Miscellaneous Ramblings - April 1985
Just recently I finished reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House on the Prairie" series, and while the stories were not about the Civil War they were about a family living on the Wisconsin-Minnesota frontier some years after the war. The home life of the Ingalls would have been much the same as the home life of the farm boys that made up the 1st Minnesota Regiment, and as such bear some looking at.
The first thing I observed was that the frontiersman's life was one of absolute isolation. It was very seldom that the Ingalls family got off the farm to visit friends and relatives, and when they did it was an obvious high point in their lives. The loneliness was intensified by the winter weather, of course. While Laura didn't record any cases of "Log Cabin Fever" while in Wisconsin (it nearly happened during a 7 month(!) continuous series of winter blizzards in South Dakota) it must have been a hardship peculiar to the pre-automotive 19th century. I suppose such things developed character and a high degree of self-reliance. One wonders how the 1st Minnesota troops accomplished the transition from isolated frontiersmen to private soldiers. I suspect the sudden and enforced comradeship was enjoyed and made possible a great sense of camaraderie and unit identity, despite the fact that over half of the 1st Minnesota was made up of foreigners from different countries.
Other recurring images in the books are the fond and rare descriptions of food and “cozyness,” or warmth. It seems that during a good part of her childhood, Laura (and those young 1st Minnesotans were hungry and cold. Of course we're all familiar with the descriptions of the Yankee soldier's lot, being hungry and cold. I think this is why the Western troops were such long-suffering and hardy fighters: they were accustomed to deprivations from childhood on, certainly more so than the store clerks and city dwellers that made up some New York and Pennsylvania regiments.
So, read through some of the "Little House" books if you have some time away from Frassanito. I particularly recommend "The Long Winter." They'll give you an insight into what manner of men survived virtual annihilation at Gettysburg.