Everyday life in the Civil War Feed

Drumming out

Are you familiar with the historical military practice of drumming a soldier out of the army?

This process of dishonorably discharging a soldier had its origins in the British army in the 17th century and was later picked up by the American military. Soldiers could be drummed out for a variety of reasons, from thievery to desertion. 

Usually, during a drumming out, the guilty man’s head was shaved, the insignia and buttons taken from his uniform, and a sign detailing his crime hung around his neck. Sometimes he was dressed in felon’s clothes or white feathers were placed above his ears, and other times a rope was put around his neck and he would be led by the smallest drummer boy. The convict would then be marched between the lines of his fellow soldiers to the tune of “Rogue’s March,” and he would be taken to the entrance of the camp, where he was sent on his way with orders to never return. 

“Rogue’s March” was often played by drums and fifes, though if they couldn’t be found, a trumpet was sometimes substituted and the process was called being “blown out” of the army. During the Civil War, “Yankee Doodle” was sometimes played instead of “Rogue’s March.” 

The point of drumming out a soldier was to make his departure from the military humiliating enough that others would be discouraged from committing the same crime. So in addition to being drummed out, the local newspaper would sometimes write about the man’s crime to make it public. However, drumming out eventually fell out of favor as a punishment, and by World War II it had largely been dropped altogether in the U.S.

From Fold3

Delightful Civil War-era child’s primer


  • 4085
  • Union-a-b-c


“The Union ABC”, published in Boston by Degen, Estes & Co. [n.y], 12 pp., bound in thread. This patriotic booklet, measuring a healthy 6 x 8 1/2”, is printed in red and blue and was meant to teach youngsters the alphabet and a history lesson, as well. Some of the entries include: H is for Hardtack you scarcely can gnaw, J is for Jig which the Contrabands danceN is for Negro no longer a slave, P is the President who ruled the great nation, T is a traitor that was hung on a tree, and U is the Union our Soldiers did save. The back cover advertises Toy Books, Games (“Patriot Heroes: Or, Who’s Traitor.”), Union Reward Cards and the Chicken Little Series. Utterly charming; evocative of Civil War society. Cover has two edge tears internally repaired with period paper tape. Generally in excellent condition. (Est. $200-300)

From the collectibles site RailSplitter.com.

A copy of this book is in the Library of Congress.

From Civil War Talk

Making Havelocks for the Volunteers

During the four years he spent documenting the Civil War for Harper’s Weekly, Winslow Homer also depicted the war’s effect on those back at home. Two months after the conflict broke out, he highlighted the domestic role of women in this illustration of a sewing circle in which respectable young women diligently sew uniforms and attach havelocks (sun-shielding coverings) to the back of military hats. Though the image seems to be one of tranquillity and comfort, the ladies’ somber expressions hint at the emotional restraint exercised at this urgent and uncertain time. The large flag at right and the portrait of the soldier at left suggest both the patriotic and personal devotion behind the women’s work.



“This is a casual view of Union Army camp life,” During free moments, the men would clean up and be shaved.


The hair of the men in the Civil War was a major change in tactical warfare from the previous worldwide wars. For example, the wars in Europe prior to the American Civil War were fought with long hair, and in fact long hair was a valuable trait sought after in solders primarily for two reasons:

  1. Long hair increased the physical appearance of men, giving them a raw look that would intimidate opponents. This very same fact of long hair increasing the bulk of a male was extrapolated to facial hair as facial hair was also left to grow fully to increase the male’s upper body bulk.
  2. Long hair helped guard soldiers from the cold, and in Europe winter time is remarkably cold and bitter.
  3. Long hair served to protect the skull against friction injuries or abrasive injuries.

However, during the Civil War the higher ranking officials would mandate that all soldiers be neatly trimmed as, by the time the war was starting, barbers had realized of the positive effect that good hygiene had on soldiers.



From The Civil War Parlor on Tumblr

Soap And The Civil War

Until the early 1900’s, much of the soap used was made at home. Fats from cooking and butchering were saved until there was enough to make a batch of soap. This all changed in 1916 when a shortage of fats (a main ingredient in soap) occurred during World War I. As an alternative was needed, enterprising companies developed the first synthetic soaps called detergents.

Cindy Brown, collections manager for the York County Heritage Trust, said in the 1800’s women would bathe weekly, generally on a Saturday night to prepare for church the next morning. “Most people had a tub and they’d heat water over a fire to warm it for bathing, using homemade soap made with harsh lye,”

Although germs were not yet known, doctors noticed during the Civil War that soldiers who were bathed regularly and kept in clean environments had a much higher survival rate and got fewer infections. The credit for this discovery goes to a nurse who worked at the front during the Crimean War. (Florence Nightingale).

Although fine domestic and imported soaps were then available, the Civil War created such economic hardship that many southern women made their own soap well into the 20th century.




