Sunday, May 27, 2007

Union Soldiers - will these men be remembered this Memorial Day?

Union Soldiers

The Union soldier was typically a man in his early 20s, in most cases, he was a farmer who had either enlisted to fight a war which he thought wouldn't last more than a few months, or near the peak of the Civil War, someone who had been drafted. Those who were called to serve against their own will were often poor, since anyone who could pay the sum of $300.00 would be exempt from fighting. Still, many of the Union soldiers had ideals to uphold, and all of them were more than well equipped to do so, as opposed to their southern enemies. As the war progressed, even women joined the fight, dressing up as, and pretending to be men so that they could join the army.

Union soldiers' uniforms were dark blue and made of thick wool. Their only relief from the hot and uncomfortable outfit was most often a cotton shirt sent to them by their families, as their army issued shirts were also made of wool. Why all that wool? The reason was that wool would not take in water, or remain wet like cotton in the event of rain, and it was also more durable. Union soldiers also wore woolen caps which had leather visors to provide shade when aiming in the blazing sun. Union soldiers not only had better uniforms, they also had better weapons, British made Enfield rifles were the norm, and they were the most accurate weapons on the battlefield.

In addition to heavy clothes, Union soldiers carried a heavy knapsack, a blanket, and a small protective cover called "dog tent". Like the Confederates, Union soldiers carried a haversack filled with the usual set of eating implements, the canteen and frying pan being the most important. Unlike the southern Rebels, the Federals were required to groom themselves, and maintain a proper appearance, therefore their kit also included a comb, a razor, and other personal hygiene products.

Union Infantrymen wore belts on which there were cartridge boxes to carry multiple rounds of ammunition, a pouch to carry "percussion caps"; a17th Century equivalent of the hand grenade, and a scabbard which held their bayonets. Union Cavalrymen had similar accoutrements, but their belts included a pistol holster, and a special straps to hold their sabers.

While the Union troops were well fed, many died from ptomaine poisoning, the result of eating poorly canned meat and other tainted food items. Morale was generally high amongst the Federal troops, but desertion was a serious issue since many soldiers which had left their homes in the hopes of fighting a short war, would eventually feel the need to return to their families and farms. Since many of them had been drafted, they did not want to be where they were in the first place. Those who deserted for cowardice were mostly drummed out of cam with a sign around their neck that read "coward", while others hung or executed by firing squad for more serious offences such as treason. Other, less draconian methods of discipline included tying a soldier to a large wheel for hours on end, and imprisonment.

There exist many photographs of the Union forces, as their army had greater funding. While they did win the war, it was not an easy battle, and many lost their lives, not to mention the thousands who returned home as amputees. It is also interesting to note that many freed slaves became fighters for the Union, no doubt motivated by Lincoln's attitude towards human rights. He is after all, remembered as the "Great Emancipator".

Not far from where I currently live there is a cemetery with an entire section devoted to the Union Soldier. Many of their graves are there from that time along with a memorial and a cannon. I have always wondered if anyone comes by to decorate their graves on Memorial Day. I have some small flags and if Noah is up to it...we will go over and place a flag on each of the tombstones as well as the tombstones of my relatives who also served in any war. This has been something that has bothered me for some time. Here are a couple of photographs:

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1 comment:

Melissa said...

That's a good idea about the flags. I thought some of the veterans placed flags on the military graves, maybe not.