volunteer Regiment

An image of the 19th Indiana that was a part of the Iron Brigade.

Recruitment Advertisement

This advertisement for German-only enlistment appeared in the Madison, Indiana newspaper. These volunteers formed the all-German 32nd Indiana Infantry.

When the Civil War began, and President Lincoln called for volunteers for military service Indiana responded. Indiana sent a higher percentage of soldiers from the state’s population than any other Union state. Hoosier military regiments fought in all major Civil War battles.

One of the most decorated Indiana regiments during the Civil War was the 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was part of a unit that was known as the Iron Brigade [read more].

Most of the volunteers for the Union Army were young and single. Many served alongside neighbors and friends. Some regiments were made up of a specific ethnic group. The 32nd Indiana Infantry Volunteer Regiment was comprised of German Americans. Most soldiers were homesick and grumbled about army life (and the food). Back home in Indiana women replaced men when working the farm and many Hoosier women formed aid societies to help supply the Union Army with needed supplies-like socks. Many women volunteered as nurses to aid and help injured soldiers.

Most Hoosiers, as well as most Americans, thought the conflict would end quickly, they were mistaken. The war turned out to be long and bloody. More than 25,000 Hoosier soldiers died from disease and/or wounds. One Owen County, Indiana, family had six men in uniform…four did not come home.1

An Indiana Threat

Not surprisingly, the Civil War brought the worst out of people involved in politics. Indiana’s wartime governor was Oliver P. Morton who was supportive of President Lincoln’s harsh stand against the Confederacy. Governor Morton saw the secession of southern states as treason to the United States. However, many Hoosiers still had ties to people in the southern states…because many eventual Indiana settlers came from the South. Some Indiana Democrats thought Governor Morton was a tyrannical dictator who had imposed unfair wartime rules and gave away Hoosier money to Union causes.

There were two specific issues Indiana Democrats had against Governor Morton. One was the Indiana draft. As the war dragged on, less and less Hoosier men volunteered, so Governor Morton instituted a draft that forced men into the Union Army. Many Hoosiers saw this as an undemocratic overreach by the governor. In several towns (not only in Indiana) there were draft riots that resulted in destroyed property and brought about several deaths.

The second issue that many Indiana Democrats had issue with was the Emancipation Proclamation. Governor Morton argued that emancipation was necessary to cripple the Confederacy and bring a quick peace. Democrats argued that the emancipation of southern slaves was unconstitutional and a direct threat to white supremacy. What made them even angrier was that Morton and Lincoln were putting black men into Union uniforms.

Deep divisions developed among Hoosiers. On July 4th there were communities that celebrated American independence in separate groups-one for pro-war Republicans and another for anti-war Democrats. The most hostile opposition came from Copperheads, the Republican nickname for an outspoken group of anti-war Democrats. Republicans likened them to snakes in the grass, who, in opposing the war effort, would aid the Confederacy.2

Copperhead Political Cartoon

Political cartoon showing Lady Liberty fighting off snakes (copperheads) of southern sympathizers.

Oliver P. Morton

Indiana's Civil War Governor and close friend of President Lincoln

General John Hunt Morgan

John Hunt Morgan – known as the ‘Thunderbolt of the Confederacy’ and remembered as the ideal of the romantic Southern cavalryman -- was born June 1, 1825 in Huntsville, Alabama, but is thoroughly identified with his mother’s home state of Kentucky. Morgan moved to the Bluegrass State as a boy and briefly attended Transylvania College in Lexington before he was expelled for bad behavior.

During the secession crisis, Morgan did not share the hesitation of his state and immediately threw in his lot with the new Southern Confederacy and led his ‘Lexington Rifles’ to Bowling Green to join forces with Gen. Buckner. Morgan was made colonel in April 1862 and took part in the Battle of Shiloh before being attached to Joseph Wheeler’s division in Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Morgan was far from ‘attached,’ however. That summer, Morgan began to lead the kind of swift, daring raids that characterized Confederate cavalry leaders during the war.

On July 4, 1862, Morgan set out on a thousand-mile ride through Kentucky – destroying railroad and telegraph lines, seizing supplies, taking prisoners and generally wreaking havoc in the Union rear. His raid made national headlines and helped cement the fearsome reputation of the Southern cavalryman. Morgan led equally successful endeavors in October and December, which eventually forced some 20,000 Union troops to be detached from the front to guard communication and supply lines.

