Filter by:


The Common Soldiers of the Confederacy - North and South

  • Normal
  • Large video
  • Large content
  • Full video
"rtmpconf":{ type:"flv", file:"rtmp://", baseUrl:wgScriptPath + "/extensions/player/", streamServer:'', width:"480", height:"320", config:{ showBrowserControls:false }, poster:"/index.php?action=ajax%26rs=importImage%26rsargs[]=Dv 00177 preplay.jpg%26rsargs[]=480", controls:{ _timerStyle:"sides" } }
Table of Contents 
  •  Introduction by Joe B Frantz Ph.D. 
  •  Explanation of Wiley's interest in history, especially the Civil War 
  •  Explanation of Wiley's focus on common soldiers 
  •  Sources 
  •  Age and background 
  •  Education 
  •  Religion and Vices 
  •  Diversion, Humor, and Expressions 
  •  Morale and Desertion 
  •  Food 
  •  Clothing 
  •  Equipment 
  •  Performance in Battle 
  •  Honoring Confederate Soldiers 
  •  Closing Credits 
  •  We turn to a topic, the Civil War, North and South, which for more than a century has captured the imagination and attention of historical scholars, political scientists, novelists, patriots, military men, and people throughout the world who are devoted to freedom. 
  •  Our interpreter holds degrees from Asbury College, Kentucky, and Yale, as well as several honorary degrees, is presently Charles Howard Candler Professor of History at Emory University, is the author of numerous books and articles, including the prize-winning Southern Negroes: 1861-1865, The Life of Johnny Reb, and the Life of Billy Yank, has been president of the Southern Historical Association, and is a member of the National Civil War Centennial Commission. 
  •  He holds a Colonel's Commission in the United States Army and a Legion of Merit Award. Ladies and Gentlemen, Bell I. Wiley, whose first lecture will be on the common soldiers of The Confederacy, and whose second lecture will cover Billy Yank and Johnny Reb.  
  •  As far back as I can remember, I've had two major interests. One of these was in teaching. Both of my parents were teachers in their younger days and afterward they kept school at home because I am one of eleven children, and my parents kept study hall many times when I was growing up. Nearly all of my brothers and sisters taught at one time or another and five are teaching now. 
  •  The other major interest was history. This interest was almost killed in my high school days because of poor teaching. My history teacher was the coach. He didn't prepare ahead of time and when he would come to class he would read a paragraph then ask questions and repeat this process throughout the period. 
  •  I also suffered from inferior teachers in college and not until I got to graduate school and got to the roughage of history and was able to work on my own did I recover this initial interest in history of my childhood. 
  •  My principal interest in the field of history has always been the Civil War and in the common soldiers of the Civil War. My maternal grandfather was a private soldier in the Confederate Army. He died when I was four years old and I remember him only faintly, but his widow, my grandmother, lived on and I spent several summers with her.   
  •  During the war she was a young girl in Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, an invaded land, and when I stayed with her she told me thrilling stories of her civil war experiences and observations. 
  •  Then, when I was growing up in Western Tennessee, we frequently had as guests at Sunday dinner two Civil War veterans, one a Confederate, Will T. Martin, the other a Union veteran, George W. Bunker, and after dinner we would move our chairs out into the yard and these old soldiers would tell us exciting stories of the war. Recently I saw a picture which reminded me of the friendly sessions of these veterans as they exchanged their Civil War experiences. 
  •  I was interested in these men who wore the blue and the grey immediately as soldiers, but I had a more basic interest in them as people, and I wanted to study about them and I wanted to write about them and I have tried in some to write social history of men in arms.  
  •  I grew up among the plain people in western Tennessee and I was impressed by their solid qualities, their courtesy, kindliness, mutual helpfulness in time of trouble, their character and integrity, and their capacity for suffering. I wanted to know more about them.  
  •  I didn't find very much about them in the history books because the history books are written about the bigwigs, the planters, and the politicians, the statesmen, the generals. The common people are crowded into the background or, worse, they are distorted into improbable caricatures like Jeeter Lester of Tobacco Road. So when I began my career as a historian some thirty years ago, I resolved to make the plain people my primary concern. 
