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Usage of Tents

By Eric Mink

The following requisitions were found in the Compiled Service Records (CSR) of Major Jacob R. Braithwaite, member of 33rd Virginia Infantry who served as Quartermaster for the “Stonewall” Brigade during Brigadier General James A. Walker’s tenure, 1863-1864.

[No. 40]
Special Requisition
Sept 1st 1863
For, (2) Two Wall Tents + fly For the Stonewall Brigade
One of the tents is required for the men of the Field + Staff of the 1st La. Regt Nichols Brigade
I certify that the above requisition is correct, and that the articles specified are absolutely requisite for the public service, rendered so by the following circumstances: there is no tent at Regt Hd Qrs 4 Va Inft.

J.R. Braithewaite, Maj. Q.M.
Approved J.A. Walker, Brig. Genl.

Sept 12th 1863
For, 28) Twenty Eight Fly tents and 2) Two Wall Tents + Flies. For the use of Stonewall Brigade. The Wall tents are for the use of H Qrs of 5th + 27th Va Inft
I certify that the above Requisition is correct, and that the articles specified are absolutely requisite for the public service, rendered so by the following circumstances: some of the men + officers are without shelter

J.R. Braithewaite, Maj. Q.M.
Approved J.A. Walker , Brig. Gen.

Food For Thought
Reprinted¬†from “The Wythe Grays Chronicle” Issue 4, May 1997

The newest trend in reenacting seems to be the “Campaigner” impression. The belief being that everything must fit on one’s back and camping entails as little tentage as possible. This has given rise to many discussions, and a few arguments, on Confederate usage of tents. Did Lee’ men use tents? Where did they get them? Did they appreciate them, or consider them a nuisance? What follows are some accounts by men from the “Stonewall” Brigade concerning their usage of, and views on, tentage.

When we envision the early months of the war, we often perceive the camps of both North and South as being sprawling cities of canvas. Photographs of the camps around Washington certainly bear this out for the Federals, but was it true within the Confederate lines? As a member of Company L, 4th Virginia Infantry, William Kinzer found himself near Mt. Jackson, Virginia in March of 1862, In his diary entry for March 20m Kinzer notes that with the orders to move:

“The few wagons were loaded with a few mess stores and the blankets, all the tents were piled up, a good many mess boxes, cooking utensils &c were piled up, with the expectation of burning them if the wagons did not return.”[1]

The burning of tents for lack of transportation is very perplexing. Are the tents too large to be carried in the men’s knapsacks, thus necessitating the use of wagons? Preparing to burn the tents would suggest that they weren’t considered of the utmost importance, is this because the men can live without them, or because they can be easily replaced? Regardless, the fact that the men had tents would be something they would longingly remember before the year was out.

At the beginning of the Second Manassas Campaign, the “Stonewall” Brigade, as well as Jackson’s entire command, would have to make do without tents or excess baggage. Colonel William Allen, Jackson’s Chief of Ordnance, stated in a post-war essay that during the 1862 summer campaign, the:

“men had been compelled to store their knapsacks, I think at Harrisonburg, and it was some months before they saw them again.”[2]

Apparently, some of the men never saw their knapsacks or tents again, for as late as October 29, 1862 James B. McCutchan of Co. D, 5th Virginia was complaining that:

“The nights are pretty cold, cold enough to have tent, don’t know whether we are going to gent any or not.”[3]

The men wouldn’t have long to wait, as they were shortly involved in the Fredericksburg Campaign and then settled into winter camp.

At the end of April 1863, Lee’s men were roused from their winter camps by Joseph Hooker’s move into the Wilderness around Chancellorsville. The soldiers of the “Stonewall” Brigade would not be heavily engaged until May 3 when they, along with Jackson’s entire corps now commanded by J.E.B. Stuart, attacked the Union artillery drawn up on an elevation called Hazel Grove. The Yankee cannoneers were forced to retreat quickly, saving most of their guns but losing many a caisson and limber. Following the battle, Captain Jacob Golladay of Co. B, 33rd Virginia wrote his brother that:

“We are encamped in the woods without shelter. We captured an immense quantity of gun shrouds which we use in the place of tents. They are a very good substitute by splicing them together.”[4]

These large canvas tarps, designed to cover the Union cannon, seemed to work in a pinch. Improvisation seemed to grow from necessity, Exactly a year later the men of the “Stonewall” Brigade would have reason to thank the Yankee foe for being well supplied.

As had happened in 1863, Lee’s army was aroused from their winter camps in 1864 by the movements of the Army of the Potomac into the Wilderness. Becoming engaged on May 5, the soldiers of the “Stonewall” Brigade held their ground until the Yankees left their front two days later. When the Yankees departed, they also left many of their blankets, gum cloths, and tents. A few days later, on the eve of their near destruction, the men of the “Stonewall” Brigade were in the trenches of the “Mule Shoe” salient near Spotsylvania Court House. Lieutenant Thomas Doyle of Co. E, 33rd Virginia wrote in his memoirs that:

“About 12 P.M. it commenced to rain and continued all night making the trenches a most uncomfortable place, but thanks to the excellent tent-flies so abundantly supplied by the 6th Federal Corps in the Wilderness, the men were able to keep tolerably dry.”[5]

Unfortunately for the men of the “Stonewall” Brigade, the tents did little to keep their powder dry. The next day, May 12, the Virginians” position would be overrun and the “Stonewall” Brigade would cease to exist as an independent unit.

It seems that the “Stonewall” Brigade dealt with the same inconsistent supply system as did the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia. The fact that the lack of, or usage of, tents would make it into letters, diaries, and memoirs of these men would certainly suggest that shelter was constantly on their minds. Whether supplied by their government, picked up from the Yankees, or fashioned out of canvas gun covers, tenets were important to these men and if they had an option, they would use them.


Sources

[1] Typescript of Diary of William T. Kinzer, West Virginia Collection, West Virginia University Library, Morgantown, WV.
[2] Colonel William Allen. “Reminiscences of Field Ordnance Service with the Army of Northern Virginia – 1863-‘5”.¬†Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XIV (1886), p. 141.
[3] Typescript of James B. McCutchan Letter, October 29, 1862. Rockbridge County Historical Society, Lexington, VA.
[4] Typescript of Jacob Golladay Jr. Letter, May 8m 1863. Hadley Library, Winchester, VA.
[5] Typescript Memoir of Thomas S. Doyle. Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania NMP.

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