Union Soldiers

“If I am slain, whoever finds this letter will please to state the fact in this and forward it.”

Thomas B. Barker, before Bull Run

Union soldier in camp
They came to save the Union, they came for the bounty, they came to get away from home, they came for the excitement, they came because they were drafted. Some, though far from most, came in the hopes of ending slavery.
They came from cities, small towns and farms. They came from European countries whose democratic revolutions had failed, or where they had faced economic, religious or social barriers. They were Irish, Italian, German, English, Scotch, Welsh, American Indian. They were blue-blooded New Englanders, Wall Street bankers, Ivy League students, mill hands, mechanics, firemen, teachers, ministers, shop clerks, farmers, fishermen. Many were Southerners. They were Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Quaker. Eventually they were black. They were castigated in the South as a “mongrel race” of “mercenaries” and “Northern hirelings.”

Companies and regiments were often made up of boys from the same neighborhoods, counties, towns, or schools. So on a single morning or afternoon at a place like Fredericksburg or Antietam, most of the young men of a town might be swallowed by a cloud of artillery smoke, consigning a generation of women to spinsterhood and a small town to slow death as its birth rate declined to nothing.

Whatever the reason they found themselves wearing Union blue, and whatever their feelings about slavery before the war, the men who remained after January 1, 1863 willingly found room on their shoulders to bear the cause of emancipation along with that of Union.

Becoming Soldiers

“Our regiment yells at everything. A yell will start in at one end of the division, and regiment after regiment will take it up and carry it along, then send it back to the other end; few knowing what it was about, or caring less.”

William R. Hartpence

A Dose of Reality

“If there is anything peculiarly attractive in marching 20 miles a day under a scorching sun with a good mule load, my mind is not of a sufficiently poetical nature to appreciate it.”

Joshua G. Fraser

Life in Camp

“Last night I had plenty of Whiskey but to day I have none. They broke all my furniture, tore my table cloth, and tore every thing upside down. I got my musket and fired it, and I set my tent afire. New Years don’t come but once a year, and tents are cheap.”

William H. Lloyd

The Generals

“Either we have made an inglorious skedaddle or a brilliant retreat.”

G. F. Newhall

The Turning Point

“I have never been in favor of the abolition of slavery until… this war has determined me in the conviction that it is a greater sin than our Government is able to stand–and now I go in for a war of emancipation and I am ready and willing to do my share of the work.”

Eli K. Pickett

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