  •  I hadn't been at work very long until I found that the best time and place to go to find out what the common people of this nation were really like was to the American Civil War, for in that war these people were articulate to an unprecedented extent.  More of them were away from home than ever before. Then they were seeing new country and having exciting experiences and this fact aroused them to an unusual degree of expressiveness. They wrote frankly and fully about their experiences and they revealed a great deal of themselves. 
  •  Very early in my research I decided to depend mainly on the unpublished letters, because reminiscences written long after the event are not accurate and reliable, and even the letters when they were published frequently were doctored. The spelling was corrected and those portions that dealt with unsavory aspects of soldiering frequently were deleted. 
  •  During the course of my research it's been my great privilege and pleasure to read about thirty thousand unpublished letters written by Civil War soldiers, about twenty thousand written by the men in blue and about ten thousand written by Confederates. 
  •  I am often asked, "How did you find so many of the letters?" To find them my wife, who happens to be an excellent typist, and I visited the major libraries and archives throughout the country. The best collections of Confederate letters are at the University of Texas, the University of North Carolina, Duke University, the Georgia Department of Archives and History, Emory University, and various other of the outstanding educational institutions of the country. 
  •  The best collections of Union soldier letters are in the state historical societies of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Connecticut, though there are also good collections at the Chicago Historical Society, Duke University, and other institutions of learning.  I also used many letters in private possession. 
  •  These letters written by the common soldiers are fascinating documents. You can get a good idea of what a typical letter of a common soldier was like from a letter written by W.C. Athey of Alabama. He wrote from Chattanooga to his wife.  You can imagine what the spelling of a word like Chattanooga would do to a semi-literate Reb. Private Athey broke the word up into four parts but he still didn't get it all in.   
  •  Now let's take a look at Johnny Reb, the common soldier of the Confederacy. In age he ranged from a young boy, ten or eleven years of age, to and old man in his seventies. Usually  the youngsters were drummer boys, but sometimes in the hurly burly of battle these drummer boys would pick up a musket and graduate to the fighting ranks, so to speak.  
  •  Probably the youngest confederate soldier was Charles Carter Hay of Alabama, who enlisted in '61 when he was eleven years old, and who, when he left the service in 1865, lacked one month of being fifteen years of age. The oldest... Well I should say, though, that these young boys frequently had their pictures made and one of them who did was Private Huff who served with Mosby and who clad himself in his homemade uniform and had his likeness struck, as they sometimes referred to it. 
  •  The oldest Confederate whom I found in my research was E. Pollard, who enlisted at the age of seventy-three in the Fifth North Carolina Regiment. He didn't last very long; he was discharged after a few months for rheumatism and old age. 
  •  The typical Confederate soldier was between eighteen and thirty and he was a farmer. He had never been far from home. He was provincial in his outlook. The provincialism is delightfully reflected in the letter of a Buncombe County, North Carolina soldier who was sent down to Charleston and after he arrived there he wrote to his father: "Dear Pa, I have seen a right smart of the world since I left home, but I have not saw any place like Buncombe and Henderson yet." 
  •  The schooling of these soldiers was limited. They used words and phrases like, "hit is a col day," "I hain't seen narry Yankee yet," "I have fit in the hardest battle that I have experienced so far," "I was wounded wonst (w-o-n-s-t) in the foot. I am now in the horspital."  
  •  Private Bartley Malone of North Carolina kept a diary and in this he told about being in the Battle of "Geetersburg" in Pennsylvania, July 1-3 1863, and he wrote in the diary, "There was so much smoke that we couldn't see what we was a'doing."  
  •  There were two Fuchs brothers who served in different organizations in the Confederate Army. They exchanged letters occasionally. Once, Charles Fuchs got a letter in worse hand and spelling than usual, and he registered this protest: "Dear Brother, I have carried your last letter through two regiments, trying to find someone that could read it, but they was not a man that could read even the date of the month." 
  •  Private William McClellan of Alabama wrote his parents on one occasion that he was carrying on a love correspondence for several of his illiterate comrades and he added, "I think you will be interested in the fact, that during the past month, I have got three of them engaged." Unfortunately he didn't reveal his formula.  
