The final of Co. Aytch was very good, continuing in the vain as the first twelve chapters. To Appomattox and Beyond takes a more objective and scholarly view of the soldiers life, yet it never really became boring and tedious to read. The set up of the book is very simple and easy, with each chapter dedicated to one side, comparing and contrasting aspects of the Northern and Southern armies.
Chapters 1 and 2 cover the raising of each army. As the Civil War loomed, Northern cities had been growing exponentially for years, with populations flourishing. Manufacturing had become an important part of society, and a series of railroads and telegraph lines connected much of the North. Despite all the progression, there remained many rural and small town farmers and families. Social reform was big: unions were created to protect the rights of factory workers, there were children and women’s rights activists, as well as many fighting against poverty and slavery.
The South, meanwhile, had only minimal growth in cities and continued to rely on agriculture completely. As well, there was a divide between farmers of the Southern states. Some were big plantation cash crop producing planters, while many others were small farmers, planting for substenance. There were also mountain communities who felt disconnected to the rest; many actually supported or joined the Union. Tensions were kept in check because planters loaned out slaves to small farmers, who provided votes for planters. Planters also watched for slave uprisings, which would have had no benefit to any farmers, big or small. Southern men were all about expressing their manhood, usually through knife fights (in the lower class) or dueling (in the upper class).
When war broke out both sides felt the fervor, the South more so as they were likely to be invaded. Both armies were in constant need of men, despite many enlistments. The South enacted the first national draft in America, and the North eventually allowed blacks to join in late 1862 (though it took years for them to gain any respect even with many casualties, and even then they still received lesser supplies and medical help). In the South women played a big role in convincing men to join, playing of their masculinity, or lack thereof, in not joining. The soldiers of both sides often spoke of joining for more personal reasons over political ones. Soldiers of the North were often young, with uncertain financial futures. Farmers were less likely to join. They were very concerned with an image of self-control and restraint, as was the roots of the Puritan North. The soldiers of the South were also very young, but one was more likely to join the more secure his economic status, as the planters would be most affected if the Union won. Southerners, with a society that prized character and reputation, were inclined to express emotions and evaluate character more than Northerners.
Chapters 3 and 4 discuss experiences of Union and Confederate troops during the war. Both sides had similar reactions to camp life, in that they often questioned orders from their officers, and disliked the constant drilling, menial tasks, and waiting for battles. They all liked music and playing games (baseball, snowball fights, etc.), as well as gambling and drinking (though the officers tried to stop it). They also missed the company of women, resorting to all men dances with some dressed as women and to prostitutes (officers tried to stop this too). This led to the spreading of venereal diseases, and coupled with many other diseases that spread throughout camps, many soldiers didn’t even get to fight a battle. Many soldiers on both sides brought their own guns, though the Union was able to provide guns unlike the South where many men had none. There were equal reactions to death (that began with horror and disgust and later turned to apathy), as well as to frontal assaults, which men became resistant to because of the high casualties they produced. Men on both sides built communities, as many men of a regiment were from the same areas, creating close ties of friendship and brotherhood between men. Southern soldiers in camps suffered more than Northerners due to little supplies. Men went on with no real uniform let alone good clothes, no food or blankets, and even no shoes.
Hospitals, though organized fairly quickly, were very poor. Amputation was often the choice for injured limbs and disease ran rampant. Doctors (who numbered less in the South) knew very little about infection and disease. Nurses often became mother figures to the despondent men. Prisons were another place of horror to captured soldiers. The conditions were terrible on both sides (more so in the South as it could barely feed its army due to poor supplies). As the war went on desertion in the North was often from men who had little reason to stay (not lucrative), while in the South many men left because their families couldn’t maintain their farms. Discipline on these men was much more harsh in the South, leading to executions much more often.
As the invading army Union soldiers had to deal with civilians. Southern guerrillas and their violence towards the army angered many soldiers, so they resorted to looting and burning civilian homes in retribution. Fortunately, little rape occurred. Though soldiers hardly showed the same restraint to guerillas who were tortured if caught. Confederates, when in Pennsylvania, carried on in much the same way as they thought the Yankees did. Southerners had a large religious revival (though many chaplains quit early on), unlike the North. Many Confederates found a personal friend in God.