Religion and the Civil War

The Civil War was the bloodiest and deadliest war in American history as far as American casualties. In many cases, brother fought brother and neighbor fought neighbor. In almost all cases, those who once were fellow countrymen fought each other. What drove these men and women to throw themselves so fully behind a cause to be willing to fight against, and often kill, these people who before were their friends and compatriots? There are many factors and answers to this complex question, but one of note is the role of religion.triumph

““…never in the course of my observation, or in my reading of human history, had I seen the hand of Providence so signally manifested as the events of this war.” Prominent abolitionist Lydia Maria Child wrote these words in a letter to a friend concerning her brother’s death (1863). By “Providence”, Child was referring to a deterministic view of life as designed by a higher power. Under this belief, every choice and action of every person is pre-determined, leading to an end result of Heaven on Earth and a utopia for the rest of eternity. This was a prominent belief amongst many Christian denominations in the early years of the United States. With this letter, Child articulated a view that was widely held across the Union. Freedom and equality for all was part of God’s final plan. This war was just another pre-determined step towards the final utopia. The victory of the Union and the abolition of slavery must happen for the sake of faith. Through this rhetoric, there very much was a melding of the political and the religious of the minds of the people.

Where did this melding begin? Robert Bellah, in his article “Civil Religion in America”, describes a phenomenon he calls civil religion. This phenomenon is essentially what today we call nation-building. In the present day United States, the only thing that ties all Americans together is the fact that all Americans have some sort of affiliation with a geographical territory demarcated by imaginary lines. In order to mobilize this population, it becomes necessary to create more of a sense of unity. Civil religion accomplishes this, metaphorically, with the scriptures of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the prophets of the Founding Fathers and the Presidents, and the holy sites of the Liberty Bell and Washington, D.C. (1967). President Lincoln, who claimed to be Christian but never affiliated himself with a denomination, often saw the Union in an almost mystical light as the torch-bearer of this pre-determined path towards freedom and equality. In his second inaugural address he said, “…if God wills that it continue until…every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous all together’” (quoted in Bellah, 1967, p. 106). This creation of civil religion, placed with the Christian faith of many of the citizens, and coinciding with the Civil War, may have created this sense of a holy war against the South.P32019292e

There were also other religious movements that may not have been entirely caused by the Civil War but did coincide and may have been encouraged by the horrors people were witnessing. Another prominent abolitionist, Lucretia Coffin Mott, exemplified one of these movements in a letter concerning the death of a family member. She said, “I feel at times as if in spirit she may be nearer to us than we imagine” (1864). She went on to discuss how her entire life, she had been taught that Heaven was a place that was far away and impossible for anyone to reach short of a moral life and eventual death. She began to question this, however, after he family member’s death, claiming her faith was above “sectarian theologies and speculations” (402). This hints towards a religious perspective outside of institutional control. The notion of faith above all is reminiscent of the Roman Catholic and Grandfather of Existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard. Mott may have read Kierkegaard or one of his many students, or she may have arrived at the conclusion on her own. Either way, her doubt in institutional religion and confidence in her own faith is clear, just as it was for many other thinkers of that period.

Works Cited:

Bellah, R. N. (2005). Civil religion in america. Daedalus, 134(4), 40-55. Retrieved from
Child, L.M. (1863). Letter from Lydia Maria Child to Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw. In Letters of Lydia Maria Child, 172-174. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1883.
Mott, L. C. (1862). Letter from Lucretia Coffin Mott to Martha Coffin Pelham Wright. In James and Lucretia Mott: Life and Letters, 402-403. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1884.





Communication During the Civil War


The Civil War was the first war that was actually photographed. It allowed the rest of the United States, who were not fighting the war, to witness first-hand what was going on and how it looked. “Portraits of armed Union and Confederate soldiers preparing to meet their destiny; battlefield landscapes strewn with human remains; rare multi-panel panoramas of the killing fields of Gettysburg and the destruction of Richmond; diagnostic medical studies of wounded soldiers who survived the war’s last bloody battles.” (USA TODAY, 35) This was good for the education of the public but at the same time, some may not have been prepared for what they were going to see. The uses for photography were vast, this included: portraits of soldiers before going to war for the family to remember them by, many pictures within campsites, pictures of patients’ injuries for doctors to do medical examinations on, and panoramas of the battlefields.