  •  Johnny Rebs were for the most part protestant and orthodox in their religion. They believed in a burning hell, but they found it impossible to live up to biblical standards in camp. The most common evils of the camp were drinking, swearing, gambling, and stealing. Concerning gambling, one soldier wrote, "You have no idea how demoralizing camp life is. Oaths, blasphemies, imprecations, and obscenity are hourly heard ringing in your ears until your mind is almost filled with them."  
  •  Another Reb wrote after payday up at Fredericksburg in December 1862, "Yesterday was Sunday and I sat at my fire and saw preachers holding forth about thirty steps off and between them and me were two games of poker. Open gambling," he added, "has been prohibited, but it amounts to nothing." 
  •  Rebs stationed near large cities had a weakness for houses of ill fame. For example, the Tenth Alabama Regiment moved in July 1861 from rural Alabama to Richmond, Virginia, and in one month this regiment reported sixty-two new cases of venereal disease.  
  •  But I do not wish to exaggerate the prevalency of evil. There were many good men in both armies and some were stronger in character and spirituality at the end of their service than at the beginning. One of these was private Orville Bumpus of Mississippi, who wrote near the end of service, "Uncontaminated I left home and so I intend to return." And I have every reason to believe that he did.  
  •  In their morals as in their other attributes, Johnny Rebs were very much like soldiers of all other wars and all other times. One of the reasons that they drank and gambled so much was from boredom and loneliness. There was no organized diversion during the Civil War, no traveling troops of entertainers and pretty girls, not even any PXs. The soldiers had to find their own diversion and some of them did very well indeed in finding modes of diverting themselves.  
  •  Another characteristic of these Johnny Rebs is that they had a keen sense of humor. Some of them liked to tease their wives in their letters. A Georgia soldier named William Stilwell, who served in Virginia, wrote to his wife after he had been away from home about a year, "Dear wife, if I did not write and receive letters from you I think I would forget that I was married. I don't feel much like a married man now, but I never forget you insofar as to court any other lade, but if I do you must forgive me, as I am so forgetful."   
  •  The soldiers were also capable of colorful expression. One Reb wrote, "The yankees are thicker than lice on a hen and a damn sight ornerier," and a Georgia soldier gave a vivid description of the cause and consequence of diarrhea. He wrote, "I eat too much eggs and poark [p-o-a-r-k], it sowered [s-o-w-e-r-e-d] on my stomach and turned loose on me."  
  •  Some of the most colorful comment was about the officers. A Georgia soldier wrote, "The lew tenant (l-e-w another word t-e-n-a-n-t) tricked me out of being elected sergeant. One thing certain, I will be a tick on his stern and keep him a'scratching for the balance of this war, fer I never forget and I dern seldom ever forgive." 
  •  The soldiers were susceptible to the ups and downs of morale. Morale was highest of course in the early days of the war because most southerners thought that the Yankees were great cowards and that the war would be decided by one or two battles. Indeed many Rebs feared that they would not get into battle, that the whole thing would be over before they had an opportunity to draw a bead on a Yankee.  
  •  This exaggerated confidence was reflected in some of the textbooks published for use by Confederate children. Johnston's Elementary Arithmetic, published in Raleigh, contained this example: "If one Confederate soldier can whip 7 Yankees, how many soldiers can whip 49 Yankees?" 
  •  But as the war dragged on from months to years and the Confederacy experienced great setbacks like Vicksburg and Gettysburg, morale deteriorated. One of the things that depressed morale most was the hardship experienced by the poor people at home. I think this caused more desertion than any other one thing; the receipt of letters telling of starvation conditions at home, of children suffering and dying, of families not having firewood. All told about a hundred thousand Confederate soldiers deserted as against about two hundred thousand desertions on the Union side, but the rate of desertion was about the same on both sides because there were more than twice as many who wore the blue as wore the grey.  
  •  The food of the soldiers varied considerably with time and locale. The staples of the diet were beef and cornbread and the soldiers became very tired of this monotonous fare. One Confederate soldier wrote near the end of the conflict, "If any person offers me cornbread after this war comes to a close, I shall probably tell him to go to hell." 
