In one of the last classes we had we talked about how sometimes in sports it can seem like a war or battle and how the aspects of sports are related to war. While I do see the similarities with sports and battle, I still think they are very different. Some of the similarities that were pointed out were factors like how when you are battling you are on a side that you are loyal to and you fight against an opponent and the idea of battling and persevering to win. However, I think it is a little rash to make them seem “really” similar. Sports are very limited and have certain regulations to follow. In war, there are no rules that all soldiers must abide by, except for the orders they are given from their superiors. There are no referees out on a battlefield throwing flags or blowing a whistle because someone made a foul. In the Civil War, all the men knew was that there was an enemy they were facing and their main goal was to defeat them, which mostly meant killing or capturing them. War is a harsh thing to endure for anyone because in an instant you could be killed because you are fighting for what you believe in, whether it is good or bad. In sports, players only play because of the passion they have for the game and it is their choice of whether to play or not. In war, you fight for the side you are loyal to and because you have a duty. So, to me, sports and war aren’t that similar but still share some of the same basic concepts.
A study taken after the Civil War in 1889 showed that 620,000 men died from various causes during the war, although more modern studies have thoroughly researched the amount of deaths and put that number up to around 850,000. Death is inevitable when it comes to war, but how does it affect the loved ones that the soldier has left behind, like their wives or children? The death of a spouse is perhaps the toughest loss anyone could experience, which most widows could agree with. When looking at this circumstance where most women during the Civil War found themselves in, it raises certain questions, such as, how did the widows and their families get along once the husband was gone, who did they depend upon during these dark times, and how did they cope with the fact that their beloved husband or father was gone forever?
When someone very close to you, such as a spouse or father, is taken by death, it is a very hard obstacle to overcome. Going into the war, most men knew what kind of battle they were walking in to and that death would always be staring them in the face in the form of an opposing soldier with a gun or cannon. This factor also applies to all the other wars that every soldier has ever been in. With this in mind, family members also know what may lie ahead of them when they see a loved one going off to battle. The whole process takes a huge emotional toll on families because of the stress and fear that lies ahead of them. During the time of the Civil War, there was no real organized system or advanced technology for keeping track of all the soldiers during battles. It took weeks, even months, until families would hear of an update on the status of their soldier. Most news that came back to the wives of soldiers wasn’t exactly the news they were wanting to receive.
Along with the worried wives of the Civil War soldiers, the children of soldiers were also fearful of their fathers during these times. In a letter that a little boy wrote to his father during the war, he expresses how much he misses him and how fearful he is of his father’s safety. In the letter, he writes to his father, “I don’t want the Rebels to shoot you” (Wood, 1). This part of the letter really stood out to me because it shows how the soldier’s son seems to be very aware of what’s going on as far as what his father’s doing, who he’s fighting against, and what possible danger he’s in. It reveals how there was not only fear and stress for the wives of soldiers but for the children of them as well. Anoter part in his letter is when he says “I wish Papa was here” (Wood, 1). Since he is just a child, he seems to be very blunt with his emotions and is willing to openly express himself because he has a main understanding of what is going on with his father. He expresses his grief and shows how the separation of his father from him is really affecting him. When children areat this age, when they are told something from an adult, it’s hard for them to comprehend the situation so they respond with the innocence that young children have. With numerous children having these emotional ties to their fathers during the Civil War, its even harder for them to understand that their parent might never come back from battle.
When the news of the death of a loved one reaches a family, it immediately becomes overwhelming and is hard to take at first. Just a few years ago, my grandfather passed from certain illnesses and it was the most difficult time of my life thus far. It was also very hard on my mother, who was also incredibly close to my grandfather as well. Both of us depended on each other emotionally to get through the really difficult times. We also had to help with my grandmother because she was going through the most difficult time in her life as well. With almost every loss of a spouse, the widow looks to find some kind of comfort in family members or friends. In a Civil War letter from a recent widow to her uncle, Mary Stamps talks about how her uncle offered her “kind and comforting words” (Stamps, 1) during the time after her husband’s death. In this letter, it shows how certain family members reach out to help comfort and console their kin in their times of need. She also states in the letter “it comforts me to write you about it” (Stamps, 8). When she says this, it seems that she has a very close relationship with her uncle and looks to him for comfort and is comfortable with him enough to discuss her struggles. It also seems apparent that although it is a heavy burden on her, she doesn’t mind talking about her recently deceased husband. These kind of relationships are the most important ones because they help people get through the rough patches of life.