The following year, in July 1863, as the Confederacy was reeling from the dual losses of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, Morgan began his most ambitious raid of the war. Against Bragg’s explicit orders, Morgan and 2,400 men crossed the Ohio and rode over one thousand miles along the north bank of the Ohio River. For three weeks Morgan terrorized the local defenses of southern Indiana and Ohio before he was captured at Salineville by Union cavalry under Gen. Edward H. Hobson and sent to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus. Incredibly, on November 26, 1863, Morgan escaped from prison and made his way back into Confederate lines.

While bivouacked in Greeneville, Tennessee on September 3, 1864, Morgan was caught in a surprise attack and shot and killed by a Union private who had once served under him.

Morgan is often included amongst John S. Mosby, Jeb Stuart and Nathan Bedford Forrest in ‘Lost Cause’ memory as an example of the superior fighting qualities of the Southern cavalryman. He is buried in Lexington.3

The role Indiana had in the Civil War was complex and sometimes troubling. Many Union states considered Indiana as the most southern of northern states. Hoosiers supported the United States but were deeply divided over the war policies of Governor Morton and President Lincoln. Even though most Indiana citizens regarded blacks as inferior, many still supported the ending of slavery.

Resource Used:

1Madison, J. H., Sandweiss, L. A., & Hedeen, J. (2014). Hoosiers and the American story. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Historical Society Press.

2Madison, J. H., Sandweiss, L. A., & Hedeen, J. (2014). Hoosiers and the American story. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Historical Society Press.

3John Hunt Morgan. (2018, October 16). Retrieved March 25, 2021, from

Blacks in the Civil War

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Black people from both the North and the South participated in the Civil War in a variety of ways. Free blacks from the North tried to join the fight as soldiers from the earliest days of the conflict. These men not only wanted to help free the slaves in the South, but also felt that they could improve their chances of gaining equal rights in American society by proving their patriotism and courage on the battlefield. But prejudice (unfair treatment because of their race) prevented blacks from enlisting in the Union Army until late 1862. It also created racial conflicts with working-class white in many Northern cities during the war years.

In the South, black slaves performed much of the heavy work that was required to prepare the Confederacy for war. They built forts, dug trenches, hauled artillery and supplies, set up army camps, and acted as cooks and servants for Confederate soldiers. Some free blacks in the South even fought for the Confederacy in the early years of the Civil War. However, after President Abraham Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in 1863, Southern blacks increasingly realized what a Union victory would mean for them. Thousands of slaves escaped and took refuge behind Union lines, and many of those who remained in the Confederacy stopped cooperating with Southern whites. Some Southern blacks even aided the Union army by destroying Confederate property, spying on troop movements, or helping Union prisoners escape.

Words to Know
  • Abolitionists – people who worked to end slavery
  • Confederacy – eleven Southern states that seceded from the United States in 1860 and 1861
  • Discrimination – unfair treatment of people or groups because of their race, religion, gender, or other reasons
  • Emancipation – the act of freeing people from slavery or oppression
  • Union – Northern states that remained loyal to the United States during the Civil War

When black Americans were finally allowed to join the Union Army in 1862, they still faced discrimination. For example, they received lower wages than white soldiers who held the same rank, they did more than their share of heavy labor, and they were not allowed to become officers. Despite these problems, more than 200,000 black men fought bravely for the Union. Their courage and determination on the battlefield earned the respect of many white Americans and helped the North win the Civil War. As a result, black Americans were able to break down many barriers of discrimination after the war ended.

When the Civil War began, thousands of black men volunteered to become soldiers in the Union Army. They cited two main reasons for wanting to join the fight:

  1. They wanted to help put an end to slavery
  2. They believed that proving their patriotism and courage on the field of battle would help improve their position in American society.

However, Federal law prohibited black men from joining state militias or the Union Army, and many Northern whites wanted to keep it that way. For one thing, they claimed that the Civil War was not about slavery. They called it a “white man’s war” and said that its purpose was to restore the Union rather than to settle the issue of slavery. And since the war was not about slavery, they felt that there was no need to change the law so that black people could join the fight. In reality, the dispute between North and South involved a number of different issues, including the question of how much power should be granted to the individual states and how much should be held by the federal government. But in the end, slavery was the one issue upon which the two sides could not compromise.