  •  The soldiers had a good deal to say about the poor quality of the beef. One Confederate soldier said that the way the commissary officers selected the cows for slaughter was to line the cows up and lay a small stick down on the ground in front of them and try to drive them across and those cows that weren't able to step across the stick were the ones taken to the slaughter pens and killed for soldier rations. Another Reb said, "It takes two soldiers to hold up one beef to shoot it." 
  •  The Confederate soldiers sometimes had hardtack that was usually captured from the Yankees. The hardtack was a big, thick cracker and it must have been hard, even allowing for considerable soldier exaggeration. One soldier reported overhearing this dialogue in camp: a sergeant said, "Boys, I was eating a piece of hardtack this morning and I bit into something soft. What do you suppose it was?" A private spoke up meekly and said, "A worm?" and that was a good question. But the sergeant immediately retorted, "No, by god, it was a tenpenny nail." 
  •  The hardtack were so often infested with worms that the soldiers nicknamed the crackers "worm castles," and one soldier said, "All the fresh meat that we had came in the hardtack and I, preferring my meat cooked, used to toast my crackers before eating them." 
  •  Clothing also varied considerably. Early in the war, a good many organizations were attired in resplendent, fancy uniforms. One of the units that had very fancy uniforms was the Sumter Light Guard of Americus, Georgia. The flag that they carried at that time had only seven stars so we know that this picture was taken early in the war. Even more fancy was the uniform worn in the 55th Tennessee regiment. Robert Hurt is clothed all of his glory in a uniform that could not have been found anywhere, I think, in the Confederate Army below the general officer rank late in the war. 
  •  But as the war went on, clothing became sparser and rougher and the standard uniform in the latter part of the conflict was a homespun shirt and a homespun, homemade blouse and trousers of butternut. Now, butternut gets its name from the dye that was made from walnut hulls and coppers. It had a yellowish tint and Confederate soldiers themselves were often called "butternuts" by their Yankee foes.  
  •  Shoes were made of coarse leather and sometimes from green hides gathered from the slaughter pens and sometimes Confederate soldiers had no shoes at all. For example, on the Sharpsburg Campaign of 1862 and on the Nashville Campaign of 1864, soldiers literally marched the shoes off of their feet and they walked for miles over rocky roads in their bare feet, leaving traces of their blood along the paths that they trod. And they learned to laugh at their plight. A Confederate soldier writing from before Atlanta in June 1864 stated, "In this army, one hole in the seat of the britches indicates a captain, two holes indicate a lieutenant, and if the seat of the britches is all gone, the individual is a private." 
  •  Soldier equipment consisted of sundry items. The basic item, of course, was the musket and the gun that most Confederate soldiers and most Union soldiers used was the Springfield Rifle. I have here an 1863 Springfield. It's a heavy gun; it weighs about ten pounds. It's a muzzle loader and it could not be fired rapidly. A trained soldier could fire it only two or three times a minute. But it was an accurate weapon up to ranges of two hundred yards and with good luck a soldier could kill an opponent a half-mile away.  
  •  Now, the bullet used in this gun was a conical bullet, a Minié ball, nearly, well more actually, more than a half inch in diameter, .58 caliber to be exact. It was very soft and if it hit a bone it flattened out and it inflicted a terrible wound. The officers carried pistols usually and the favorite pistols were colt revolvers, either the caliber .36 Navy model or the caliber .44 Army model 
  •  Other equipment at first was the knapsack in which was carried an extra shirt, toilet articles, a haversack or bread basket in which the rations were carried, a cap box, a cartridge box, a canteen, and perhaps a tin cup and a skillet. You can get an idea of what a soldier in full equipment looked like by observing the picture of private Thomas Taylor of the 8th Luisiana Regiment. 
  •  But as the soldier became experienced he went through a shedding process and late in the war he rolled his extra shirt, if he had one, and his toilet articles in a blanket, draped this across his shoulder, ate all of his three days' rations at one meal, perhaps strung a skillet and a tin cup on his trousers, put his musket on his soldier, raised the tune "When This Cruel is Over," and fell into the easy gait of the rout step and headed toward the Yankees hoping that he might have the good luck to find along the way a fresh stream of running water and a stray chig, uh, stray pig or chicken with which to refresh himself. 
