When we think of the Civil War, our minds often turn first to the battlefield; yet despite the millions of men who fought in the war, the majority of America’s 31 million people lived out the war in their own homes, whether that was on a farm, in a small town, or in a big city. When discussing such a large number or people, it’s impossible to say there was any one type of “typical” home front Civil War experience, since so many variables were at play, including where a person lived, their race, their gender, their economic circumstances, and numerous other factors.
But one way we can get an idea of what life was like for everyday individuals living on the home front during the Civil War is through newspapers. Not only can articles and anecdotes help flesh out our understanding, but newspaper ads and notices are a particularly valuable way to fill in the blanks about the lives of “ordinary folks” at the time.
Some ads—like those for patent medicines and grocery stores—seemed to be prevalent across the country, while others—like offers of rewards for runaway slaves—were more typical of specific regions. And while some ads reflected the realities of wartime, others show that in some ways, life—and the goods and services needed—remained the same even when the country was at war.
Below is a selection of ads and notices from newspapers across the country during the Civil War. Take a look and learn a little more about what life may have been like for your ancestors:
- Ad for law office that helps with pensions, bounties, and soldiers’ back pay, Massachusetts 1863
- Ad for corsets, hoop skirts, and other clothing; Illinois 1865
- Ad for a business that procures draft substitutes, New York 1864
- Stagecoach ad, Arizona 1864
- Ad for benefit “to relieve drafted men,” held at Ford’s Theater; Washington DC 1864
- Ad wanting to exchange raw cotton for butter, eggs, and chicken; North Carolina 1863
- Ad requesting volunteers for Maine heavy artillery regiment, Maine 1863
- Ad about slaves for sale, Tennessee 1863
- Notice not to sell alcohol to soldiers, West Virginia 1861
- Ads for mediums and astrologers, Washington DC 1864
- Ad about house for sale; will accept Confederate notes in payment; Tennessee 1862
- Ad for dentist, New York 1864
- Want ad for cavalry horses, Kansas 1865
- Notice from constable about stray dogs, Louisiana 1861
- Ad for handkerchief perfume, Vermont 1865
These clippings are just the beginning! Find countless more by browsing Newspapers.com. You can find out about other eras your ancestors lived in by looking for ads from those time periods as well. You could also focus on ads from a specific state or town.