The Railroad

The railroad system was a relatively new form of communication, especially when it came to war time. The north was much more technologically advanced when it came to the railroad compared to the south. “48.6 percent of free residents in the eleven Confederate states lived within fifteen miles of a railroad junction, while 85 percent of the northerners did the same.” (Majewski, 714) Because of this, the north targeted the South’s railroad system to gain an advantage during wartime. “As the war progressed Union generals such as William T. Sherman devised a “railroad strategy” focused on the capture and destruction of the southern railroad network.” (Majewski, 713) The uses for each side’s railroad system were different too. The north used the railroad to attempt westward expansion, while the south used it to transport cotton and for slavery. However by the end of the war, the south had improved their railroad system greatly. “By the outbreak of the Civil War the main railroad lines of North Carolina were already developed. Although only 283 miles of railroads spanned the state in 1850, a liberal policy of state aid enabled nine railroads to amass a total of 922 miles of track by 1860.” (Price, 298)The Piedmont Railroad is a specific example of the improvement in the south. It ranged from Greensboro to Danville, and was initially denied because of the concern that the smaller western stations would lose money because trains wouldn’t stop there as often. However it was eventually passed and the South benefited greatly from it.

The Telegraph

The telegraph was used more during the Civil War, compared to the Indian War, but it was used for the same reasons. The telegraph was used as a form of communication between soldiers and their families. The telegraph was also used as a way to discuss the position of enemies as well as the position of their own men. “Lee had no telegraphic communication north of Culpeper, and little need of any, prior to his advance. But the Federal telegraphic system, as heretofore, included all of their positions above indicated, and also, at times, as far out on the Orange and Alexandria road as Bealeton.” (Plum, 10)

Postal Service

Mail was still the most popular form of communication during the Civil War. Compared to the Indian War the delivery time shortened drastically. However the motive for writing letters remained the same. The soldiers and their families were constantly checking up on each other to make sure the other side was safe, and more importantly, still alive. Both sides also loved receiving letters because it showed that someone was still concerned about them and cared about them. “You cannot conceive how badly I feel when our Postmaster comes into Camp with no letters for me.” (Watson, 16)

People were extremely dependent of communication during the Civil War. It allowed the public to have a visual element with the war, it helped the armies strategically plan out their attack because of their knowledge of their position and the position of their enemy, and it served as a way for families to keep in touch within a decent amount of time. These came in the forms of: photography, the railroad, the telegraph, and the postal service. They were all very different but were all equally important.

Works Cited

-Majewski, John. Journal of Southern History. August 2013, Volume 79, Issue 3, pages 713-714.

-Price, Charles L. Civil War History: North Carolina Railroads During the Civil War. September 1961, Volume 7, Issue 3, p. 298-309.

-Plum, William Rattle. The military telegraph during the Civil War in the United States: with an exposition of ancient and modern means of communication, and of the federal and Confederate cipher systems; also a running account of the war between the states. 1882, 2 Volumes.

-USA Today (Magazine). The war between the states frozen in time: a landmark exhibition considers the evolving role of photography during the Civil War. July 2013, Volume 142, Issue 2818, p. 34-37.

-Watson, William. Letters of a Civil War surgeon. Edited by Paul Fatout. 1837.






Family Economics during the Civil War

Economic differences between the North and South, namely the North’s tremendous economic superiority, played perhaps the decisive factor in the outcome of the Civil War. The North’s economy was largely based around production and manufacturing. The North East was the most industrialized area of the country at the time, so it was filled with factories which were quickly converted to produce arms, ammunition, uniforms, and other supplies for use by soldiers. Because the areas of the North that were still largely rural produced food crops, the North was able to feed its entire population throughout the entirety of the war. The bank accounts and gold and silver reserves of the federal government were located in the North, so they remained in possession of the entirety of these after succession and these reserves, along with effective financial policies including an income tax and printing paper money that was declared legal tender, allowed the North to fund the war effectively, keeping interest rates below 80%.

