The Boys in Blue, or, Heroes of the "Rank and File"

Book Excerpt

Background Notes

Jane Currie Blaikie Hoge, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was a devout Civil War relief leader and welfare laborer. Her narrative, The Boys in Blue, comprises her own personal description of everyday life in the Union army from her three years’ work experience. Mrs. Hoge’s message is quite clear: although the soldiers should be praised and glorified for their self-sacrifice, they were not the only ones who were in distress during the Civil War. In the transcribed excerpts below, Mrs. Hoge gives a highly sentimental account of the Civil War as she exposes its emotional aspects to readers. She writes a detailed report of hardships on the home front, the suffering on the battlefield, and, as a woman playing an active role in the war effort, she does not fail to recognize women’s domestic roles and self-sacrifice. Ultimately, she believes, the greatest women contributors to the war effort were those who had a loved one in the army, which served as motivation to provide aid for the soldiers. Much of the time, this meant simply sewing clothing and sending individual items to soldiers they knew.

Transcription of Primary Source


            When the echo of the first rebel gun reached the nation’s ear, the uprising of the loyal masses of this great Republic was not only an inspiration, but a prophecy- not only a foretelling, but foreshadowing of the redemption that drew nigh, and has now been fulfilled by God’s overruling power and the strong arms and brave hearts of the “Boys in Blue.”

            When husbands left their wives and little ones, praying and weeping between the porch and the altar; when boys sprang heroes from their mothers’ arms to the front ranks of battle; when lovers buckled on their armor, looking aloft to the emblem of freedom, and deferred the day of hope fulfilled till the old flag should be vindicated, or their union made eternal beyond the grave, God moved the hearts of men as they had never been moved before….

            During the war, the shadow of death passed over almost every household in the land, and left desolate hearth-stones and vacant chairs. Shots at long range entered dwellings even in the most sequestered vales, and on the loftiest mountain ranges. Thousands of mothers, wives and sisters at home, died and made no sign, while their loved ones were hidden in southern hospitals, prisons or graves; and all this, that our nation might be perpetuated, the principles of human freedom established, and the hand of the world’s dial-plate moved forward a degree, even though it cost the lives of half a million of freemen to accomplish it. A simple incident will illustrate this determined patriotism more strikingly than a thousand general statements.

            When the 113th Illinois Regiment was stationed at Camp Douglas, Chicago, my son being its colonel, I visited it frequently, to administer to the wants of the sick. On one occasion, I saw a member of that regiment sitting on a bench with a son on either side of him, of ten and twelve years old, lovingly leaning on their father’s bosom. It was a touching sight, and at his request I sat beside them. I said, “Are these your only children?” “No,” he replied, “I have a wife and seven children.” “Was your wife willing to have you leave your home?” “We had many talks together before she consented. She could not, at the first call; but when the second came, we concluded ‘twas better to run the risk of leaving her a widow and the children fatherless, than to risk losing this blessed country, with all its institutions. I keep these boys with me to the last, and go home every Sunday in the neighborhood, to teach Sabbath-school. I have made great sacrifices to come. I have a fine stock-farm, and had as happy a home as man could desire here below. I have pushed off my stock at a sacrifice, rented my farm, and my wife has gone to her father’s house, to remain in my absence. I have started to fight for my country, and with God’s help do not mean to look back and never return, till I can come home victorious or in my coffin….”



            No one living in the North-West, can forget the wild enthusiasm occasioned by the surrender of Fort Donelson. It was the first decisive victory of the Union arms, and was felt by the people to be the pledge and forerunner of many to follow. In the garden City, Chicago, all the bells were madly rung, salutes were fired, schools dismissed, business suspended, men embraced each other in the streets and wept, processions were extemporized, omnibuses, express wagons, teams and drays, filled with the shouting multitude, drove through the principle thoroughfares, always stopping before the rooms of the Sanitary Commission to give three hearty cheers. This battle was fought on the 13th, 14th, and 15th of February, 1862. At that inclement season, our brave troops lay outside the intrenchments of the fort three successive days and nights, in a pelting storm of sleet and snow. They fought their way to the breastworks, and over them, inch by inch; only stopping when darkness covered them. At the close of the third day, victory perched on the banner of freedom; but not until it had been dyed in the blood of its defenders….

            In the midst of the hosannas of the multitude, a pang shot through my heart when I thought of the sacrifice the victory had cost, of the mangles bodies, open graves, broken hearts, and scattered hopes that must follow in its train. I had not, however, comprehended the full reality of the war till I reached Cairo. At home, society was undisturbed, business prosperous, places of amusement filled, churches sustained, schools well patronized, people marrying and given in marriage, one going to his farm, and another to his merchandise, as though the voice of war had not been heard in the land, and no sacrifices were necessary. The second call for 300,000 more, had not yet been heard in almost every home in the land.

