Life As A Civil War Soldier


Life of a soldier in the American Civil War was not a bed of roses. Life was tough and the chances of surviving in battles were slim. Soldiers were exposed to harsh living conditions and had to fight not only the enemy but also hunger and adverse weather conditions as well. Civil war was the bloodiest armed conflict in the history of United States. An estimated 620,000 men perished during the conflict. Confederate forces lost almost half of their total fighting strength as killed, wounded or missing. One in every four soldiers fighting the war never returned.

Daily Life:

Soldiers on both side had to wake up at the crack of dawn daily. After taking breakfast, they engaged in battle drills. These drills included practicing battle tactics and every soldier had to understand his role in the unit and the commands of his superiors. The drills were conducted in the morning and afternoon. In between, soldiers had lunch and a brief period of rest.

After getting over with drills, soldiers spent time cleaning their weapons, sewing their uniforms and cooking meals. Soldiers played games like dominoes and cards in the evening and some sang in groups. At night some soldiers were deputed as guards while others slept after a hard day’s work. Most of the soldiers were young men from diverse backgrounds. Average age of a Union soldier was 25 and the minimum age for recruitment was 18. However, many men and boys lied about their age and it was common for armies of both sides to have soldiers as young as 15 years.


Soldiers were paid for their service in the war. A union soldier was paid 13 dollars a month. A senior officer made a lot more. Once the black slaves were drafted into Union army and navy they were paid 10 dollars per month. However, 3 dollars per month were deducted from their salary in lieu of clothing and uniform provided to them.

Black soldiers protested against this and refused to receive their salary for almost 18 months after which the Congress had to intervene and orders were issued to pay black soldiers a salary equal to the whites. Confederate soldiers were paid less as a soldier received only 11 dollars per month. As the economic state of Confederate states worsened with war, the salaries paid to the soldiers became irregular and slow. At times soldiers in Confederate armed forces had to wait for as long as six months to be paid.

Medical Facilities:

Military camps during the civil war were often hit by endemic diseases like malaria, typhoid and small pox. The new recruits were hit the hardest as they were not immune to the living conditions in the camps. A large number of soldiers on both sides succumbed to diseases and infections. Very few doctors were available and most of the wounded soldiers did not survive. Soldiers with injured limbs were often subjected to amputations.

Life as a Prisoner of War:

If life as a soldier was tough, then life as a prisoner of war was even more difficult. Prisoners of war were kept in camps with very little amenities. They were exposed to harsh weather, treatment and hunger. Thousands of prisoners on both sides died in captivity.