The Homefront


There were many changes in American society at the beginning of the Civil War. For the people who stayed home and did not fight, the war affected them also. It was a struggle.They had to keep the farms working while the men were away. While the men were away, the children of the family had very hard and dangerous jobs to do. The women had to keep the family healthy and support them all by themselves without the men. They had to keep the famliy well fed, which was hard to do at the time when most of the food was being shipped off to the soliders in the war. In Richmond, bread was so scarce that there was a bread riot. The Northern blockade made it very difficult to obtain basic necessities in the South.

Not everyone agreed with the policies of the governments. To protect against civil unrest, both the Union and Confederate governments supsended some civil liberties guarenteed by the Constitution. Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus. This means that people can petition to be released from unlawful imprisonement. Lincoln did this in response to riots and other demonstrations against government policies. He was also facing opposition from the Copperheads, a group of Northern Democrats who supported the Confederacy and wanted to make peace with the South. Lincoln's suspension of the writ was overturned by the Supreme Court but he ignored it.

Both the Union and Confederacy began to draft men to serve in the Army. It was the first time in the history of the country that a draft was used. In the North, opposition to the draft resulted in the New York City draft riots.

Northern and Southern Homefronts - see also Women and the Civil War

Because most of the war was fought in the South, it was harder to maintain a "normal" life. The North did not have the devastation that the South experienced. Many families lived with the constant threat of warfare in their community. Their crops and livestock were confiscated for the armies or destroyed by federal soldiers.

When at the homefront the women would be farm the farm and taking care of the family. They also worked in factories. Many women suffered depression because of the absence of their husbands or sons. By joining aid societies, such as sewing bees or medical collections and voluntereeing, they were able to find a sense of purpose. They would prepare food and clothing to be shipped off to the war. Then the soldiers would be feed and clothed because of the women who were helping. However, there would still be soldiers dying of starvation and in need of help.

While families and workers in the homefront struggled to make ends meet, the factory owners would be rich because they would keep a certain product until it was in high demand then sell it for a very high price.

Also, the materials had to be made in very short periods of time so they would fall apart very fast and won't work. The soldiers would call it shoddy material. In the homefront there was very little food because it was used for the soldiers. In the South, on the farms many slaves didn't even know they were free until the Union came and told them.

While the Southern economy was supported by slave labor, the North had its own shameful labor situation. Cities teemed with newly arrived immigrants who lived in tightly packed and often squallid tenements. Wages were so low that everyone in the family had to work and they worked long hours in often unsafe conditions. There were no child-labor laws and very, very young children were often injured or killed while working in dangerous factories. In some ways, pre-Civil War slaves actually had better living conditions than Northern factory workers! Many slave-owners lived and worked side-by-side with their hands and it was in their own economic best interest to keep them fed and healthy. On smaller farms, sometimes the slaves actually lived in the house with the owner. There was also an implicit compact between owner and slave that the owners wouldn't violate for social reasons. This would assure slaves a day off and the ability to grow their own food or to sell items they made. It allowed the slaves to practice their religion and allowed the very young and the very old to escape working. Slaves also got foodstuffs and clothing, sometimes the hand-me-downs from the owner's family. Because the importation of slaves ended a half-century before, slaves were valuable to the owners and not easily replaced. In the North, there seemed to be an endless supply of immigrants and often they were treated as if they were disposable. With no workers compensation laws, injured or killed workers were no longer the responsibility of the factory owners. At the time, many questioned why Irish immigrants in particular would be fighting for a country that treated them so badly! As the war progressed and Southern territory was taken by the Union, a surprising number of now-freed slaves chose to stay on their plantations, sometimes because they knew no other life, but sometimes because they felt loyalty to owners who had not abused them.

The economies in the North and South were very different in other ways. In general, the North made things while the South grew things. This meant one side had a much easier time supplying its troops than the other did. Union blockades of Southern ports made it much harder for both civilians and troops in the South to get needed supplies like weapons and drugs.