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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why They Fought

Setting aside political, moral and social reasons, all of which have been hashed and rehashed ad nausea, why did many of the men serve in their respective armies?

1.       Pay – Army pay started out at $11 to $15 per month for a private, more money that a man could make on the farm or in the mines or a factory.

2.       Bounties – the local county and state governments as well as the national governments on both sides often paid cash to enlistees, which could amount into hundreds of dollars.

3.       In December 1863, the U.S. army offered every man who reenlisted for the duration of the war, a veteran’s stripe on his sleeve, 30 days furlough, and a $300 bounty. The government failed to tell the men who “re-upped” that the money came in three installments – $100 down, $100 later, and $100 upon discharge from the army, provided the recipient was still alive to receive the final two installments.

4.       Peer pressure – Often classmates and relatives enlisted together on “dares” or because everyone around them signed up.

5.       Food – The army promised three meals a day – albeit not often healthy –but in some cases - better than the food from home and a fellow did not have to hunt for it.

a.       Hard crackers (hardtack or sea biscuits in the Navy) came in two basic varieties – rock hard or moldy and mushy, - both with and without protein provided by weevils. The story goes that a sergeant bit into a particularly hard specimen and exclaimed, “God, there’s something soft in this!” Upon examination, he discovered that he had found a nail.

b.       Army beans (Navy beans today) had to be boiled to make them edible. The saying went that “Beans killed more than bullets.” Chronic diarrhea killed a tremendous amount of soldiers.

c.        Salt pork, often aged beyond reason and stored in casks of salt brine, could float from the salt content. Boiled, fried or raw, its fat content and greasiness became legendary. According to one source, a soldier, reviled by its smell and color, threw a slab of it against a cabin wall where it stuck fast.

d.       Salt horse, actually salt beef, defied any type of cooking, Virtually indestructible and taken from beef older than the Dark Ages, the men often buried it with a piece of harness.

e.        Coffee became the staple of both armies whether it came from coffee beans or chicory. The doctors considered three pints a day, often without sugar or milk, healthy.

6.       Clothing – According to regulations, a man received a uniform, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks and shoes which were cut to fit only the right foot. Unfortunately, as with so many armies, the clothing came in two sizes – too large or too small. Charlie Siringo, from Texas, received the first pair of pants and underwear he had ever worn by enlisting in the Confederate army. Before then he had run around in a gunnysack which ma kept lengthening, as he grew taller.
a.       A change of underwear often meant turning them inside out or “finding” them in an enemy supply depot.

b.       A man with more than two shirts, in some instances in the Federal army, resulted in disciplinary action.

c.        Shoes, for many, became somewhat problematic because they were cut for the right or the left foot and could only be interchanged if they were too big. Prior to enlisting, some of the rural boys either went shoeless or wore square cut shoes, which would fit either foot. The drillmasters had to teach them the concept of “left” and “right.”

7.     Adventure and travel – Many men saw it as an opportunity to leave home and travel all too often by foot – “shoe leather express.”

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