Three-quarters of American workers labored on farms in ; by , fewer than three in five worked in agriculture. The massive shift in the demographics of food production helps explain how the Civil War armies could place so many men under arms and keep them in the field for years on end. The massive armies that contested the huge battles between and could fight so long in part because their members were not needed at home to plant and harvest crops: the divisions could stay on campaign without threatening the larger society with starvation.
And the substitution of mechanical advantage and animal effort for human muscle meant that farm labor no longer required adult men.
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Younger children and women could now perform many of the tasks that formerly demanded male workers. In the south, the labor of four million African-American slaves helped support the armies in the field and freed the white population to continue fighting.
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This is not to say that soldiers never returned to their homes and farms during the war. Furloughs for the troops were not uncommon, often doled out as a reward for service. In the winter of , a Union Army desperate for reenlistments offered a day furlough to any soldier willing to sign on for an additional three-year term. But those furloughs rarely coincided with the agricultural cycle: campaigning season usually ran from the spring to late fall—precisely the months of planting and harvesting—and armies found it easiest to grant furloughs once the armies had gone into winter quarters.
Soldiers generally viewed furloughs as a chance to visit loved ones and to escape the stifling discipline of army life for a brief moment. In the South, the deprivations of war affected individual soldiers more acutely. Non-slaveholding white farmers—those who farmed small parcels of land for sustenance, as opposed to large planters growing cash crops—frequently joined the army in the belief that they were defending homes and families from Yankee invasion.
As the war dragged on, and Federal troops pushed deeper into the Confederacy seizing crops and blocking transportation lines, many of those families suffered intensely from the scarcity of basic supplies.
On the Homefront During the Civil War
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Battlefield Archaeology. Soldier Life. Women in War. Women will be gathered together in the double-pen house cooking, getting clothing ready to send to soldiers, cooking dinner and doing housework. They'll be recycling materials to make clothing since Christmas is coming and they want to give something to their children. A Confederate camp will be nearby showing what civilian soldiers experienced in the winter months when there wasn't much fighting. Members of the Union have occupied the single-pen house where the provost marshal asked a civilian representative to go into the community to have them take oaths of allegiance to the United States.
Also, a resident historian from Fort Donelson will provide more background information on the time period. Note: On Sounds Good , Monday, December 14, Matt Markgraf speaks with Earls about how farm families celebrated Christmas and occupied themselves during the winter months in the s. A little over two weeks ago, we spoke with two professors of Murray State's history department who were among the 72 Kentucky history professors who signed a letter calling for the removal of the statue of Confederate president and Kentucky native Jefferson Davis from the capitol rotunda in Frankfort.
The letter went to Governor Steve Beshear and to the Kentucky Historical Properties Advisory Commission, which earlier this August voted to keep the statue where it is.
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But that doesn't mean the debate is over. Don Duncan.
[Audio] How Farm Families Struggled to Survive During the Civil War
Seventy-two history professors in Kentucky have signed a letter to the Historic Properties Advisory Commission of Kentucky calling for the removal of the statue of the controversial Jefferson Davis in the capitol rotunda in Frankfort to a museum. Duane Bolin and Dr. David Pizzo who argue for a contextual understanding of Davis and explain Kentucky's distinct position as a state on both sides of the Civil War.
Experience how early Kentucky settlers celebrated this holiday with old time music, a famous statesman, the raising of a liberty pole, games and high technology: a hot air balloon. The annual event offers attendees a taste of American life from two centuries ago.
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Related Program:. Sounds Good. The double-pen house at the Homeplace in Land Between the Lakes.