Military Families



While soldiers often receive the most attention in studies of the American Civil War, their families were vital to both the Union and Confederate war efforts. No family experienced the American Civil War in the same way, as racial, ethnic, geographic, and class differences greatly varied a particular families experience. For example, southern families more frequently faced the devastation of war on their homes, while rural families often suffered more from the loss or destruction of their property than did those in urban areas (National Park Service).

As fathers and husbands marched off to war, they left behind women and children responsible for providing for themselves and keeping up family farms and businesses. Many of these families, especially those impoverished before the war, suffered greatly from the confiscation or destruction of their resources by both Union and Confederate militaries. The despair of many families produced class tensions in both North and South. For example, many women and children, beginning in Richmond, Virginia but extending across the South, rioted in 1863 for lack of bread or resources with which to make it. Other women and children across the country toiled in wartime industries by making clothing or munitions, while impoverished southern women and children often performed grueling agricultural labor just to support themselves. Elite, southern women often adopted the roles of enslavers, trying to maintain control of enslaved persons while traditionally male overseers went to war. African American families, many of them newly freed from enslavement, also struggled to support themselves and often lived in unsanitary, crowded contraband camps upheld by the Union Army (National Battlefield Trust; National Park Service).

Families, however, not only maintained the home front but also visited soldiers in their camps, while many women served as nurses for wounded soldiers. An expansive subject tag, military families refers to any relation of a Union or Confederate soldier and sailor, and is intended to spotlight the experiences of people, often women and children, who are typically more difficult to uncover in historical records. While this subject tag largely refers to the experiences of families on the northern and southern home fronts, it also incorporates the minority of families members who accompanied men to the battle front.

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