Everyday Life of a PrivateHistory 8-3
By Ezra Bursten

Brief Daily Run Through

A Soldiers day would start at 5:00 am in the summer and 6:00 in the winter. The soldiers would be woken up and then would have to take roll call. They would have time to wash up, and feed and groom their horses. They would eat breakfast by 7:00 am. After breakfast, they would get ready for their first drill, and then start their first drill. Soldiers days when not in battle, consisted mainly of drilling. A soldier could have up to five drills a day. One Civil War soldier even said, "The first thing in the morning is drill. Then drill, then drill again, Then drill, drill, a little more drill. Then drill, and lastly drill." If a soldier wasn't doing drills, then they could also be standing guard.
Soldiers stopped drills usually a little after noon to eat dinner (what we call lunch). Drills before noon were typically drills on foot, and after noon were typically drills on horse, but this was not always followed. In between drills, soldiers would do many activities, mainly cleaning camp, writing letters, and sleeping. After drills were done for the day, soldiers would gather firewood, and eat supper (what we call dinner). After supper, they would talk and play, and do many different forms of entertainment. After their long day was finished, they would go back to their tents with around twenty other soldiers, and sleep for the night.

Conditions of Camps

In a typical camp, the tents were set up in grid formation. The tents were canvas, twelve feet tall, and eighteen diameters wide. Twenty men lived in one of these tents. If the soldier lived in a fort, they would live in a sixty by thirty foot room with layered bunks all around the room, and two men to a bed.
At camp sights, men would put canvas or straw over the ground to sleep on and would be given one or two blankets. Many times, they would run out of straw and have to sleep on the ground. Men were cold from the wind and rain, and at night bugs would crawl on them and mosquitos would bite them. Due to weather and rain, the ground would mostly be wet and cold, and this as well as many other things would lead to disease. Since multiple men were to live in one tent or room, the disease would spread. A man in Kentucky during the Civil War said that two thirds of the men at his camp were not fit for duty due to illness.
Soldiers cleaning their camp.

For tables and for chairs, men would use empty boxes or barrels because they were not always available.These would rarely be cleaned, only brushed off occasionally. After meals, the soldiers would clean their plates. Men did not bathe or wash up often, and they were constantly exposed to dirt and filth. Even though the men rarely cleaned themselves, they looked for time between drills, or after supper to clean the camp, especially during the winter. At winter, since there were not many battles, soldiers dedicated a lot of their time to making their camps more comfortable.

Rations and Food

Towards the beginning of the war, the Union and Confederacy adopted the the same official army ration regulations, so they had the same rations. The confederacy was not always able to keep food supply levels to were it needed to be, so they did not always have the required rations for their soldiers. Coffee was commonly thought of as the most important thing for a soldier. The food was not always kept very clean, and many times there would be bugs flying around the meet, but the soldiers made do with it.

According to the army ration regulations, this (below) was a soldiers daily rations. They could receive only one of the number of choices from each row per day. Along with these, dried vegetables, dried fruit, pickles, and pickled cabbage were also given out. Soldiers could also purchase some food and drink items. Also, though it was not allowed, alcohol was made.

Choice 1
Choice 2
Choice 3
Choice 4
12 oz. Pork
12 oz. Bacon
1 lb. 4 oz. Fresh Beef
1 lb. 4 oz. Salt Beef
Grian #1
1 lb. 6 oz. Soft Bread
1 lb. 6 oz. Flour

Grain #2
1 lb. Hard Bread
1 lb. 4 oz. Cornmeal

For every 100 rations given to each soldier, they were also given these. They could receive only one from each row.
Raw salted beef, similar to what the soldiers would have cooked.

Choice 1
Choice 2
Choice 3
1 peck of Peas
1 peck of Beans

10 lb. of Rice
10 lb. of Hominy (ground corn)
Beverage 1
10 lb. of Green Coffee

Beverage 2
8 lb. of Roasted Coffee
8 lb. of Ground Coffee
1 lb. 8 oz of Tea
15 lb. of Sugar

1 lb. 4 oz. Candles

4 lb. Soap

1 quart Molasses

During a march there was not as much food. Due to this, the rations were much smaller and there was less variety. Soldiers would receive one from each row per day. Along with this, soldiers could purchase food and drink if available.

Choice 1
Choice 2
1 lb. Hard Bread

3/4 lb. Salt Pork
1 1/4 lb. Fresh Mean

Entertainment and Recreation

In their free time, soldiers would do pretty much anything for fun. They would read and write, make up games, clean their camp, and make friends. Some regiments went as far as to organize bands, acting groups, glee clubs, or even a camp newspaper. They would also do simple stuff, like have snowball fights or talk around a fire and gaze at stars.
Soldiers sitting at a table talking.

A big time for camp fun was during late night camp fires. Most regiments had at least one person who played an instrument, so people would dance and sing and drink (though not always allowed), and gamble and have fun. The soldiers would bet money on bug races, wheelbarrow races, card games, dice games, boxing matches and so much more. Soldiers would also play sports games like baseball, bowling with cannon balls, a form of cricket, racing, boxing, and more.
When soldiers had free time they did not only do fun activities, but also did some productive things. They would dig trenches, build roads, gather firewood, look for clean water, sleep, clean, and sometimes go to religious services. Most soldiers would read also read the Bible because there were not always other books to read.
Another thing soldiers looked to for entertainment was prostitution. Prostitution was very popular among soldiers. Thousands of prostitutes would go to cities in war zones or to the soldier camps. At one time during the civil war, Washington D.C. had around 7,500 full time prostitutes.

Letters Home

A letter written by an african american Civl War soldier.

The most common thing a soldier would do in his free time was write letters.One of the largest recourses we have from the Civil War is all of the letters that were written from soldiers. After drills soldiers were constantly writing letters home. Letters were the only way for a soldier to find out how their friends and family back home were doing, and to inform them how the soldier himself was doing. Every soldier found a way to write a letter. If they were illiterate, they would narrate their letters and have a fellow soldier write it down. Elisha Rhodes, a soldier from the civil war who kept an extensive diary, even went as far to say, "A soldier can do without hard bread but not without his letter from home."

Here is a real letter written by a man to his wife to ask of his families health and inform them of his current condition.Civil War Latter
Here is a simple letter from a soldier to his brother just checking in and talking about his family. Civil War Letter


Drills made up the majority of a soldiers day. If they were not in battle, then at their camps they prepared for battle with various drills. In drills they would work on shooting, battle maneuvers, horse riding, physical conditioning, and others things that were needed in battle. At some caps soldiers would drill on foot for part of the day, and then drill on horseback for the other part. Soldiers were supposed to be on their best behavior during drills, and were supposed to follow all instructions given to them without complaint. If they misbehaved, did not do what they were told, failed to perform duties, or were even too slow during a drill they would be punished. During the winter their were less drills due to the fact that not many winter battles happened, but soldiers still continued to be drilled.


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