May 2001 - On the Home Front

We all read about the fighting during the Civil War, but what about those left at home...  mothers, fathers, wives, brothers, sisters and children?  Have you ever stopped to think what it must have been like for them?

Many of the men from both the North and the South were farmers.  One father wrote to his son; "I am still planting the back 50 acres with wheat - that will be needed for the war.  I already have a contract to deliver all of that wheat to the government." They were mostly family run farms with everyone responsible for certain jobs, including the children.  Take away one of two family members and a difficult task was made even more so causing those left behind (even the children) to pick up the slack so to speak.

In non-farming communities many ladies took jobs that were previously reserved for men only.  They worked in factories and shops.  The Civil Service expanded, putting women in jobs such as clerks, secretaries and bookkeepers.  The ladies were nurses and in the U.S. Sanitary Commission and other organizations they helped distribute medical supplies, offered comfort to wounded and dying soldiers.  They passed out Bibles and other religious materials.  Many ladies busied themselves knitting, sewing, making clothing, cutting blankets, making preserves and baking food, all of which was passed out to any soldier who came through their towns.

Due to a lack of donations, the U.S. Sanitary Commission nearly disbanded in 1862.  Mary Livermore and Jane Hoge of the Chicago Headquarters thought a fair would be a good fund raising activity.  There were many exhibits; one hall held Confederate items which had been captured, another hall held farm equipment and heavy equipment.  There were thousands of other items donated for sale, i.e.:  toys, clothes, furniture and flowers just to name a few.  Included in the 75 cents price of admission was not only the touring of all the exhibits but a meal in a restaurant where the waitresses were prominent women in the community.  While the two ladies figured they could raise about $10,000, they surprised everyone by raising almost $100,000.  Philadelphia and New York also had fairs, they raised about $1,000,000 each. 

Then there was Rose O'Neal Greenhow, (1814 - 1864) who was a Confederate spy in Washington.  Some ladies even served as soldiers.  One of the most famous being Jennie Hodgers, aka Albert Cashier.

In some of my reading for this column, I came upon this; "...what the papers call 'women seizures.'  While these events occur in a number of areas, one of the best documented cases happens in Marietta, Georgia.  A Negro, driving a wagon from the cotton mill at Sweetwater Creek sees a group of women standing by the side of the road.  This group stops the man and his cart, making off with several bales of yarn before sending the Negro on his way unharmed."

After Richmond became the Confederate capital, the population more than doubled, putting an even greater strain on available supplies.  In April of 1863, several women joined together and approached Gov. John Letcher to see if there could be some relief from the spiraling prices.  He offered them no solution and they became angry...  yelling "Bread!! Bread!!"  They smashed windows and looted the stores.  The crowd grew in size with men also joining in.  There was pillaging and looting throughout the downtown area of Richmond.  Eventually the perpetrators were caught and punished.

There were many in the North who resented the "unfair draft laws."  "The working class Irish in New York City were particularly resentful of the draft policies that allowed the wealthy to buy their way out of the draft and they were hostile toward blacks..." mainly because they, the blacks, replaced some of the striking Irish longshoremen.

In the summer of 1863 there were protests and outbreaks of violence all thru the North.  Secret Societies which had been formed, organized resistance to the draft.  Draft officers were assaulted and when the drawing of names resumed on Monday morning July 13, 1863, a group of men arrived and burned down the draft office.  This started four days of rioting.  While one group worked it's way to the armory where they stole the approximately 1,000 rifles stored there, another group was attacking an orphanage where over 200 black children under 12 years old lived.  The rioters concentrated on harming all the blacks they could find.  Complete families were chased down and killed.

The war was devastating as far as the economy was concerned.  Not only were there shortages of food and the basic supplies, but inflation was so bad it caused prices to rise so much so that the ordinary citizens just couldn't afford even the necessities.  Farmland was totally ruined by battles and solders.  The armies, both North and South stripped the farms of what crops were left in order to feed their troops.

My husband's great grandparents lived on a farm in northern Delaware when Levi volunteered, in August of 1862 to go into the war for 3 years.  His wife, Tamar, was left with four children to raise, the oldest being Joseph, age 8.  To survive, she and the children had to do all the farming and other chores.  This had to an awesome undertaking for Tamar and the very young children.  In addition they didn't know if or when their husband and father would return home.  Some men in the family had already died from wounds received in the war.

I guess that's about it for now, I hear the bugler in the distance, so it's time to post the pickets and blow out the candles.

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