While We’re on the Topic of the Civil War

So, it turns out that my great-great-great grandfather (my mom’s grandpa’s grandpa) and his brother and their sister’s fiance (who died thus inadvertently leaving my great aunt with untold freedom, which she took great advantage of, by having an excuse to never marry which she didn’t.) fought Beth’s however-many-great grandfather at Chickamaugua and Chattanooga in the fall of ’63.

And I was telling Beth that the weirdest thing about what I know about their time in Chattanooga was that their dad came from Madison, Indiana to visit them.  WHILE THEY WERE AT WAR.

She agreed.  This was strange.  It’s hard to imagine hearing stories now of someone going to Iraq to check on his sons, maybe hang out a little.

But then it occurs to me that I have Bridgett and Casey and you guys will know.

I know that, early on in the Civil War, civilians would take picnic lunches out to watch the battles because the severity of the situation seems not to have quite dawned on people (it seems like they thought there would be some fisticuffs and then everyone would go home?).  And it seems, if I’m remembering right, that Walt Whitman did travel around trying to find and be near his brother, even though he, himself, was not fighting.  And looking through the LOC photos, it sure seems like some folks brought their families along with them.  So, maybe going to visit your family wasn’t that weird.

But, I still wonder–historians, tell me what to make of my family’s behavior!  Weird or common?

Edited to add: So, you know what’s interesting?  If you search “civil war siddall” at the loc site, you discover that your mom’s grandpa’s grandpa was an assistant surgeon in the 22nd Regiment of the Indiana Volunteers.  Oh, internet, is there anything you can’t help us learn?

13 thoughts on “While We’re on the Topic of the Civil War

  1. The internet has limits, but it is pretty astonishing.

    Yes, families did visit, especially to deliver goods or provide supplemental nursing care. A lot of wars are sitting around waiting for something to happen. I’m not as aware of wives of enlisted men traveling with troops, but such had been commonplace during the American Revolution and War of 1812. They cooked, laundered, baked, mended, nursed, and…ummm….kept morale high. How’s that for a euphemism? African-American contrabands who joined Union lines did so in family groupings and for the men who became soldiers (rather than who served as military support), that was one of the wrenching things about putting on the uniform. You wound up being taken away from your family by Uncle Sam instead.

  2. Bridgett, I don’t know about the U.S., but in Europe, the time-honored profession of camp-follower (which included families as well as the prostitutes we now use the term to euphemize) began to be strongly discouraged by the increasing professionalization of the military during and following the the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). It was a long process, but by the end of the 18th century, troops were being sent so far from home, and for so long, that only officers’ wives tended to travel with the troops. That’s one reason for the establishment of nursing orders in Catholic countries and the professionalization of nursing in Protestant countries, from the early 19th century. It’s hard to imagine the sort of traveling to enemy territory you describe here as going on during the US Civil War happening in Europe or Asia at the same time, except for the very wealthy.

  3. Oh, well, Washington was firmly opposed to the hangers-on and camp followers (saw them as signs of disorganization, mouths to feed, and potential distraction in the heat of battle), but we know that state lines and local militias continued to show up with their women despite the official stink-eye. Officers deployed with wives but not children; they also deployed with slaves that were sometimes paid for by the US government. (Casey, correct me if I’m wrong on this…) The British army deployed in North America got the benefit of many local Loyalist wives. Some military historians credit the advantage in numbers of women resident with the British army to its generally superior welfare and morale.

    The extra-regional deployment of troops for prolonged periods prompted the organization of nursing (Clara Barton, etc)…however, the magnitude of the conflict meant that there had to be local responses and that one’s family sometimes came in as back-ups when they could. Think about the fictionalized trip made in Little Women…

  4. Bridgett, the only trip to the war I remember from Little Women was the father being an army chaplain. I’m not arguing with you, I just don’t remember. Who went where in what circumstances?

    And soldiers could pick up wives locally in Europe and Asia just as in North America. A lot of British women went out to India to find husbands among the army there. They went back and forth between summer and winter stations with their husbands. But they didn’t travel along for battles.

  5. The father was an Army chaplain who became very sick. Jo had to sell her hair at a wig shop to finance Marmee’s trip to nurse him and help him get back home.

  6. The American commanders kept trying to dump the women and kids in the rear (and sometimes with success, like Sullivan’s campaign), but mostly what we have is repeated orders commanding the women and kids to leave with the baggage, and then another, and another…it appears that the dictates were not followed.