Another reason that many Northern states did not want black men joining the army was deep-seated racial prejudice. Some whites believed that they were superior to blacks and did not want to fight alongside them. They also thought that black men, particularly those who had been slaves, would be too cowardly and subservient (helpful in an inferior capacity) to make good soldiers. Finally, they worried that allowing blacks to fight in the war would have negative political implications. Several states along the border between the North and South allowed slavery, but remained part of the Union anyway. Some Northern political leaders thought that these border states would join the Confederacy if the Union Army admitted black soldiers.

Black leaders in the North were outraged at the policies and prejudices that prevented them from fighting in the Civil War. They pointed out that black soldiers had fought for the United States in both the American Revolution (1775-1783) and the War of 1812 (1812-1814). Frederick Douglass charged that black men “were good enough to help win American independence, but they are not good enough to help preserve that independence against treason and rebellion.” Many Northern blacks signed petitions asking the Federal government to change its rules, but the government refused. In the meantime, some light-skinned black men passed for white and enlisted in the army anyway. Thousands of other blacks provided unofficial help for the cause by serving as cooks, carpenters, laborers, nurses, scouts, and servants for the Union troops. In addition, men served in the Union Navy, which never had a policy against blacks becoming sailors.

Blacks in the Confederate States

In the early years of the Civil War, black slaves performed much of the hard labor that was required to prepare the Confederacy for war. They built forts and dug trenches, transported artillery and unloaded shipments of arms, set up army camps and acted as cooks and servants for the soldiers. They also continued to work in the fields, growing food and cotton to be used in the war effort. The prevailing attitude in the South was that “every Negro who could wield [handle] a shovel would release a white man for the musket [gun],” according to Charles H. Wesley and Patricia W. Romero in Afro-Americans in the Civil War: From Slavery to Citizenship. Most slaves who worked for the Confederate troops found conditions difficult. Food and clothing were scarce, living conditions were cramped and unsanitary, and doctors rarely came to treat sick and injured slaves.

In some cases, free black men volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army. Although it might seem strange for black people to fight in support of slavery, there were several reasons for such wartime service. Some free blacks believed that they would receive better treatment from Southern whites if they fought for the Confederacy. Others were afraid that they would be forced to join if they did not do so voluntarily. Finally, some free blacks in the South fought due to feelings of patriotism toward their state or city. But most Southern whites did not like the idea of black men serving in the Confederate Army. They did not trust black soldiers, even when they had volunteered, and were always suspicious that their true loyalties lay with the North. They worried that giving weapons to free black men would lead to widespread slave rebellions. In fact, the Confederate government enacted strict laws to restrict the activities of free blacks during the war.

As the Civil war dragged on, life became chaotic through much of the South. Large numbers of people were forced to leave their homes, as Union forces captured Southern cities. White men were usually too busy fighting the war to pay much attention to the behavior of their slaves. Over time, many Southern blacks took advantage of this situation. Some slaves remained in the South but became less willing to submit to the authority of whites. For example, large networks of slaves formed to help Union soldiers escape from prison and find their way back to safety in the North. These slaves brought the soldiers food and water, helped them hide from Confederate forces, and served as guides through the forests and countryside.

Other slaves took their first opportunity to escape to the North. “During the first two years of the War, most slaves were loyal to their masters in the lower South,” Wesley and Romero explained. “After 1863, however, when the news and the meaning of freedom spread, there were many instances of disloyalty and dissatisfaction…As the word revealing freedom reached the South, slaves ran away from the plantations to join the advancing Union troops.”

Word of Emancipation Travels Throughout the South

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation put an end to slavery in the United States on January 1, 1863. Word of emancipation spread slowly among slaves in the South, however. Mail delivery, telegraph lines, and other forms of communication were disrupted during the war. In addition, many Southern whites attempted to prevent the information from getting around. They worried slaves would rebel and become violent upon hearing the news. But most slaves eventually learned of their freedom. Free blacks within the Union passed word to others in the South. Some slaves were able to read about the Proclamation in Southern newspapers, and others were simply informed by their owners.

Free blacks in both the North and South celebrated the end of slavery and looked forward to the time when they would be treated equally in American society. Most slaves were thrilled to learn that they were free, although some recognized that freedom brought uncertainty and new responsibilities. Since many slaves had not received basic education and were not trained in any special skills, they were concerned about how they would make a living and take care of their families.

