Thursday, November 12, 2020

Happy Veteran's Day!

 November 11 is Veteran’s Day. Of course, Veteran’s Day wasn’t actually invented until 1947, but your characters may have had their own version of the Great War, in 1861. More than three million people (all but around 300 were male) fought in the U.S. Civil War, which lasted until 1865. About two percent of the population, or over 600,000, died during the war. Considering that we only lost around 116, 000 in World War I, you’d think the country would have celebrated some sort of yearly memorial to those soldiers. Of course, in fairness, we should remember that diseases actually killed twice as many men as battle. The men were confined in poorly-ventilated tents and camps became breeding grounds for childhood illnesses like mumps, measles, and chickenpox.


The main weapon of that war – and the one responsible for 80 percent of wounds – was the single-shot, muzzle-loading rifle. Your character’s odds of actually surviving a wound during the war was seven to one, chiefly because doctors of that time had no idea of germ theory or blood types. Additional weapons utilized during the Civil War included the cannon, the revolver, swords or cutlasses, hand grenades and land mines, and “Greek fire” (the recipe for which probably included petroleum, pitch, sulfur, pine or cedar resin, lime, and bitumen). 


Lest you think muzzle-loading weapons fairly ineffective in a pitched battle, the average soldier could reload and fire three times a minute, or once every twenty seconds. In addition to his rifle, a soldier typically carried about seven pounds of ammunition, including a cartridge box with 40 rounds in it. If he expected an extensive battle, he might even carry another 60 rounds along with him. Although artillery was heavily utilized during the war, only about 10 percent of the wounded were actually injured by it.


After the battle of Gettysburg, discarded rifles were gathered and sent to Washington to be inspected and reissued. Out of over 37,000 rifles that were recovered, 24,000 were still loaded. Most rifles were equipped with bayonets, but very few men showed up at the hospitals with bayonet wounds. This was taken to mean the bayonet just wasn’t a lethal weapon, but what actually happened was that soldiers rarely made it to grappling range, and if they did, they were more likely to use the rifle butts as clubs.


If your character was a Union soldier, he’d have gotten $13 to $16 a month for his work (if he was white, that is; black soldiers only got $10 to $13). That three-dollar raise came in June of 1864. Black soldiers weren’t too happy about that pay difference, either, especially as they were charged three dollars a month for clothing! In protest, black regiments refused to accept this inferior pay. Eventually (in September of 1864), pressure from the abolitionists, along with the bravery shown by black regiments in battle, persuaded Congress to rectify the inequality. Black soldiers finally received equal pay retroactive to their enlistment date.


Officers for artillery or infantry units earned the following at the beginning of the war:

·      Colonels: $212

·      Lieutenant Colonels: $181

·      Majors: $169

·      Captains: $115.50

·      Lieutenants: $105.50


Pay for one-, two-, and three-star generals was $315, $457, and $758, respectively, so it certainly paid to work your way up in rank. The Confederate pay schedule was modeled on the U.S. Army. Privates made $11 a month until that magic date of June 1864, when every soldier got an eighteen dollar raise.


Of course, since your general usually led the regiment into battle, they earned those paychecks. Generals were 50 percent more likely to die in battle than privates. Just at the Battle of Antietam,  three generals were killed and six wounded – on each side. 


Nobody knows the age of the youngest soldier of the war. One George S. Lamkin from Mississippi joined the Confederate army at age 11. And one entire regiment of volunteers in Albany, New York was composed of men over the age of 45. And then there’s Private Thomas Stewart of Ohio, who served at the age of 92.


One-third of the Union forces were immigrants, and almost one in ten were black. In fact, one in four regiments were made up mostly of foreigners. You’ve probably heard about Irish soldiers – they made up around 7.5 percent of the army. However, there were even more Germans in the Union (around 10 percent), such as the Steuben Volunteers. Also counted were Englishmen, Frenchmen, Polish, Italians, and Scots.


If your character didn’t actually serve in the Civil War, he or she may have had relatives or friends who did. I hope these bits of trivia will help add a dash of flavor to your character’s fictional life. Check out the sources for even more facts.


J.E.S. Hays




Legends of America’s Civil War Facts -’s 10 Surprising Civil War Facts -


  1. Replies
    1. You're most welcome! I love seeking out little bits of historical trivia.

  2. Thank you! Very interesting information and new research resources are always wonderful!

  3. Enjoyed your post. My great-great grandfather was wounded at Antietam. I visted on the 150th anniversary with my daughter and felt chills walking those sacred grounds.

    1. It's amazing how the land seems to hold on to human history for us ...

  4. So useful and thank you. With family that has served in most of this counties conflicts, this resonates.

    1. It's interesting seeing the little bits of trivia about how they lived.

  5. I want to go back soon (after COVID) now that my daughter is a little older to remember more details. Such beautiful country and rich history.

  6. JES, I really enjoyed this post. I've been working on my ancestry and found where my great great grandmother had applied for my gr gr grandfather's pension from the Civil War when he died. I can't remember exactly what it was--something like $11 or $12 -- I love learning about this kind of thing.

    1. I do too, Cheryl. It's amazing how far a dollar went back then before inflation!

  7. Great post and information. My own efforts at "Veterans Day" (in Canada it's "Remembrance Day") is a story from a friend of mine to which I added a little. He passed away in 1994 but he had a full life. The story concerns the Battle of Britain ...

    1. Very interesting story you tell as well! He sounds like a fascinating fellow.