From The Civil War Parlor on Tumblr


William T. Sherman And The American Term “Bum”- WAR SLANG

The term “bummers” refers to General Sherman’s foragers during the March To The Sea and the Carolinas Campaign and is possibly deriving from the German Bummler, meaning “idler” or “wastrel.” Many soldiers, who believed it struck terror in the hearts of Southern people, embraced the name.

Bummer. (1) A deserter. See also hospi- 
tal bummer. (2) An individual more in- 
terested in the spoils of war than in good 
conduct; a predatory soldier. (3) A ge- 
neric name for the destructive horde of 
deserters, stragglers, runaway slaves, and 
marauders who helped make life miser- 
able in the war-torn South. Bummers 
robbed, pillaged, and burned along with 
General Sherman and his army in Geor- 
gia. These men were known far and wide 
as Sherman's bummers. The term was not 
shortened to "bum" until after the war 
(c. 1870). It is almost certainly a mod- 
ification of the German Bummler 


Continue reading "Bummers" »

Dating And Love In The 1800’s

Dating And Love In The 1800’s

In the 1800’s Courting wasn’t something young people did merely for a good time; it was a serious family business proposition. Surprisingly, the main players in the marriage process often weren’t just the bride and groom; they were the parents of the bride and groom.

Courting was rooted in the era of arranged marriages, though the couple and their feelings often played an important role. Still, families often met to discuss how this marriage would benefit not only the bride and groom, but the respective clans. The point is, a marriage is a joining of two families as well as two young people.

After the Civil War, an elaborate system of rules governing courting emerged. On a woman’s invitation, men conducted formal “calls” to her home, during which couples might converse, read aloud, play parlor games, or give a piano recital. Parents gave their children privacy to court alone, often removing themselves from the parlor, trusting that decorum would prevent improper behavior.

Advertising for Love: A Personal Ad From The 1800’s

Matrimonial. The world is so full of poetry, beauty, and glory, and I have no one to share it with me; no one to read with me my Shakespeare and Milton, to enjoy with me nature, art, letters, society; I seek, therefore, my other and better half, my complement and peer, equal, though not like; myself a New-Englander by birth, of liberal culture and pursuits, of about 35 years of age, a gentleman and a Christian in my aspirations. Ladies so minded will please address Mr. CHRISTOPHER LEIGHTON, Box No. 144 Times Office. ~Too bad Mr Leighton is long dead…I wonder if he found what he was looking for?

A portrait of a Vermont military couple, pictured in the 3rd Vermont regiment uniform.- Vermont Historical Society



From the Civil War Parlor on Tumblr

Confederate Children caught in the throes of war


Carrie Berry was too young to recall events in her home town of Atlanta when Georgia joined the Confederacy. But by 1864, when she turned ten, Berry reported the toll the war had taken. On her birthday, she revealed: “I did not have a cake. Times were too hard, so I celebrated with ironing. I hope by my next birthday we will have peace in our land so that I can have a nice dinner.” Like those of many young white girls of the Confederacy, her formerly prosperous parents were unable to afford peace time luxuries. In 1864 Margaret Junkin Preston of Virginia was shocked to report in a letter: “G. and H. at Sally White’s birthday party: H. said they had ‘white mush’ on the table; on inquiry, I found out it was ice cream! Not having made any ice cream since wartimes, the child had never seen any, and so called it white mush.”

Emma Le Conte reported in 1865 at the ripe old age of seventeen: “I have seen little of the lightheartedness and exuberant joy that people talk about as the natural heritage of youth. It is a hard school to be bred up in and I often wonder if I will ever have my share of fun and happiness.” Some girls tried to look on the bright side. Amanda Worthington in rural Mississippi confided: “I think the war is teaching us some useful lessons—we are learning to dispense with many things and to manufacture other.”

The war also taught children some terrible lessons. Cornelia Peake McDonald remembered her three-year-old wailing and clinging to her doll Fanny, crying that “the Yankees are coming to our house and they will capture me and Fanny.” Another mother recounted a traumatic incident during Sherman’s march. When Union soldiers invaded her home, her six-year-old daughter hid with her treasures—a bar of soap and her doll. “One of the men approached the bed, and finding it warm, in a dreadful language accused us of harboring and concealing a wounded rebel, and he swore he would have his heart’s blood. He stooped to look under the bed, and seeing the little white figure crouching in a distant corner, caught her by one rosy little foot and dragged her forth. The child was too terror-stricken to cry, but clasped her little baby and her soap fast to her throbbing little heart. The man wrenched both from her and thrust the little one away with such violence that she fell against the bed.”

Such scenes created vivid memories and tales oft repeated. So throughout the war, and the years to come, the mere mention of “Yankees” might strike terror in Confederate children, stimulating fears that haunted them in darkened bedrooms or around dying campfires.

From: National Parks Service Life in the Civil War