Educator Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was just six years old when the Emancipation Proclamation was passed. He remembered hearing it read with other slaves in Virginia: “For some minutes there was great rejoicing, and thanksgiving, and wild scenes of ecstasy. But there was no feeling of bitterness. In fact, there was pity among the slaves for our former owners. The wild rejoicing on the part of the emancipated colored people lasted but for a brief period, for I noticed that by the time they returned to their cabins there was a change in their feelings. The great responsibility of being free, of having to think and plan for themselves and their children, seemed to take possession of them.”

As slaves in the South heard about the Emancipation Proclamation, they began to recognize what the Civil War meant for their future. If the North won, slavery would be abolished throughout the land. As a result, some slaves began to rebel against their masters and to help the Union cause. Some simply refused to work, while others started fires to destroy property belonging to whites. In addition to fighting the North, Southern whites increasingly had to worry about fighting slave uprisings.

Union Army finally accepts Black Soldiers

The First Black Regiment

The 1st South Carolina Volunteers-the first all black soldier regiment.

In 1862, the Union Army suffered a series of defeats at the hands of the Confederates. This led to low morale among the troops and difficulty attracting white volunteers. As a result, public opinion about allowing blacks to fight gradually began to change. By this time, several Union generals had tried to set up black regiments despite the lack of government approval, including General James Lane in Kansas, General David Hunter in South Carolina’s Sea Islands, and General Benjamin Butler in New Orleans. On July 17, 1862, the U.S. Congress passed two new laws that officially allowed black men to serve as soldiers in the Union Army. But they were only allowed to join special all-black units led by white officers.

The first black regiment (unit), the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, was formed in August 1862. Massachusetts abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson was appointed colonel of this regiment. In January 1863, he led his troops on a raid along the St. Mary’s River, which formed the border between Georgia and Florida. He reported back to his superior officers that he was very pleased by his unit’s performance. “The men have been repeatedly under fire; have had infantry, cavalry, and even artillery arrayed against them, and have in every instance come off not only with unblemished honor, but with undisputed triumph,” General Higginson wrote. “Nobody knows anything about these men who has not seen them in battle. I find that I myself knew nothing. There is a fiery energy about them beyond anything of which I have ever read.” In March, Higginson’s regiment and another black regiment under James Montgomery joined forces to capture Jacksonville, Florida. As the success stories of black troops in battle began coming in, several more black regiments were organized.

The Most Famous Black Regiment

In January 1863, the U.S. government authorized Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts to put together a regiment of black soldiers from his state. Since there were not enough black men living in Massachusetts at that time, Andrew called upon prominent abolitionists and black leaders to recruit men from all over the North to form the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. The 54th would be the first all-black regiment to represent a state in battle during the Civil War. Many white people in the North were opposed to allowing black soldiers to fight in the Union Army, so Governor Andrew and his recruiters staked their reputations on the success or failure of the regiment.

Since black men were not allowed to become officers in the Union Army, the governor selected several white men to lead the 54th Massachusetts. Governor Andrew knew that the regiment would receive a great deal of publicity, so he chose these officers carefully. He asked a young, Harvard-educated soldier named Robert Gould Shaw to become the colonel of the regiment. Shaw accepted the position and immediately began training his troops for battle.

The 54th Massachusetts got an opportunity to prove itself on July 18, 1863. The regiment was chosen to lead an assault on Fort Wagner, a Confederate fort that guarded the entrance to Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. The soldiers had marched all the previous day and night, along beaches and through swamps, in terrible heat and humidity. But even though they were tired and hungry by the time they arrived in Charleston, they still proudly took their positions at the front of the assault. The 54th Massachusetts charged forward on command and were hit with heavy artillery and musket fire from the Confederate troops inside the fort. Colonel Shaw was killed, along with nearly half of his 600 officers and men. But the remaining troops kept moving forward, crossed the moat surrounding the fort, and climbed up the stone wall. They were eventually forced to retreat when reinforcements did not appear in time, but by then they had inflicted heavy losses on the Confederates.

The next day, Confederate troops dug a mass grave and buried Colonel Shaw's body along with his fallen black soldiers, despite the fact that the bodies of high-ranking officers were usually returned by both sides. The Confederates intended this action to be an insult, since they believed that whites were superior to blacks and thus deserved a better burial. Several weeks later, when Union forces finally captured Fort Wagner, a Union officer offered to search for the grave and recover Shaw's body. But Shaw's father, a prominent abolitionist, refused the offer. "We hold that a soldier's most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen," he wrote.


