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The Pittiful Home Front
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Children's Roles in the Civil War

Children's Roles

A Kentuckian family on the homefront

       Almost all of the men during the years of 1860-1866 were gone away at war. They were fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. With them not there, the rest of the family would have to do the jobs that the men were not there to fill. Most of this included the farming. A lot of families of that time had plantations that grew a wide variety of crops that needed tending to. Some of the jobs that children(mostly boys) in the South would take over: taking care of the family plantation, keeping the slaves in line, being the man of the house and putting food on the table. Some of the jobs that children(mostly boys) in the North would take over: fathers' businesses, taking care of the land, and caring for the family. Often the children were too overwhelmed with the pressure because most of them had never done these things before.
       A lot of children enlisted in the war. In the South, boys were much more accepted because of their lack of men. In the North, boys needed to be a certain age to be a soldier, or else they would be a drummer or fifer. They also would have to have their parent's permission. Both of those things were required to enlist for the war. Boys of ten or eleven would enlist in the war thinking they were going to get a chance to fight, but since they were so young, children of that age were selected to be drummers and fifers. A fifer is someone who plays the fife(a small, high-pitched woodwind instrument similar to a flute). Drumming took a lot of hard work and dedication. Because of how grueling it was, many children switched to the fife. Unlike the soldiers, the drummers and fifers would play with each other, play cards, or go swimming in their spare time. Soldiers had little free time, and when they did, it was usually spend practicing drill routines. Girls would assist in any way they could. Some as young as eleven, would volunteer as nurses, though most of them did not know anything about the practice of medicine. Others would make food, shirts, and blankets for the soldiers, which they greatly appreciated. Some would had fairs and held raffles to raise money for the soldiers. That was also a big help.
       The Field of Lost Shoes is one of the most memorable stories of the Civil War. Three hundred soldiers of the Virginia Military Institute that were ages thirteen or older charged across a field. The field was so muddy that all of the children's shoes came right off their feet. Thus the name, The Field of Lost Shoes. 

A soldier with his eleven year-old son, who is also a soldier

by Tess Mordecai