During a time of war, many people face the tough decision of whether or not to join in the armed forces. Whether or not to join the fight, to give back to your country, or save yourself from likely injury and possible death. This question was at the forefront of society for teenage boys during the Civil War, a time that pit brother against brother in what turned out to be the bloodiest conflict in American history. When all is said and done, I would much rather preserve myself than risk death.
A big factor that would come into my decision of not joining the army would be the fear of new technology. New weapons, such as the rifled musket which was accurate at 250 yards (5 times the usual) were being designed quite often. In 1862 alone, 240 patents for military weapons alone. The weapons themselves were not necessarily the issue, however. War tactics had not caught up with the technology that was being produced at that point, causing an influx of causalities due to the ignorance of what these weapons were truly capable of. For example, traditional, Napoleonic war tactics caused many deaths due to the sudden power and accuracy of the newly designed military technologies.
Another reason why I would, as a teenager living in 1861, be deterred from fighting is because of the overall strategies employed to try to win the war. The South had to hold their ground and fend off the North, while the North aimed to “constrict” the South and block off all resources. It would not be difficult to infer that the war was going to be a bloodbath when both sides were going straight at each other. The North could afford to lose many troops, meaning that it was going to be a test of endurance just as much as one of tactics.
Possibly the most influential reason of choosing self-preservation is the treatment of injuries sustained on the battlefield. Due to the lack of modern medicinal technology, many wounds were treated via amputation of the affected limb. Also, since it was rather difficult to shoot accurately at the head or chest, most injuries were taken to the extremities, increasing the need for amputation. The way they put them under during operation was not ideal, either. Without modern anesthetics, surgeons had to resort to using alcohol or chloroform to numb their patients.
Aside from the stastical aspect, there exists also the philosophical one. I had no part in creating the mess that the country found itself in at the time, so why should the responsibility to help clean it up be placed on me? How come it’s the people who come up with the plans to go to war that are able to send people out to fight? Why don’t they, themselves, fight? If I was a teenager during 1861, chances are that I would not be informed enough to have a strong opinion on either side of the issue, and would therefore not be willing to potentially sacrifice myself to an idea unknown to me.
Fredricks, Charles D. “Sergeant Alfred A. Stratton of Co. G, 147th New York Infantry Regiment, with Amputated Arms.” Library of Congress. March 17, 2014. Accessed March 17, 2014. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsca.31219/.