21 April 2008

Old School: The Life of Confederate Soldiers

Although I spend a majority of time doing my research online, I am also a bibliophile at heart (BA and MA in English Literature!) so I have decided to include within the auspices of this blog occasional items of interest from genealogy or history books that I am reading.

This time around, I want to share with you The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy by Bell Irvin Wiley. This book would be incredibly interesting to anyone who has family that served for the Confederacy during the Civil War, as it discusses the details of what day-to-day life was like for the men who served. Clothing, food, transport, discipline, disease, ammunitions... all the details that have been glossed over in other works as somehow mundane are the focus of Wiley's study. His extensive use of letters, diaries, newspapers and narratives as source material make for some very compelling chapters on the real life of the Johnny Rebs. (Wiley also wrote a companion book to this item, Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union, which covers the same topics from the viewpoint of the Union; I'll be writing more about that one once I finish reading Johnny Reb!)

At any rate, I thought I would share this interesting paragraph from the book, which details the general age-ranges of individuals who served for the South; such information could be helpful when figuring out what (if any) role a particular ancestor served during the war:

"[T]he ratio of men above 45 [years of age] and of boys below 18 was probably higher in 1861 and early 1862 than at any other time. The tidal wave of enthusiasm that swept hundreds of old and young into the ranks at the war's beginning lost its force with the passing of time, and many of extreme ages, beset with debility and with camp-weariness, returned to their homes after a year of service. The conscription law of February 1864 comprehended 17-year-olds and men from 46-50, but these were to be employed only as reserve force. The great majority of additions to the army after 1862 came from the 18-45 group, through upward extension of the conscription age and revocation of exemptions, substitutions, and details. There is apparently little foundation for the charge made by Grant late in the war that the Confederacy was robbing the cradle and the grave to sustain its forces. The overwhelming bulk of the Southern Army from beginning to end appears to have been made up of persons ranging in age from 18 to 35."

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