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?
As I was reading this blog post about Irish family members, it really made me think about the “simpler times” during the Civil War and how heartbreaking it must have been for the Irish families searching for their loved ones. Since there was no mass media or internet, it was more difficult to keep track of soldiers within the battles of war. Some Irish families would pay $1 to put in an advertisement to help search for loved ones lost in battle in the New York Irish-American. The advertisements contained some information on the soldier (age, hometown, rank, etc.) and where he was last seen and the ads would be put up in three issues. Not only is it hard to send off a loved one to war, but also having to sit and wonder when or if he will come back. Sometimes, men would be dead for months before their families even found out about him. In today’s world, when you have someone close to you sent off to war, you usually find out their current state on a regular basis. Back in the Civil War days, it wasn’t the case. Since finding out about soldiers was seen as a waiting game to these Irish families, I could only imagine the grief they must have felt as the months went on, constantly wondering whether their son or brother was dead, captured, or (hopefully) alive and well. Although receiving news of a loved ones death is tragic, we are lucky to be living in a time of advance communication because back in those days, the waiting of that kind of news could almost be just as bad as the news itself.
Career: Wildlife Science
“Poor Virginia…By her officious subservience, however, she got her paw into the fire, and how dreadfully it is burned only those who are on her soil can form any idea. Everywhere is the destruction going on. Her soil is the battlefield, and, so far as the destruction of property is concerned, it matters but little which party is successful” (Castleman, 21). This quote, taken from the diary of Alfred Lewis Castleman, gives a visual to the kind of physical toll that certain areas and states in the U.S. suffered and what damage the war caused. Within the Civil War, there were many important battlefields and war sites that were key areas in the war and to this day are being conserved for historic purposes, which must be maintained carefully. The damage done during the war leaves many sites, forests, and artifacts very fragile and difficult to keep preserved. As I am focusing my education on wildlife and forest conservation, I will be looking at how Civil War sites are being preserved and how certain Civil War parks are run and how they are critical aspects in keeping the physical history of the war intact.
The Civil War had many bloody battles in the different parts of the United States and many battlefields within those areas are still seen as sacred grounds to this day. During those battles, there was damage done to the lands, forests, and fields by things like fire and explosions. Right after the Civil War, important battle sites, such as Gettysburg, were immediately preserved not just for the sake of history conservation, but also to help restore the land and ecosystem to a healthy environment since the damage from the war was brutal to most battlefields. One example of these important battlefields is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Right after the battle in 1863, the land was immediately preserved and in 1895 it was brought under government ownership. Although the landscape was preserved and is still being looked after today, things like natural succession and human development have caused changes in the natural appearance of the battlefield then it may have been remembered. “While some vegetation features (thickets, woodlots and woodlands) were removed by man over the years, others were overgrown by nature, becoming dense and containing many non-native species. In addition, some historic fields, pastures, and other open areas are covered by non-historic vegetation” (Gettysburg para 3). This battle site, like many others around the U.S., should be continued to be preserved, as this war is a very important part of our historical culture.
Although back in the 1860s the important battlefields were just seen as acres of land that men fought on to many of the people living around there, they are now very popular historic tourist attractions. Many of the places also have activities such as hiking trails through the forests and rivers to go canoeing and kayaking. Another big part of the ecosystem of Civil War lands is the animal community that lives within the nature of these parks. There are a large variety of the types of animals protected in nature at the parks, such as mammals (deer, foxes, and rabbits), reptiles (snakes and turtles) and birds (owls, geese, and hawks). To me, it’s important to continue protecting the nature of these areas, including the animals that dwell within the land. Also, helping preserve these lands and all the animals allows visitors to have a visual and to reflect on what it was really like back during the Civil War and to see what it was like out in nature during the times of battle.
Today, scientists, historians, and landowners are still working on preserving parks and sites of importance from the Civil War. They preserve these lands by using conservation strategies. When working on a project to organize the preservation of an area of land, these people look to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission. The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission was established in 1990 because there was a concern in the increase of loss of Civil War sites. There were 15 members in the Commission who were appointed by Congress and the Secretary of the Interior. They were a number of requests, such as to identify the nation’s significant Civil War sites, the state their condition, if there were any threats shown to the sites, and if there were any alternatives to conserve them. Once the information was gathered, the presented them in the Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields (CWSAC para 2). These documents are vital keys in making sure that the nature conservation of these lands will continue to be kept under protection for the sake of history. In order to hold on to the history of our nation, we have to ensure that they will be kept up and safe from anything that might destroy them, like expanding cities or large business corporations.
When preserving a significant land or battlefield, the organization called the Civil War Trust finds out if a property is listed as CWSAC eligible site. Once it becomes eligible, they use a computer mapping system called the Geographic Information System to connect potential sites to historic landscapes (Civil War Trust para 5). They then figure out how they are going to conserve the property. A conservation easement (a legal agreement between a landowner and an eligible organization that restricts future activities on the land to protect its conservation values) is made between the organization and landowners. Within this easement are certain rules and regulations that help protect the land. Some of these rules include: the restriction of the ability to subdivide a property, restriction of any changes to the topography of the landscape, and no allowance for new structures, unless they are necessary for an agricultural operation (Civil War Trust para 8). Some conservation easements can be good for the landowners because it can help the preservation of family land, there is a federal income tax benefit, some state income tax benefits, estate tax benefits, and property tax benefits (Civil War Trust para 9). Although it’s beneficial to make agreements with landowners to keep Civil War sites under protection, some might not feel so welcoming to the idea of having their property under the preservation of a Civil War organization. If certain families have special sentimental ties to their property, I feel that there shouldn’t be any pressure on them about buying out their land for historical purposes.
While there is still being work done today on preserving certain areas of the U.S. that are connected to the Civil War, there have been many acres of land over the years that have been successfully saved and kept up by different organizations that focus on helping conserve the history within the land. Some of these areas include Fredericksburg, Virginia (222 acres), Glendale Battlefield and Malvern Hill in Virginia (1,565 acres), the Wilderness Battlefield (where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant first met in combat, 211 acres), and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (812 acres) (Civil War Trust). These sites were all critical sites that have major significances in the Civil War. Many of the properties that were saved often had things that distracted the sites from their historical beauty, such as commercial properties. Since then, the lands have been restored to resemble a more Civil War like appearance. In my opinion, the idea of commercializing an important property such as these is not right because many men had fought on these battlefields and were battling for what they thought was right. Commercialization is a concept for the modern world that is widely accepted now, but it should not put our nation’s historical sites in its shadow.
The lands and battlefields of the Civil War contain the most physical ties to our history and are worth preserving. As I am learning about the conservation of nature and wildlife, I see how it connects with the importance of conserving the significant sites of the Civil War. Although the war happened over 100 years ago, it is still an important part of our nation’s history and should be preserved not just for the sake of the nature within the lands, but also for the sake of history.
Castleman, Alfred Lewis, 1808(?)-1877, Diary of Alfred Lewis Castleman, September, 1861, in The Army of the Potomac, Behind the Scenes: a Diary of Unwritten History: from the Organization of the Army … to the Close of the Campaign in Virginia, About the First Day of January, 1863. Milwaukee, WI: Strickland & Co., 1863, pp. 288. [09-01-1861]
“Saving America’s Civil War Battlefields.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2013. <http://www.civilwar.org/>.
Gettysburg. National Park Sponsor, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2013. <http://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm>.
CWSAC Battle Summaries. Heritage Preservation Services, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2013. <http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/abpp/battles/tvii.htm>.