America Alive! Experience Our History: The Civil War


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Union Soldiers

Grant took Vicksburg Mississippi , a victory that would prove to be the turning point of the war in the western theater. Despite heavy Union casualties in the Battle of the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania both May , at Cold Harbor early June and the key rail center of Petersburg June , Grant pursued a strategy of attrition, putting Petersburg under siege for the next nine months. For most of the next week, Grant and Meade pursued the Confederates along the Appomattox River, finally exhausting their possibilities for escape.

On the eve of victory, the Union lost its great leader: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us! Subscribe for fascinating stories connecting the past to the present. Though neither the Union nor the Confederacy had a formal military intelligence network during the Civil War, each side obtained crucial information from spying or espionage operations. From early in the war, the Confederacy set up a spy network in the federal capital of These units had tenuous ties to the regular Confederate and Union Armies and were Civil War culture in America—both North and South—was greatly distinct from life in the antebellum years.

The Civil War was a time of great social and political upheaval. It was also a time of great technological change. Inventors and military men devised new types of weapons, such as the repeating rifle and the submarine, that forever changed the way that wars were fought.

In many ways, the coming of the Civil War challenged the ideology of Victorian domesticity that had defined the lives of men and women in the antebellum era. It took all day for the train to reach Manassas Junction, where the men of the 15th Alabama got off the cars, formed ranks, and marched about five miles from the station to an old field called Pageland, a flat open plain just north of Warrenton Turnpike where the Page family had intended to build a mansion and develop a plantation.

On the march, Captain Benjamin Gardner of Company I led his men while he held a great umbrella over his head. Across the broad expanse of field, practically nothing but row upon row of tents could be seen. The noise of camp—officers shouting, feet plodding on dry sod, bugles blowing, drums tapping—echoed over Pageland in one vast discord of sound.

Although the water in the camp was bad, the weather was hot, and many thirsty soldiers decided to drink the tainted water rather than suffer from dehydration. Colonel Cantey saw to it that his companies drilled hard every day, and from miles around one could see the dust rising from Pageland like the billowing smoke of a forest fire. Despite the arduous regularity of drilling every day for at least four hours, the men did have some respite and moments of gaiety and laughter. As Gus McClendon remembered: With the camp less than two miles from the fields where the Battle of Manassas had been fought, Oates decided to take Company G and some other men from the regiment on a tour of the ground.

It had just been a month since the Confederate victory, and the Alabamians were all curious to see what a battlefield really looked like. At first, the terrain matched their own romantic conceptions of the battle and the heroes who had fallen fighting for their righteous cause. The men walked over the ground with expressions of awe and wonder on their faces.

Boyd and his comrades even discovered severed hands and feet on the ground. The carcasses of dead horses still littered the field. Oates distinctly remembered, almost 45 years later, the pungent smell of fennel and pennyroyal—weeds growing on the battlefield that had been mashed down during the fight and still gave off their recognizable aromas. A few of the Alabamians reacted to the battlefield with less solemnity than did Oates or Caspar Boyd. The trees had been chopped to pieces by musket volleys. If nothing else, the excursion to the Manassas battlefield gave the Alabama boys reason to ponder war and its grim realities.

Origins of the American Civil War

They had no idea of the far worse horrors yet to come. Those horrors began at Pageland.

When the 15th Alabama had first arrived at Pageland, its closest neighbor in the camp, the 21st North Carolina, was already struggling with an epidemic of measles and serious outbreaks of mumps and typhoid. All of these diseases were—and still are—highly contagious, although in our modern times we have grown accustomed to dealing with them during childhood and have vaccines that prevent their spread and other medicines that quickly wipe them out. Measles cut through the ranks of the 15th Alabama at the encampment like a biblical plague or the medieval Black Death.

No one, including the small number of surgeons assigned to the army, knew that the disease was carried on droplets through the air and that proximity to the virus meant almost certain infection.

How the Civil War Changed Your Life

In this respect, it is somewhat miraculous that the entire Confederate camp at Pageland was not stricken with the disease. Infected soldiers experienced high fever, rash, runny noses, watery eyes, and coughing. Due to the lack of a vaccine and effective treatments, few men who were infected survived the illness.

After the initial symptoms, their condition generally worsened. Some soldiers came down with pneumonia and encephalitis brain inflammation as a result of measles; others suffered middle-ear infections, severe diarrhea, and convulsions. The worst cases—and there were hundreds of them among the troops of the 15th Alabama—resulted in death.

The first man in the regiment to die was Andrew J. Folmar, 18, a private in Company I. Then many others quickly became sick and had no strength or immunity to fight off the overwhelming disease. Overcome with emotion from this profusion of sickness and death, one private wrote in despair: Those who fell to sickness were stricken by the fear—and the near certainty—of approaching death.

Sick and well alike yearned for the comforts of home and to be magically transported from this strange land where so many men were dying. So many men were sick that the routine camp duty for those who remained healthy became more strenuous than ever, for now there were fewer hands to do the work. Throughout the desolation of this epidemic, the 15th Alabama—just like all the other regiments—was ordered to keep up its drill four hours a day, although those who were not sick began to lose their strength under the physical burdens they had to bear.

Oates became outraged at the desperate situation.

Civil War Background

He faulted the army for keeping the sick in the same camp with the healthy men, which ensured that those who were not yet sick soon would be. Years later he wrote in anger:. I do not know who was responsible for it, but it was a great mistake. There was not that care taken of the men of any regiment, so far as my observation extended, which foresight, prudence and economy of war material—leaving humanity out of the question—imperatively demanded….