In 1989, film director Edward Zwick turned the story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment into a major movie called Glory, starring Matthew Broderick as Colonel Shaw and Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington as two of his soldiers. Based in part on Shaw's letters and diaries, Glory traces the opposition to blacks serving as soldiers in the Civil War, follows the recruitment and training of the historic regiment, and ends with the assault on Fort Wagner.

It was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture of 1989 and won Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Supporting Actor (Denzel Washington).

By late 1864, the Union Army included 140 black regiments with nearly 102,000 soldiers-or about 10% of the entire Northern army. Black men fought in almost every major battle during the final year of the Civil War and played an important role in achieving victory for the Union. Approximately 37,300 black men died while serving their country, and 21 received the Congressional Medal of Honor (this highest award an American soldier can receive) for their bravery in battle.

The black regiments fighting for the Union were so successful that the Confederates even considered arming slaves late in the war. Most Southern whites opposed this idea because they believed that blacks were inferior and worried that it would promote slave rebellions. But as the Union Army advanced through the South, the Confederate government became desperate enough to consider it. In 1865, the Confederate Congress passed the Negro Soldier Law and established a few companies of black soldiers in Richmond, Virginia. But the Union won the Civil War before any of these troops could be used in battle.

Resource Used:

Hillstrom, K., Hillstrom, L. C., & Baker, L. W. (2000). American Civil War: Almanac. Detroit, MI: UXL.

Appomattox Court House, Virginia

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In early 1865, the Union Army began marching through the state of Virginia, pushing back the Confederate forces. In hopes of uniting with more Confederate troops in North Carolina, General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army abandoned the capital of Richmond and retreated. However, the Union Army soon cut off their retreat and they were forced to stop at Appomattox, Virginia. General Grant and the Union Army had the Confederates surrounded. The Confederates were low on supplies, many soldiers were deserting, and they were greatly outnumbered. Upon looking at the conditions and the odds, General Lee felt he had no choice but to surrender.

The Surrender of Gen. Lee to Gen. Grant

Wilburn McClean and his family sitting on the front steps of their home located in Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

The McClean family home as it looks today.

Civil War Curiosity

In summer 1861, Wilmer McLean and his family lived in Manassas, Virginia. His house was on the outskirts of the battlefield, and was used as Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s headquarters.  After the battle, McLean began selling sugar to the Confederate Army, and moved to Appomattox Court House where he believed he would be able to avoid the fighting and the Union occupation, which impeded his work. After the war, McLean would famously observe that “The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor.”

  • Union soldiers assembled and waiting for the surrender of Robert E. Lee. The courthouse (of Appomattox Courthouse) is in the back of the photo.

  • Closeup of soldiers and how rifles were stacked when not needed.

Battle of Vicksburg

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May 18 - July 4, 1863

The city of Vicksburg is located on the Mississippi River. It was the last major port on the river held by the South. If the North could take Vicksburg, the Confederacy would be cut off from supply lines to the west. Also, rebel states such as Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas would be isolated from the rest of the South.

The Siege of Vicksburg was the end of a long series of battles in the western theatre of the Civil War called the Vicksburg Campaign. The Union Army, led by General Grant, had won a number of battles against the Confederates pushing them back towards Vicksburg. They also captured the city of Jackson, the capital of Mississippi. Grant approached the city slowly, forcing the Confederates to retreat before him. While approaching the city, he captured the local railroad and secured his own supply lines while isolating the city of Vicksburg.

Grant then decided to lay siege to the city. He would bomb them constantly and wait until they ran out of food. He knew that eventually they would have to surrender. The conditions in the city got worse and worse over the next several weeks. The people in the city began to run out of food. They started to eat anything available including the horses, dogs, and cats. Near the end they were even eating rats and tree bark. Because of malnutrition, many of the soldiers became sick from diseases like scurvy, dysentery, and malaria.

Battle Stats
Union Victory


Ulysses S. Grant


John C. Pemberton

806 killed
3,940 wounded
164 missing and captured
805 killed
1,938 wounded
29,620 missing and captured

Resource Used:

Battle of vicksburg facts & summary. (2020, December 16). Retrieved March 15, 2021, from

American civil War. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2021, from