            At Cairo, every step kept time to martial law and music. The tramp, tramp, tramp, of the Boys in blue muttered from morn till night. Military sentinels met us at every turn. The fife and drum piped and rolled incessantly. Transports, laden to the guards with their precious living freight, were constantly arriving from above, and leaving for the Tennessee, where the Western army was massing for a prospective conflict- none knew when nor where….



            …On another occasion I visited Bluffville, Ill., at the urgent request of Mrs. F--, the Postmistress of the district, and president of the aid society. The settlement was some miles from the railroad station, and I found a farmer’s wagon with its worthy owner, awaiting me. We drove to the house of Mrs. F--, who apologized for her limited accommodations and her humble dwelling, which I found sheltered a head and heart that would have done honor to a palace. The settlement was sparse, the people poor; “all having enough to do to get along these war times,” she said, “when so many of their men had enlisted.” The cause of our suffering soldiers had lain upon her heart from the beginning of the war. She endeavored to form an aid society, but no one had time or money to give, though probably she had as little of either, as any one. After days of domestic toil and official duties, she worked far into the night; and in two weeks succeeded in piecing and quilting a warm covering for a sick soldier’s bed. He called in the neighbors to rejoice with her, and on the spot they formed an aid society, and appointed committees to gather eggs, butter, vegetables, and what money they could collect, to purchase material for work. She felt they were not doing enough, and wrote to me to come to her assistance and tell the people about the soldiers that I had seen, and rouse them up to more earnest effort.

            Mrs. F. besought me to let the farmers come to the meeting. “They are plain men,” she said, “eager to hear; and they are the source of our supply. For the sake of the suffering soldiers, let them in.” I did, unwillingly, but soon forgot everything but the hospitals, pale faces, battle-fields and transports. In the audience, I saw as usual fresh weeds, eager looks, and streaming tears, that told the shot had boomed over these prairies, and strewn them with broken hearts and withered hopes….

            As I was on my homeward journey, I was detained some hours at a small settlement in Illinois, to make the direct connection for Chicago. Desirous to improve the time, I asked the landlady of the hotel where I stopped, if there was an aid society in the place. “Yes, indeed,” she said, and she had been its president till her eyesight failed, that she was now almost blind, and her husband said ‘twas because she had sewed at night for the soldiers. From the porch where she sat she pointed to a house and said, “You’ll find a lady there, in that milliner’s shop, that can tell you all about it.”

            I found her and her room filled with buxom lasses, trying on the latest style of head-gear…I resolved to know this woman’s history…She was refined and educated, and I use her words as nearly as possible:

“When the first call came, my husband, myself, and two little ones, one a babe, were living in this house, in easy circumstances, he having a profitable business. I saw he was uneasy, but he kept silent, as I did. When the next call came, he said, ‘I must attend the meeting to raise recruits.’ I knew what that meant, but was prepared, for I had pondered it in my heart. I said, ‘James, if you feel it to be your duty to go, don’t let me and the children hinder you.’ He started. ‘Wife,’ said he, ‘you can’t conduct the business and support the family. You have been delicately reared, never have done even your own work.’ ‘I know all that,’ I said, ‘but I have thought it all over, and know what I can do. From a child I have made my own bonnets, and have been told they were tasteful. A milliner’s shop is needed here. I can get a good workwoman from Chicago, open a shop, and support myself and the children. If all wait till it is convenient to go, what will become of the country?’ Said this earnest woman, “I was interrupted by the sobs of my husband. He said my courage broke him down more than tears or entreaties to stay….”

            The women of the land, with that quick perception which so often leads them to correct conclusions, without a slow process of reasoning, comprehended the import of the war from its early stages. The quiet of their homes and domestic pursuits, gave them the opportunity to ponder on the matter. They felt that they must give their husbands and sons to conquer or to die. They did not refuse the offering; and woman’s heart, alone, comprehends the sacrifice. They counted the cost, paid the price, and with a sagacity and zeal that has turned a new leaf in woman’s history and development, have created supplies by the work of their fingers, managed and controlled at the different branches of the Commission an amount of business heretofore considered impracticable for women. In the various departments of aid societies, soldiers’ rests and homes, in hospitals and transports, they have performed a humane work, that may well challenge history for a parallel….

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
The boys in blue, or, Heroes of the "rank and file". : Comprising incidents and reminiscences from camp, battle-field, and hospital, with narratives of the sacrifice, suffering, and triumphs of the soldiers of the republic / By Mrs. A. H. Hoge, associate manager of the North-western branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, Chicago. ; With an introduction by Thomas M. Eddy ; with illustrations from original drawings of the most striking scenes of the war of rebellion.
Jane Currie Blaikie Hoge
E.B. Treat & Co. (NY), C.W. Lilley (Chicago)
Place of Publication: 
New York, NY; Chicago, Illinois
American Antiquarian Society
Catalog Code: 
E538 H715 B867 Copy 1