The North’s inflation rate of 80% may sound like a lot when compared to current rates (the highest rate over the last 10 years was 4.1%) but compared to inflation in the Confederacy, 80% is next to nothing. The South was not nearly as economically equipped for war as the North. The economy of the Southern United States was centered around cash crops, like cotton and tobacco, and slavery. One of the first things the Union did at the start of the war was blockade Southern ports, preventing the shipment of cotton to Europe and other areas of high demand, and causing the South’s main source of income to disappear. With no source of income to fund their war effort, the South resorted to the only option they had; printing colossal amounts of paper money. The amount of paper money in circulation in the South at the start of the war was about $1,000,000. By the second year of the war, there was $700,000,000 of paper money in circulation. With no gold or silver to back the value of this money, and the national government unable to collect taxes according the the Confederate Constitution, inflation skyrocketed to heights that are unfathomable today. By the end of the war, the inflation rate in the South was around 9000% per year.

Families in the South fell on extremely hard times during the war. With the demand for cotton all but non existent, the economy fell to pieces, rendering many men unemployed. This forced most men to enlist in the Confederate army, whether they believed in the cause or not. Enlisted soldier’s wages were barely sufficient (and later entirely insufficient) to feed and take care of their families. If there had been work to do, soldier’s wives and children probably would have gotten jobs to help feed, clothe, and shelter themselves, but there were no factories for them to work at like there were in the North. This also meant that the Confederacy was unable to adequately equip its soldiers.  In fact, the Confederate soldiers had to bring their guns to war from home. These trying circumstances led to great unrest amongst families in the South, culminating in a minor class struggle between those who were so poor that they were unable to feed themselves and those who were just uncomfortably poor. This “class struggle” consisted mostly of the starving residents of some towns joining together to take food from those who had it. These uprisings were called “bread riots”, the most famous of which took place in Richmond and ended when Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, came and told the rioters to disband.

In the last years of the war, Confederate desertion increased due to the economic difficulties experienced by soldier’s families. Many of the poorer soldiers felt they had little stake in the war, seeing as they did not own slaves and were relatively happy with life before the war. This disinterest in the conflict, combined with starving wives and children, led many to make the decision to leave the war and go home to take care of their families.

Soldier’s families in the North also felt the effects of the war, but not nearly to the degree that those in the South did. Although Union soldier’s pay was comparable to that of Confederates, they did not suffer as much, partially because inflation rates were much lower and partially because women went to work. With most of the men fighting in the war, the factories that were used to supply equipment for the soldiers were understaffed, so to solve this problem, as well as supplement their husband’s incomes, many soldier’s wives went to work in factories.

Women Working in a Factory

Women also took jobs as secretaries and government workers, which at the time were almost entirely male dominated. Although this was one of the first pushes into the workforce that women made in the United States, the majority had little desire to remain there. Many working women’s greatest desire during the war was for their husbands to return so things could go back to how they were before the war.

Families on both sides of the conflict were put into varying degrees of economic discomfort as a result of the Civil War. Many throughout the South faced a period of extreme poverty equal to, if not worse than, the Great Depression. The majority of Northerners faced situations that ranged from annoyance to real economic discomfort, but very few experienced anything that rivaled the conditions in the South. This is one of the main reason why the North was able to outlast, and eventually defeat, the South.

Image Source:

Marriage and the Civil War

civil warSubtle differences in marriage patterns can be seen throughout different wars. Divorce rates change, communication improves, and concerns are even altered. The problems facing married couples in the Civil War were different from those in more current wars and are unique to the situations they experienced, yet there are some things that remained constant.

Emotions During the War

While situations changed for spouses, the emotions remain consistent. The wives of soldiers are always concerned, anxious, worried, angry, sad, or some other variation. This is because they are concerned for their loved one’s safety and hope they return in one piece without any significant change. Diana Phillips for example wrote in 1862 to her husband saying “I shall feel anxious till I hear from you after the battle” (Nelson & Sheriff, 2007). Many wives were concerned during the civil war that if their husbands returned, they would return calloused, emotionally scarred, and a stranger to them due to long separation. Men on another note felt guilty, exemplified by Marshall Phillips writing back to his wife I feel sometimes as if I done wrong by inlisting and leaving you with a family of small children” (Nelson & Sheriff, 2007). While men were away at war leaving their wives at home, these emotions bubbled into distraction, becoming a major obstacle for both spouses to overcome. This anxiety was mitigated by at least one factor, trust, like George Upton who wrote “Whatever you, and him, think is best shall feel perfectly satisfy with” ( Nelson & Sheriff, 2007). A soldier could rest easy in one aspect when he knew he could trust his wife to take care of the home to the best of her abilities.

