Alexander Hamilton once said, “When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no bounds of moderation.” The American Civil War came into being due to these “passions of men”, and the average men, who went into the war with such gusto, got slapped into the harsh reality of war. The Civil War ushered in a new era of fighting, with new tactics, new weapons, and new strategies. However, as the first of major changes, the transition took time, and that time cost the lives of thousands of men through no fault of their own. This war was one of change, and the soldiers that fought it changed the most. Civilians strode into the war in garish “uniforms,” soldiers clashed with their former countrymen, killers dealt with the aftermath, and war veterans went home to lives that would never be the same; all due to the unbounded “passions of men.”
The brave men who fought in the American Civil War were untrained and undisciplined, and the number of volunteers that flooded recruiting stations was too vast for either government to accept them all. Enthused with patriotic sentiments, civilians who chose fighting for the preservation of the Union, or perhaps to punish the rebellious South, craved the “glory” of battle. Even as the numerous state militias proudly wore gaudy, impractical uniforms and excitedly waited for the fighting, the few seasoned generals they had, attempted to whip them into a functioning army. This was not an easy task, seeing as the would-be soldiers consistently undermined any and every authority figure by ignoring orders, asking for reasons to obey, and breaking rank whenever the felt the urge. Not to mention that the number of commanders who knew how to turn civilians into warriors was dreadfully low. None of these men had a clue what was in store for them, in what would be a much longer and bloodier war than they expected. Through the excited eyes of young volunteers, the war looked to them like a “great adventure,” and those who were not be accepted went home with hanging heads.1 Men saw the Civil War as a chance to defend “The land of my childhood my love and my tears; the land of my birth and my early sunny years.”2 The sword had been drawn, and the men of the Union army gave off an aura of “passion” for the war. 1 Catton, pages 23 & 1432
2 Foster, lines 20-21
1 Catton, pages 23 & 1432
2 Foster, lines 20-21
Going into the war, absolutely none of the excited soldiers anticipated the mass slaughter; nonetheless, it would soon seem commonplace. It was the killing that changed the soldiers the most. One Union soldier wrote, “I am aposed to one man killing another,” but “when we are attacked and our lives are in danger by a gang of men aposed to the best government on earth I shall fight.” Most of the army shared this aversion to killing, except when the “passions” of the patriotic man called for it. Soldiers rationalized the bloodbath by looking at it as duty and self-defense rather than killing. Another factor that helped to keep soldiers’ consciences clean was the anonymity of working as a single unit. Even as this helped men make sense of the killing that took place in structured battle, the modern war tactics made it harder because of the new level of intimacy. This war was unique in that the new weapons and strategies allowed commanders to give soldiers more freedom within the structure of the army. Fighting in wooded areas and trench warfare constantly “undermined” the traditional patterns of war, and gave soldiers the freedom to shoot when they chose and who they chose. The drills and automatic movements caused the individual soldier to react without thinking about the unspeakable act of killing another human while in an orderly formation. The individual worried about making sure that he and his comrades survived the battle by whatever means necessary. However, when working in smaller groups, in more...