About 2.75 million soldiers participated on both sides in the Civil War. About 75,000 of those fought for the Confederacy with about 2 million Union soldiers. Eighty percent fought in infantry regiments, fourteen percent rode in the cavalry, and six percent fought in the artillery. Obviously the men were a plethora of nationalities, religions, and had hundreds of different occupations prior to the war. But they did have some things in common.
The “average” soldier was a farmer who was about 26 years old, born in the country and was five feet eight inches tall. Not all were American born. In fact about a quarter of the Union soldiers were immigrants with the largest numbers coming from Germany, Ireland and Great Britain. In the South, the numbers are not as exact but immigrants also fought for the Confederacy, including Canadians, Austrians, Dutch, British, Irish, French and Germans.
Whereas traditional wisdom and Hollywood movies lead some people to believe soldiers fought often, only a small part of a soldier’s life was in actual battles. A soldier’s life was mostly boring and taken up with marching, drilling, and the drudgery of camp life. Many soldiers were away from home for the first time in their life. They were often tired, hungry, shell-shocked, scared, lonely, and wondering when or if they would ever get back home. If being shot at wasn’t enough worry for them, disease was actually much more apt to bring harm to them and even killed them than battles. Poor hygiene helped spread disease. Food, when available, was not anything they would write home about, unless it was in the form of a complaint. They were too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Uniforms and shoes, made by low bid manufacturers, fell apart quickly and often weren’t quickly replaced.
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