Question of Virtue

With such separation also came a necessity for trust, faith in the husband to make wise decisions as well as faith in the wife left at home. Thus, virtue became a tremendous source of tension between couples and a increasingly debated topic. Even mothers during the Civil War were concerned about their son’s virtue as one mother encouraged her son to seek female correspondents to buoy his spirits ( Nelson & Sheriff, 2007). Many family members left at home, mostly wives, worried their husbands would cave to prostitution, gambling, and other vices to fill their free time. As one unknown wife fumed to her husband Gamblers“It came upon me so sudden I was not thinking of such a thing and did not know you used cards at all and was thinking of the same man that went away and hoping he would return the same” and going on to say “you are a father now and don’t bring disgrace upon your child’s head” ( Nelson & Sheriff, 2007). The separation brought out a lot of doubt in marriages, a commonality between wars. However it was not just the women concerned about their husbands, men were equally concerned about their wives left at home alone, affairs being a possibility.


Communication during the Civil War consisted predominantly of letters back and forth, making them a very important aspect to the soldiers and families because it was their link across the lines. Consequently, it became a concern of the content of these letters and their effects on soldiers’ focus. As a result of this concern, newspaper articles were written instructing wives and family members on what to write to their soldiers. It was recommended that they write letters about how everything at home was fine, there were no problems, it was quiet and peaceful with nothing to worry about, and so on. This could relieve some of the stress and guilt of soldiers leaving their families behind to fend for themselves, but it could also distract the soldiers. Instead of keeping them from worrying, it might have caused them to wish they were home rather than at war, consequently distracting them from their duties. As Joseph Huneycutt had to write “My dear wife, I have to state to you the sad news that tomorrow at 12 oclock that I have die. I have to be shot to death for starting home to see my wife Letter...civil warand dear children” ( Nelson & Sheriff, 2007). Some men wanted to be anywhere but at war and so deserting became a problem. In the south, women purposely told their husbands to desert and come home, sabotaging the efforts of the confederates and giving them power. Letters became a way for husbands to say goodbye to their wives and families, as with Huneycutt, when deserting increased on both sides of the war. Sullivan Ballou, a Union soldier from Rhode Island, wrote a long poetic letter to his wife the night before his death making peace with his fate and telling his wife how much he loved her. It was a sad, romantic letter where he told his wife “my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name” (E. & J., 2013). There was a question to the validity of this letter because it was found in his trunk after his death and did not match his handwriting, but regardless of its validity, the letter serves as a powerful testament to the love between couples surviving the war even though many did not return home.

Marriage After the War

When the war ended and soldiers returned home, many things changed. For some, marriages ended. As one study showed, “Southern legislatures after the war expanded the grounds for both absolute divorce and legal separation, as well as bolstered the property rights of married women, reflecting the new reliance on the state to mediate domestic relations” (Petition written by Elizabeth Jenkins after Civil War when divorce rights were given to women, n.d.). Divorce rates after the war increased because of unfaithful men who fell prey to prostitution as well as unfaithful wives and because men coming back from war were changed men. Some came back mentally scarred, violent, and altogether different from when they left leading to strained marriages and in some cases separation. In addition, due to the high mortality rates from battle, there was an uneven ratio between men and women upon their return to society, leaving many women single or widowed and causing people to marry at a younger age to stabilize the population (Hacker, Hilde, & Jones, 2010). This led to social disarray and changing norms.


While some marriages ended, others became examples of powerful bonds. There were insecurities and bumps in the road, trials of time and separation, but many marriages survived. War is a test of the strength in relationships.

Image Sources

Text Sources

E. C., J. J. (2013). Ballou’s poignant last letter to Sarah. America’s Civil War, 26(3), 64-65.

Hacker, J., Hilde, L., & Jones, J. (2010). The Effect of the Civil War on Southern Marriage Patterns. Journal Of Southern History, 76(1), 39-70.

