Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Eric Burin
The study of Civil War soldiers is an emerging field in the scholarly study of the Civil War, especially since the 1980s. The historical works focus on a variety of subject areas, but all share the common thread of neglecting the soldier before he engaged in his first battle. It was in the camp of instruction that the soldier was born, transitioning from civilian to soldier.
Illinois established camps of instruction to train the men who fought for the Union. Based upon letters, diaries, and memoirs written by soldiers, as well as local newspapers of the era, a picture emerges of a physical, mental, and social transition of the civilians into soldiers. The physical and mental transitions occurred in the camps of instruction themselves, while the social transition extended from the camp into the neighboring communities as the soldiers interacted with the local populace.
The study of camps of instruction in Illinois sheds new light onto the neglected world of the soldier before he fired his first shot in battle. The soldier experienced the physical transition through activities including donning uniforms, drilling, and meals. Some of the areas associated with the physical transition were part of the mental transition. As part of the mental transition, the soldiers expressed fear, pride, and sadness in their writings from camp. Finally, the social transition saw soldiers becoming part of the unit as well as part of a distinct social group separate from the rest of society. This evolution extended from inside the camp to interacting with civilians in neighboring communities.
All three areas of transition combined to create a trained Union soldier from a raw civilian. While no amount of training effectively prepared the men to face being fired upon in battle, the three levels of transition in the camps provided the soldiers with a better level of preparation for battle than had they gone into battle with no training.
Sauerwein, Daniel C., "Civil War Camps of Instruction in Illinois: Exploring the Transition from Civilian to Soldier" (2008). Theses and Dissertations. 414.