The life of farmers in both the North and the South was considerably different from that of their city-dwelling brothers. Farmers tended to live far from the city, often spending their entire lives in the small town of their birth, growing sufficient crops to feed their families and make a small profit.
Farm life in the middle of the nineteenth century was hard work, even with the many labor-saving devices that had become available as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Once the animals had been fed at dawn, the farmer would spend the rest of his day tending to his crops, which varied greatly from one region to another.
Support Through Hardships
Farming communities in both the North and the South tended to be fairly close knit, with farmers coming to the aid of others when necessary. Most farmers used hired help to tend the land, though smaller farms were typically family affairs, especially if the family included several strong boys.
Despite the common notion regarding slavery in the South, most small to midsize Southern farms did not use slaves because of the high cost of purchase and maintenance; slaves were more a luxury for wealthy plantation owners.
Women and Immigrants in Charge
As the war depleted the nation's male population, farmers' wives in both the North and the South suddenly found themselves the heads of their households. Unlike their overly protected city sisters, however, farm wives tended to be robust in nature and unafraid of hard labor. When their husbands went off to war, they picked up the hoe and plow and went to work. It was seldom a question of yes or no; for most farmers' wives, it was a simple issue of survival.
Many farmers, especially those in the North, were European immigrants striving for a better life in the Land of Plenty. They brought their customs and traditions with them, including a strong worth ethic and a sense of family and religion. Church usually played a vital role in the life of the average farmer, and Sunday was commonly a day of rest, reflection, and prayer, except during harvesting season, when crops waited for no one. But even then, most farmers tried to attend church whenever possible.
Farmers often suffered greatly during the Civil War, especially in the South. They usually lived far from town, which made them easy targets for marauders and invading forces, especially those in desperate need of food. Hungry Confederate soldiers begged for whatever a farmer could spare, but Union soldiers were seldom as considerate.
Pillaging was discouraged by most officers, but the rule was difficult to enforce, and Union soldiers often took whatever they wanted and destroyed crops and livestock simply to keep them from falling into Confederate hands. Sadly, many farmers were unjustly punished by this reasoning, and it wasn't uncommon for a fleeing farmer to return to his homestead only to find it burned to the ground. This was especially true during Sherman's March to the Sea and his campaign through the Carolinas.