Nelson, S. R., & Sheriff, C. (2007). A people at war: civilians and soldiers in America’s Civil War, 1854-1877. New York: Oxford University Press.

Petition written by Elizabeth Jenkins after Civil War when divorce rights were given to women, 1869. (n.d.). Teaching American History in South Carolina a State-wide Approach to Teaching Professional Development. Retrieved February 14, 2014, from

Effects on Children: The Civil War

Although each child throughout the Civil War had a unique experience, there are certain sections in which the children can be grouped under. While some effects may be common throughout, the different categories of children experienced events particular to their group. Therefore, I have broken the types of children down into four categories: Boy soldiers, Northern children, Southern children, and African American children.

Boy Soldiers

Child Soldiers in the Civil War | Civil War Saga
When Abraham Lincoln announced the legal age to enlist in the Civil War was sixteen, thousands of young boys across the country scrambled to become a part of the army. However, boys from the ages of nine to seventeen were present in the war efforts. Young boys, such as nine-year-old Johnny Clem and Charles Bardeen, served as drummer boys or fifers and rarely or never participated in battle (Bennett).  For some young boys lying about their age in order to fight seemed like a better option. Fifteen-year-old Elisha  Stockwell of Wisconsin was badgered by his father for signing up for the Union Army; his family claimed that he was nothing but a boy and battle was not an option. An outraged, determined Elisha then told his sister he was going into town, where he met up with an army captain. This captain helped Elisha lie about his age in order to get him into the military, where he would be a part of battle. In his diary, Elisha writes of this deceit towards his family by commenting about a conversation with his sister:
“I told her I had to go down town. She said “Hurry back, for dinner will soon be ready.” But I didn’t get back for two years.”
-Elisha Stockwell, Child Soldiers

Other boys did not have a fate of coming home such as Elisha’s. Seventeen-year-old Thomas Garland Jefferson of the Confederacy was killed in battle at the end of the war; Edwin Francis Jemison of the Confederacy was killed by a cannonball at the end of his enlistment (Bennett). Coming home did not necessarily mean that each boy was physically, or even mentally, sound. Although he was not killed, twelve-year-old William Black lost his left arm to a detrimental explosion (Bennett). Suffering no physical wounds, young Charles Bardeen did not necessarily come back home in one piece. The war had mentally harmed this young boy, as he says within his diary memoir:
This is not a history of the war; it is a history of what the war did to poor little me…[and] what it did to other little me’s, thousands of them.”
-Bardeen, A Little Fifer’s War Diary

Children of the North

Three children born and living during the civil war era. Their father ...
Regardless of location, race, or gender, children of the nation were deeply affected by the war. With fathers and brothers off fighting, more responsibilities were placed within children; this meant working long hours, caring for their siblings, and helping out more around the house. Watching close-knit families split over loyalties caused distress within the home and communities everywhere. Orphaned children losing their childhood to working because of war could be found anywhere. However, there were different hardships faced by the two different sides of the conflict. In the Northern regions, seldom battles were being fought; therefore, coming into direct contact with soldiers and skirmishes was not as common. Young Gerald Norcross, a boy living in Massachusetts, kept a diary during the entire length of the Civil War, writing about this time period as if it was another ordinary day of his previous-war life. While he does mention a quite “boring and ineffective” battle he witnessed at the Boston Commons, he generally is untouched by the war (Marten). Although to be this unaffected by the war was uncommon, this serves as an example to show that Union children generally had less experiences with bloody battles or sieges. This, however, does not mean that the children were not learning about or experiencing the war. Through letters from family involved in battles and lessons in the classroom, these children gained knowledge about the war tearing through their country. Rachel Young King Anderson of Minnesota set up a school for the neighborhood children and her son “too young” to be involved in the war efforts, hoping to teach them “something profitable” (A Civil War Diary). These schools created a huge wave of patriotism; however, this was not always a good thing. Conflicts within the Northern states would break out between strong followers of the Union and those who did not necessarily share the same views. Anderson writes in her diary about two men killed by very patriotic local boys and a family with a young daughter sent off because they were “rebels” (A Civil War Diary).  This affected the function within the schools, as teachers and students alike become distraught over the conflicts  at home.