In some cases, women would fall back on religion to help them in their time of need. In Lydia Marie Child to Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw, Child writes to her a while after the Civil War is over and talks about how she is still in distressed times with her husband gone but she says “There are so many reasons for thankfulness to the Heavenly Father!” (Child, 2). When she refers to the “Heavenly Father”, it becomes apparent how religious she is and how she’s dealing with her situation. Some of the reasons she explains for her thankfulness include how she was glad that her husband didn’t suffer for a long time and how she took this burden of loniless instead of husband. To me, this seems to be a sign of bravery because most women wouldn’t be willing to admit that they are happy to receive that kind of misery and how grateful they are for their circumstances. It takes a lot of strength to say that they are thankful for their loniless and that they would rather take the pain instead of their husbands enduring this misery.
Not only was it tough emotionally for families to move on after the loss of the husband/father, but it also hit hard financially for most families in the Civil War. For many families, the husband was always the man of the house and provided for their families financially. If the husband had a decent job that provided enough for easy living, the women usually stayed home to do housework or had the role of raising children. Once that financial support is gone when a husband doesn’t come back for war, it becomes even harder on families to provide for themselves. In some cases, widows of Civil War veterans may receive pensions for their service in the war and if the wife/family is stuggling with money. In a diary of William Howard Russell, he states “the Union will give a pension to his widow” (Russell, 1), which is referring to Senator Douglas. Other families with husbands in the war also received money from the state or from the organized sides to help them.
Some widows were able to occupy themselves and also make some money in the process by allowing there homes to be a stop for passing visitors. If women had a rather large house, they would allow travelers to stay in their homes for the night to rest and have some food before journeying on. This also allowed them a little financial help, and it also provides some company for them. During hard times like these, it sometimes helps to have numerous people around you because then you don’t feel so alone and most of the people who come by and understand your problems and try to help you in any way they can.
Everyone experiences a loss of someone they love at some point in their life. It’s even harder when they are the closest person to you. During the Civil War, when it was a time of fear and violence, women and children would go through a long and difficult struggle when they saw the husband/father go off to battle, never knowing what might happen to him. After they lose them, it is even worse trying to figure out how to cope without a husband or father and dealing with the emotions that come with the death of a loved one. “How my heart would yearn for old Massachusetts, where I lived with dear David so many years! Years of struggle they have been” (Child, 5). In his quote from Lydia Child to Sarah Shaw, Child is expressing how she has been struggling since the passing of her husband David and how she likes to reflect on the time she shared with him. She seems to be reaching out to her friend Sarah as a way of finding comfort. This pattern within letters gives an insight to how the women react and cope with the loss of their husbands and also how the children of the soldiers express their sadness. It also shows the type of people they reach out to to find comfort. The core of the support that these women receive mainly comes from other family members or very close friends who the wives rely on.
Child, Lydia Maria Francis, 1802-1880, Letter from Lydia Maria Child to Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw, 1874, in Letters of Lydia Maria Child with a Biographical Introduction by John G. Whittier and Appendix by Wendell Phillips. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1883, pp. 280.
Stamps, Mary Elizabeth, 1835-1900, Letter from Mary Elizabeth Stamps to Jefferson Finis Davis, August 16, 1863, in Jefferson Davis: Private Letters 1823-1889. Strode, Hudson, ed., New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966, pp.
Wood, Freddie, 1860(?)-, Letter from Freddie Wood to Amos Wood, 1863, in Wood Family Letters, unpublished manuscripts from the South Hadley Historical Society. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2002, pp. 623.
After learning more about the Civil War and getting an inside to the stories of the past, It made me think about the predicament of the soldiers that were fighting. By this time, the US is still starting out as a country so I doubt that they’ve thought much about things like war since they’re trying to grow as a nation. A majority of the soldiers that were pulled into the war were still young during this time and probably haven’t had much experience with war. It really makes you think about how scared the soldiers must have been during the battles because they never thought they would have to go through such an experience at a young age. It also raises thoughts about the families of these young boys. Since there wasn’t real advanced technology in those times, families weren’t able to get constant updates on their loved ones, which must have been very difficult. Many families might of had to wait for months on end about whether their brother or son was dead or still alive. It makes me think of how families would deal with these kind of situations knowing that their loved ones were out on some battlefield fighting a war against men in their own country. Also, I can only imagine what grief these young men endured while waiting in trenches during battle and having to kill other men when they have barely begun to live. How would these situations these men went through affect the rest of their lives?