Had the Confederate authorities made more persistent efforts than they did, hospitals could have been more established in sufficient numbers to have saved the lives of hundreds and thousands of good men, which were for the want of them unnecessarily sacrificed. Oates believed that the surgeons could be blamed as well. Surely the sights and sounds of death had been more than enough for them at Pageland, but the Alabamians once more had to march across the Manassas battlefield, where those dour reminders of war and combat remained exposed in their shallow graves.

From the battlefield, Oates led his men—beaten down by the heat, their own fatigue, and somber thoughts of death—along the Alexandria Pike until they reached a vast open field, not altogether unlike Pageland, about five miles east of Centreville and three miles west of Fairfax Court House. There they established Camp Toombs, named in honor of Robert Augustus Toombs of Georgia, who had resigned his appointment as Confederate secretary of state to become a brigadier general.

The measles predictably followed the column from Pageland to Camp Toombs, even though the sickest men had been quarantined at Pageland.

Civil War Soldiers | HistoryNet

The men of the 15th Alabama, and of a good number of other regiments as well, kept dying. The doctor told him to stay in his tent, which soldiers were not allowed to do, especially when it came time for drill and dress parade.

American Civil War The Complete History Historical Documentary

Oates, however, released Cody from duty from several days and allowed him to get stronger. The army had an epidemic on its hands, and no one seemed to know quite what to do about it. The men turned to religion, as people—and particularly soldiers—do in times of doubt or utter despair. They were desperate, these young Confederate boys who cherished their Bibles and wrote home to their families to inform them that they kept up with their Scripture readings despite the taxing demands that the army placed on them every day.


  • Reconstruction.
  • The Civil War By the Numbers.
  • story (U.S. National Park Service).

He carried the book through several battles, treasuring the gift and honoring the girl who had given it to him. In camp, an itinerant preacher arrived to do some Bible thumping and held a prayer meeting that attracted large numbers of soldiers. The preacher handed out Bibles to the men, but only if they would promise to carry the Good Book with them, which many of them did.

Ill and dying soldiers from the 15th Alabama, including the ones who had been left behind at Pageland and those who had more recently succumbed to disease in Camp Toombs, were transported in uncomfortable springless wagons to the field hospital in Haymarket. The village, located about six miles southwest of the Manassas battlefield, was not a perfect place to set up a hospital. At first no one on either side believed the conflict would last longer than a few months. Remembering the brief U. Confederates expected to capture the Union capital of Washington by summer, while Northerners anticipated the destruction of the Southern army by fall.

The first soldiers who joined these armies had moved overnight from their status as civilians to volunteer soldiers with the encouragement of their communities.


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  7. They had departed from the home front as citizen-soldiers before cheering crowds, the names of their regiments testifying to local attachments and the future interplay between home front and battleground: Rifles and so forth. In July when these first volunteers clashed at Bull Run in northern Virginia, civilians--congressmen, businessmen and socialites with picnic baskets--drove out in carriages from Washington to watch the battle.

    But within hours they had joined McDowell's Union army in hasty retreat from the battleground to Washington. Contemplating the death of nearly soldiers, both sides realized that the war would be no summer's amusement--nor "fun and frolic," as one spectator anticipated. Thereafter, civilians found little sport in watching battles, though children whose lives were also shaken by the war sometimes snuck out to watch. Instead like the residents of Gettysburg in the summer of , Americans found the war an inescapable, uninvited presence in their lives.

    As the military conflict escalated into a total war in which the traditional separation of civilian and military disappeared, some civilians hid in cellars when their communities became battlegrounds. Others, especially women and children in the Confederacy, fled, creating a large refugee population.

    Among the informal refugee camps was one outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where thousands of homeless civilians lived desperate, disease-ravaged lives. Some older residents of communities overtaken by the conflict like one Gettysburg civilianyear-old John Burns--grabbed their shotguns and joined the battle. While the names of the civilians who died are mostly forgotten, year- old Jennie Wade serves as a symbol of thousands of anonymous civilians killed during the war.

    She was killed instantly while baking bread in her Gettysburg kitchen when a musket shot by a Confederate sharpshooter pierced a window. Often it was the noise of battle that first terrified civilians. Afterwards it was the sight and smell of dead bodies. Sue Chancellor discovered several in her back yard after the carnage in Chancellorsville.

    Soon her piano was being used as an operating table. Certainly the Civil War touched Southerners and residents of the border states of Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky more profoundly than most Northerners. Vast armies trampled over closely tended farms; fences were destroyed and animals confiscated. In the deadly improvised war waged by marauders in the borderlands of Kentucky, Kansas, and Missouri, there was never any division between civilians and formal warriors.

    Private homes became officers' headquarters. To avoid the war McLean moved to a remote village in southern Virginia near Appomattox. But in the war's inescapable presence caught up with him again when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses Grant in his parlor. When General Sherman approached Atlanta in , he informed the mayor that civilians must vacate the city.

    The mayor protested that this "helpless" people had done nothing to be driven from their homes. Responding with his well-known "war is cruelty" phrase, Sherman went on to connect the hardships of war to the civilian population who "brought war into our country.

    America Alive! Experience Our History: The Civil War America Alive! Experience Our History: The Civil War
    America Alive! Experience Our History: The Civil War America Alive! Experience Our History: The Civil War
    America Alive! Experience Our History: The Civil War America Alive! Experience Our History: The Civil War
    America Alive! Experience Our History: The Civil War America Alive! Experience Our History: The Civil War
    America Alive! Experience Our History: The Civil War America Alive! Experience Our History: The Civil War

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