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Who Served? Soldiers’ Occupations During the American Civil War

The Civil War imposed the greatest strain on American manpower in the nation's history, particularly in the South, where perhaps 80 percent of military-aged white men served, most in the Confederate Army, but with significant numbers (c. 100,000) in Union forces as well. Yet in neither the Union nor the Confederacy was the burden of service distributed evenly throughout all strata of society, as the accompanying table demonstrates.

Occupation Patterns and Recruiting in the Civil War
Union
Population
Union
Troops
Confederacy
Population
Confederacy
Troops
Farm Workers 42.9 % 47.5 % 57.5 % 61.5 %
Skilled Workers 24.9 25.1 15.7 14.1
Unskilled Workers 16.7 15.9 12.7 8.5
White Collar Workers     10.0 5.1 8.3 7.0
Professionals   3.5 3.2 5.0 5.2
Others 2.0 3.2 0.8 3.7

Oddly, figures for farm workers include plantation owners. Those for white collar workers include commercial service personnel. Note that the number of "professionals" in the South appears to have been proportionally greater than in the North, there apparently being more lawyers. These figures should be taken with caution, as statistical sampling techniques of the day were by no means accurate. Figures for both sides are taken from a relatively small number of regimental rolls that happened to list pre-war occupations. Moreover, the figures omit the large number of men who rendered labor service, totaling several hundred thousands, primarily black slaves in the South and free blacks and "fugitive slaves" in the North, none of whom were regularly enlisted.

 

Jefferson Davis Takes a Stroll

One evening during the war President Jefferson Davis took an evening stroll with his wife, Varina.  As they walked, the two chanced to pass the notorious Libby Prison.  Obedient to his orders, one of the guards challenged Davis, and ordered him to walk on the other side of the street. 

"I'm your President," replied Davis, or words to that effect.

"None of your gammon," responded the guard.  Leveling his musket, he went on, "if you don't get into the street I'll blow your head off."

"But I am your President," shouted Davis, and attempted to shoulder his way past the man.  The soldier shoved him back, roughly.  Enraged, Davis drew a short sword from his walking stick.  Things might have gotten still uglier had not Mrs. Davis interposed herself between the two.  Meanwhile, the shouts of the two men and cries of Mrs. Davis had attracted the prison's officer of the day, who arrived momentarily with a couple of men.  Immediately recognizing Davis, the officer hastened to make apologies, and the President and his lady went on their way.

And the sentry?  Despite an ancient tradition rewarding strict adherence to the regulations, on direct orders from Davis the man was put on bread and water for several days.

 

The Whisker Rebellion

The Civil War was unusual in a number of ways, not least of all because it was undoubtedly the hairiest conflict in the nation's history. Forthwith, some statistics on facial hair among the generals, using Ezra Warner’s canonical listing.

UnionConfederate
Beards 391 (67.1%) 285 (67.1%)
Mustaches 101 (17.3%) 77 (18.1%)
Other Fuzz 50 (8.6%) 14 (3.3%)
Shaven 41 (7.0%) 49 (11.5%)
Total Generals583425

"Beards" refers to all forms of facial hair which covers the chin, including everything from elaborate patriarchal Santa Claus types to neat little imperials.  "Mustached" refers to men who had facial hair confined to the general area of the upper lip. They likewise came in an enormous variety of thickness and lengths, some so full and long as to create the impression of a beard.  "Other Fuzz" refers to officers with muttonchops, Burnsides, and similar arrangements, which may, in fact incorporate mustaches not catalogued elsewhere, but do not include coverage of the chin.  "Shaven" refers to generals who managed to do without facial hair.  Note that in cases where a general changed his shaving habits, he has been included in the category in which he spent the greatest amount of time, so that, for example, Robert E. Lee, began the war with a trim mustache, but shortly grew his famous beard, which he wore to the end of his days.

In examining these statistics, it is curious to note that, while the percentage of bearded generals was the same for both armies, and that of mustachioed generals very nearly so, the Confederacy clearly won in the clean-shaven category, while the Union dominated in the miscellaneous facial fur category.

The most distinguished clean-shaven Rebel officer was undoubtedly Gen. Samuel Cooper, the senior-most man in the Confederate Army.  Among the Yankees four major generals of some note were clean-shaven: Joseph Hooker, Henry W. Halleck, Edward R.S. Canby, and Francis C. Barlow.

 

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