American Civil War, Civilian Life in the North
The overwhelming fact of daily life in the North was coping with stress.
To people in the North, the war was a distant happening. There were few battles that occurred on Northern soil. But everyone was affected by the war. People were constantly reminded of the war because there were men in uniform everywhere. Some men in uniform acted as police in towns and villages, keeping order. Some towns also housed prison camps and war hospitals. People were worried about loved ones who were away fighting and possibly dying. Many civilian homes were opened to welcome the wounded. The war was a strain on everyone.
Women joined relief societies to provide clothing and bandages. National charities sprang up for the first time in America. State and local charities worked hard to raise money for the war. Communities organized fairs, concerts, and other activities that provided inexpensive entertainment to lift spirits as well as generate money for the war effort. Live theatre, especially comedies, flourished. Sporting events grew in popularity, especially baseball, since baseball was a favorite of President Lincoln.
In the first year of the war, Northern ports lost business from the lack of Southern trade. The loss of Southern cotton caused a paper shortage. Tobacco was in short supply. Northern merchants lost money because Southern business owners did not pay the money they owed. The Mississippi River was controlled by the South; trade using the river was dangerous and sometimes impossible. But after the first year of the war, Northern economy boomed. Although many men went into the army, there were 22 million people in the North at the beginning of the Civil War, compared to around 9 million people in the South (of which around 4 million were slaves, not soldiers.) About 2 in 3 farmers were able to remain on their farms, even when the North started the draft to increase the army. There were hundreds of thousands of new jobs created by the need to make war materials. A huge number of immigrants entered the North during the war, and found jobs building new railroad tracks, working on farms, and enlisting in the army.
New labor saving devices were invented shortly before and during the Civil War. The North had the factories and materials they needed to produce and use these labor saving devices. Elias Howe invented the sewing machine. This allowed the mass production of millions of uniforms during the war, along with jobs to create those uniforms. Charles Goodyear invented volcanized rubber, which was used to line ponchos and blankets to help keep Union soldiers dry, warm, and healthy. Rubber was used in telegraph lines to help keep the lines of communication open. The canning process was invented in 1825, which allowed foods to be stores in can and safely held for long periods of time. New farm equipment was invented, which helped the woman and children handling farm work to be more productive. New weapons were invented during the Civil War.
Not everyone in the North benefitted from the economy boom. Women and children who worked in the factories were paid very little. They lived in dirty shantytowns and tenements. As bad as conditions were, they were in much better shape than their counterparts in the South.