The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Parents’ Roles

What was the great threat to the father as the center of the American family?

Three things, or dangers, presented themselves. The first was the presence of ever-abundant land in the West. A shiftless or unsuccessful father could always pick up and move, abandoning his family. The second was the growing industrial revolution that took the father out of the home, transforming him from a parent on the spot to a distant figure who won the daily bread. And the third was the Civil War itself.

If three million men served at one time or another, that means that one-fifth, or twenty percent, of the entire male population of the United States was absent from home at some point during the war. Even in our times, with additional mobility and with challenges such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have never seen anything like the temporary removal of twenty percent of the men. In some cases, the absence was only for a few months, but in other cases it ran to several years, and in many cases the father never came home. Though few people were able to describe this as it happened, a social and familial revolution—however subtle—was the result.


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