In Their Own Words
October 20, 1861
Concern about Youth Enlisting for Civil War
From Villa Rica, Ga., Joseph W. Chambers wrote Gov. Joseph E. Brown about boys sixteen and younger enlisting as soldiers. Chambers had two teenage sons of his own, and it was not fear of their death or injury that he spoke about in his letter but rather concern that his boys would learn to drink and gamble:
“I take my pen this evening to write you a few lines to inform you of one thing that is going on and that is this. I don’t think that men making up companies to go off to war should take boys contrary to their parents’ will. It is causing many to see a great deal of trouble about them and some women has been afflicted so long that their minds ain’t able to bear it, boys running off not more than fourteen and sixteen years old from their parents, persuaded by others who are going off to the war. And I think notes should be given to men who are making up companies to go off should not receive them that [are] under age. And you know that it would make you feel dreadful bad to have a child to go off contrary to your wish and will. It produces a great deal of dissatisfaction and trouble when it can be avoided. And I have confidence to believe you will do all you can to prevent it.
For boys so young has but very little judgement about them or thought of consideration at best and are so apt to fall into bad habits and [be] ruined for evermore. And I think and say to you that they should not be [al]lowed to drink nor gamble in their camps at all. For men drinkers is not fit for service anyway when influenced by liquor. And I wants such restriction made if it can possibly be done, as I shall soon have two sons there. I have tried to raise them up right, tried to show them what a great evil it is to drink nor gamble in their camps at all. For men drinkers is not fit for service anyway when influenced by liquor. And I wants such restriction made if it can possibly be done, as I shall soon have two sons there. I have tried to raise them up right, tried to show them what a great evil it is to drink, gamble or any other evil. But after I have done all this, when they get off from home they may fall into these evils when they are presented to them. And they are many [who] shall persuade them into it to get what they have. And if it was not allowed in camps they wouldn’t be so apt to fall into these habits and be ruined.”
Source: Mills Lane (ed.), Georgia: History written by Those who lived It (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1995), p. 145.