  •  How did Johnny Rebs acquit themselves in battle? Well some of them ran and some of them skulked in every major battle, but the majority of them stood to their posts in admirable fashion, though they were always frightened. One day as a group of Confederates were about to go into a charge, a rabbit came running toward the Confederate line, frightened by all of the commotion. A Johnny Reb stepped aside to let the rabbit pass through, and as the animal scampered to the rear the Reb remarked, "Go to it Molly Cottontail, I'd be right with you if it weren't for my folks." 
  •  Pride in themselves kept these soldiers to line of duty and pride in their families, and in combat many of them were ennobled. Rebel private Maddox, wounded in the left arm at Murfreesboro so that he could no longer wield his musket, went to his colonel and said, "Colonel, my left arm is hurt and I cannot shoot my gun, but I can carry the flag. May I?"  
  •  Private Maddox new that the position of regimental color bearer was far and away the most dangerous assignment in combat and he knew that already in this battle three color bearers of his regiment had been shot in succession. But when the colonel nodded assent, private Maddox grabbed the colors with his good arm and bore them triumphantly through the remainder of that bloody battle, and there were many more private Maddoxes scattered throughout the Confederate army. These men proved themselves worthy ancestors of the heroes of subsequent wars.  
  •  In the Life of Johnny Reb I have summarized the Confederates soldiers thus: "Adaptability and good nature were among his most characteristic qualities. He was a gregarious creature and his attachment to close associates was genuine. He had a streak of individuality and irresponsibility that made him a trial to officers during periods of inactivity. But on the battlefield he rose to supreme heights of soldierhood. He was not immune to panic nor even to cowardice, but few if any soldiers have had more than he of élan, of determination, of perseverance, and of the sheer courage which it takes to stand in the face of withering fire. 
  •  [Continue quote] He was far from perfect, but his achievement against great odds in scores of desperate battles through four years of war is an irrefutable evidence of his prowess and an eternal monument to his greatness as a fighting man." 
  •  American Civilization by its Interpreters 
  •  The Common Soldiers of the Confederacy - North and South 
  •  Bell Wiley 
  •  project director - Joe B Frantz 
  •  television director - Robert D Squier 
  •  art, set, and titles - Lyle Hendricks 
  •  produced by Radio/Telivision - The University of Texas 
Mark Video Segment:
[Hide]Copy and paste this link to an email or instant message.
[Hide]Right click this link and add to bookmarks


Title:The Common Soldiers of the Confederacy - North and South
Description:Professor Wiley, a noted Civil War scholar and author, has always been more interested in what he calls the plain people than in the leaders, the generals, or the politicians. Here he gives an informative and fascinating picture of the average Confederate soldier whose courage and fighting qualities sustained the South against great odds for four bloody years. Professor Wiley has read thousands of letters and diaries written by "Johnny Reb," and he uses quotations from many of them to describe in human terms what is all too often presented in abstract numbers. Thus we learn just who the men in gray were, what their backgrounds were and how old they were, what their uniforms were like and what they had to eat, their feelings of loneliness and their attitude of "Billy Yank," and their heroism--and fear--in battle. Through Professor Wiley's lively description, the impersonal armies of the South become peopled by colorful, often humorous, often courageous, and always human creatures. [Synopsis from "The History of American Civilization By Its Interpreters; A Student Guide to the Television Series" by James A. Bonar, Roger E. Willson, and The University of the State of New York] Tape is dated 1974/10/28, indicating that it is a dub of an earlier recording.
Country:United States
Date:circa 1962-1963
CreatorWiley, Bell (lecturer)
Source:KLRU-TEMP Video Collection
Contributor:Radio/Television, The University of Texas (producer)
Frantz, Joe B. (introduction; project director)
Squier, Robert D. (television director)
Hendricks, Lyle (art, set, and titles)
Frantz, Joe B. (project director)
Rights:Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
Original Format:2 inch videotape