A Look into the Lives of Civil War Soldiers

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Brothers Against Brothers

“It was a singular sight to see the soldiers of two great hostile armies walking about unconcernedly within a few yards of each other with their bayonets sticking in the ground, bantering and joking together, exchanging the compliments of the day and even saluting officers of the opposing forces with as much ceremony, decorum, and respect as they did their own. The keenest sense of honor existed among the enlisted men of each side. It was no uncommon sight, when visiting the picket posts, to see an equal number of "graybacks" and "bluebellies" as they facetiously termed each other, enjoying a social game of euchre or seven-up and sometimes the great national game of draw poker, with army rations and sutler's delicacies as the stakes.”

This letter shows that the Civil War was truly brothers against brothers. One would think armies passing each other would be hostile towards each other, but this letter demonstrates that these encounters were not always aggressive. The tone of this letter speaks of the war casually without much seriousness. This letter's content is surprising because the armies seemed to not want to really hurt each other. It is possible that the soldiers fighting didn't truly want to fight each other, and only ever wanted to defend their country, but not actually fight the people who were once a part of their country as well.

Sullivan Ballou - 1888

“If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready…. My courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt."

This letter written by Sullivan Ballou, a member of the Union, in 1888. He professes great loyalty to the government, saying that the sacrifice of the Revolution was too great to let the Union fall apart. The theme of this letter shows the loyalty people had to the Union during this war. Ballou was ready to put his life on the line to defend his country. His tone is very uplifting and inspiring, compared to other letters. He is willing to fight for his country, and die in the process.

Frederick Pettit - 1863

Pettit, a 20 year old from Pennsylvania, writes a letter to his family describing his daily routine and life as a soldier. He speaks of their chores and how much butter costs per pound. His letter is very dull, and demonstrates that there's not much going on. Civil War soldiers spent approximately fifty days in camp for every one day in battle.

"As I am at a loss for employment on this cold day I will commence writing you a letter. Now don't think because it is to all of you that no one need answer it, but all answer it. Let each one write a little at least no difference how poorly."

"Our hardest work is getting wood. We carry most of it half a mile. Though when not too stormy it is good exercise."

"As a soldiers pay is but $13.00 per month you can calculate how many of the luxuries he can afford to buy."

"I cannot think of anything more that would interest you. Write soon a long letter."

At first glance, Pettit's tone if very leisurely and dull. It appears that this letter is a typical letter home, written when a soldier was missing his family. He describes what he does daily, and does not mention any fighting. However, this might be his way of coping with a scary situation. He might be trying to escape from the horrors of war, and not alarm his family with reality. He wrote a long paragraph giving details to how much food costs. For example, bread is twenty-five cents a pound and dried beef is twenty cents a pound. Maybe this is his way of telling his family he wants some money from them, or it might be telling them that he is hungry, and not being provided with enough food. He ends his letter by casually telling his family to write a long letter in response.

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