Article

Soldiers in the Union Army

Lorien Foote

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History


Published online February 2018 | e-ISBN: 9780199329175 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.206

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  • Civil War and Reconstruction US History
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Soldiers enlisted in the Union Army from every state in the Union and the Confederacy. The initial volunteers were motivated to preserve the accomplishments of the American Revolution and save the world’s hope that democratic government could survive. They were influenced by their culture’s ideals of manhood and republican ideals of the citizen soldier. They served in regiments that retained close ties with their sending communities throughout the war.

Recruits faced a difficult adjustment period when their units were mustered into the US Army. The test of battle taught soldiers to value some drills and discipline, but many soldiers insisted that officers respect their independence and equality. Soldiers successfully resisted many aspects of formal military discipline. Army life exposed conflicts between soldiers who sought to create moral regiments and soldiers who displayed manliness through fighting and drinking. Establishing honor before peers was an important component of soldier life. Effective soldiering involved enduring the boredom and disease of camp, the rigors of marching, and the terror of battle. To survive, soldiers formed close bonds with their comrades, mastered self-care techniques to stay healthy, applied skills learned from their civilian occupations on the battlefield, and remained connected to their families and communities. Conscription changed the character of the Union Army. Officers tightened discipline over the influx of lower-class “roughs.”

Union soldiers generally demonized their enemies as inferior barbarians. Because of their interaction with slaves in the South, Union soldiers quickly shifted their support to emancipation. Although Christianity and ideals of civilized behavior placed some restraints on Union soldiers when they encountered southerners, they supported and implemented hard war measures against the South’s population and resources, and treated guerrillas and their supporters with particular brutality. In the election of 1864, Union soldiers voted to fight until the Confederacy was defeated.

Keywords: Union soldiers; citizen soldiers; military discipline; soldier motivation; US colored troops; soldier voting; camp life; soldier honor; soldier manhood; conscription in Union Army; Civil War combat; immigrants in Union Army

Article.  10534 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Civil War and Reconstruction US History ; Southern US History

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