The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

The Military Draft

What was life like in the countryside during the war?

Let us first distinguish between the agricultural lands of New England, New York, and Pennsylvania—all of which fall under the “North“—and those of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and other states of what was then called the “West.” In the former, the loss of so many field hands was sharply felt. New England was already experiencing a labor shortage when the war began, and the situation only became worse. New York and Pennsylvania held their own in terms of agricultural labor, while the Western states experienced a thorough boom during the war.

Farmers had long since discovered that the softer, more clayey soil of the Midwest was easier to work than that of the East Coast, and the advent of the McCormick reaper, two decades earlier, had made harvesting a good deal easier than before. There were lots of Western, or Midwestern, women who had to work in the fields, but the overall effect was clearly positive. The Western states produced enough corn and potatoes to feed the North and the West and still managed to sell some abroad.


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