Southern Children

Carrie Berry - Photo Courtesy of The Atlanta History Center
Unlike the children of the North, Southern children faced much more detrimental effects.  By living on the home front, these children witnessed more battles, therefore coming in contact with more soldiers. Carrie Berry, a ten-year-old girl living in Atlanta during the Union capture, kept a diary of her experiences during the war. She is constantly hearing battles within her city, seldomly going outside for the fear of getting hit by the flying shells. Soldiers ransacked houses, including her own home, and burned buildings throughout the city (War Through the Eyes of a Child: The Diary of Carrie Berry). This close contact with battle was not the only detriment faced within the South; with inflation skyrocketing, poverty became a huge issue. Within her diary, Berry writes about how the “times are too hard” to celebrate her birthday, as her father is out looking for work. She also mentions how her parents see themselves as very poor (War Through the Eyes of a Child: The Diary of Carrie Berry). The constant violence and poverty would not only be harmful to Southern children mentally, but physically as well. Surviving these terrifying conditions was the ultimate challenge for these young children.

African American Children

Black school children during the Civil War era.
Being an African American child during a war commonly coined as “the war on slavery” provided a truly unique experience. Before and during the war, some adult slaves were known to murder  their children in order to prevent them from living the painful life slavery had destined for them. Within his diary, Lewis Clarke, a former slave, writes about this issue:
There was a slave mother near where I lived, who took her child into the cellar and killed it. She did it to prevent being separated from her child. Another slave mother took her three children and threw them into a well, and then jumped in with them, and they were all drowned. Other instances I have frequently heard of. At the death of many and many a slave child, I have seen the two feelings struggling in the bosom of a mother — joy, that it was beyond the reach of the slave monsters, and the natural grief of a mother over her child.
-Lewis Clarke, Primary Sources: Civil War Effects

However, the death of a child was not always the choice made. Thomas James, a black minister sent to care for African American soldiers, wrote about orphaned children of slaves, or children with living slave parents, taken from their families and sold for a price or a chance at a better life. Having a father serve in the Union army, however, was the best chance for a better life for these children. This price gave the ultimate payment: freedom. All family members of African American soldiers gained freedom within society; therefore, camps became packed with those trying their hardest to gain that one basic American right. Although the camps were segregated, large schools and hospitals were constructed for the families of soldiers, providing an education and medical care (James, Primary Sources: Civil War Effects).

Were children affected?
Although location, race, and family life played a huge role in determining the effects faced, children all across America were affected by the American Civil War. Whether by becoming orphaned, poverty-stricken, a soldier, or free, children watched with wondrous eyes as the country they once new changed before them.

Works Cited

“A Civil War Diary.” RootsWeb. Sally Conrad, n.d. Web.
14 Feb 2014.

Bardeen, Charles. A Little Fifer’s War Diary. Syracuse: C.W. Bardeen,                  Syracuse, NY, 1910. Web.

Bennett, Santi. “A War They Didn’t Understand.” Prezi. Prezi Inc., 22                May 2011. Web. 14 Feb 2014.

“Child Soldiers .” Digital History. N.p., n.d. Web.
14 Feb 2014.

Marten, James. Children in the Civil War. Diss. Marquette University,                2012. 2012. Web.

“Primary Sources: Civil War Effects.” KET. Kentucky                                                    Educational Television, n.d. Web. 14 Feb 2014.

“War Through the Eyes of a Child: The Diary of Carrie Berry.”The Civil           War in Georgia. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb 2014.

Pictures retrieved from:


Welcome to the class blog of Families at War (Honors 293U), a course offered through the Honors College at West Virginia University!

In this class we are considering how American families have experienced and participated in their country’s wars. We wonder, how has this changed or remained constant over time? How have location, gender, class, race, and ethnicity played a part? How have families experienced war differently depending on how close the home front and front lines were to one another? How have cultural and technological changes influenced families’ experience of war?

To answer these questions we consider six American wars: the Revolutionary War, the “Indian” Wars of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Civil War, World War II, the war in Vietnam, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Image Sources:×608.jpg