    Revolutionary historians believe that 25% of the British lines and 3% of the American lines were female. (As noted before, this meant that the American troops were particularly raggedy, worn with the cares of laundry and cooking and nursing before they ever got to the battlefield.) Washington wrote in August of 1777 that “the multitude of women in particular, especially those who are pregnant, or have children, are a clog upon every movement. The Commander in Chief therefore earnestly recommends it to the officers commanding brigades and corps, to use every reasonable method in their power to get rid of all such as are not absolutely necessary…” By 1779, he admitted that he “was obliged to give Provisions to the extra Women in these Regiments, or loose by Desertion, perhape to the Enemy, some of the oldest and best Soldiers In the Service.” Some women began service as washwomen in 1775 at the Siege of Boston and remained with the Continental Army until mustering out in 1783.

    We know women were on the battlefield because they write about their experiences on the battlefield and we know that they got shot on the battlefield periodically. They also regularly received rations, though without the whiskey that the men got. Some meant to be on the battlefield and others found their rear positions overrun — I’ve been at the British women’s camp on the Saratoga field and it was frighteningly close to the artillery lines, so that when the artillery positions were overrun, so were the women. Some were fighting alongside their husbands, but I suspect that more were loading while the man shot. Women who were there anyhow were employed to haul water to cool the artillery, so they were running up and down the line with buckets because they were considered appropriate for that support role. They ran out onto the field with buckets of stew and biscuits went the battle went on for hours. They repeatedly went out with canteens despite being told to get out of the line of fire. They could, from time to time, temporarily fill in for their wounded spouse. A small number cross-dressed and became soldiers outright, but the majority didn’t. They just raised their kids on the march and did what they could to preserve their family life, however irregular the conditions.

    An interesting twist to this is the role of Indian women in the employ of the Patriot army. When Hann Yerry (an Oneida) showed up to fight at Oriskany, he brought his sons and his wife Tyonajanegen. The newspaper reports say that she fought alongside him with two pistols, staying on horseback and inspiring the tired soldiers during the heat of the six-hour battle.

  7. Oh, Jo cutting her hair, right. I had forgotten all about it.

    Would women have been on the battlefield (as women, not the ones passing as men) during the Civil War as well?

  8. Yes, there were, but in fewer numbers — provided that the battlefield was an actual battlefield and not a town under siege. (Vicksburg, Richmond, Atlanta, Nashville…there were plenty of women stuck in these towns) Likewise, armies that moved with contrabands would have had Af-Am women and children in their lines. The professionalization of the military which you point out had happened in Europe was in full swing by the 1860s and so ideally, in theory at least, women were supposed to be off the field and to the rear. Female ambulance wagon drivers, however, told some hair-raising stories about running a gauntlet of fire to retrieve the wounded.

  9. I wrote about my deserter ancestor… his name was Hatcher and he swam across the Ohio river. He said, in effect, the hell with it.

    I have ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War, but I am most proud of my CSA deserter. Maybe he was simply hungry, or ill, or tired… but I like to think he was fed up. That’s my pacifist DNA!

    Fascinating posts, Bridgett.

  10. My grandmother’s grandfather was a corporal in one of the Indiana regiments. (I can’t remember which one, my notes are in storage.) His unit was at 2nd Vicksburg, IIRC, but sometime after Vicksburg he was invalided out, I think because of diptheria. He hung out back home in Indiana for a while, but got all fired up at some point and re-enlisted. He was made a training sergeant and finished out the war that way. I even have a photo somewhere.

    I believe I have kin that fought in the CSA, as there were a passel in Kentucky at the time, but I have had very little luck tracking them down, and lately I haven’t had the time.

    Bridgett, do you belong to the National Society of the Blue and Gray? I’ve heard they’re actually a pretty fun bunch who don’t take themselves too seriously.

  11. No, I’m not a member of NSBG. I was, once upon a time, active in an Ohio Civil War Roundtable group (which was, in my local experience, a lot like hanging out with D and D gamers who read nonfiction).

    My own family’s all over the ideological map. The early arrivers (Welsh indentured servants in SC) took part in the Battle of King’s Mountain in the Revolution before they moved up through TN and central KY in the early 19th c. They stayed way up a holler and out of the Civil War. The later arrivers (Callahans) came in from Ireland as canal navvies; their sons wound up on both sides, depending on whether the dads bought slaves or not. My dad’s people were Musicks, Fairchildses, and Hatfields, so they were part of the Logan Wildcats. (Actually, my grandmother was a product of a McCoy/Hatfield marriage…often wondered about that one…)

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