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What They Carried: A Look Inside a Solider’s Pockets

As living historians, no tidbit of historical minutia is too insignificant to escape our attention. We work hard to present an impression of the past with as many details backed up by research as possible. From the construction of buttons and the inspection markings on our weapons, to the tiny details of drill and the dye of the fabrics of our uniforms, all the little details matter. For some aspects of the life of a Civil War soldier, we have piles of historical records and information upon which to base our impressions. But there is a whole world of information so insignificant and common place at the time that no one ever thought to record it or mark it down for posterity. This forces us sometimes to make interpretations based off limited evidence or guess entirely to fill in gaps in the historical record.

And sometimes we can find little tidbits of information that can help fill in some of those gaps. Think of something as common place as what a soldier carried in his pockets everyday. The keys, wallet, and cell phone that many of us carry everyday all serve a purpose and so, by working back from the purposes a Civil War soldier may have needed each day, we can guess at what he might have stuffed in his pockets. But at the end of the day, this is just a guess unless we can test it with some data.

That’s why the following except from the diary of Captain Michael Shuler is so fascinating for a Civil War reenactor. Captain Shuler commanded Company H of the 33rd Virginia Infantry from March 1862 until his death in May 1864 leading the company during the Battle of the Wilderness. He was only 18 when he took command of the unit. His diary covers June-December 1862 and is a fascinating day-by-day account of life in the Stonewall Brigade that is well worth a read in full.

In the middle of the entries for November 22nd, Shuler left a blank page and then used a page in his diary to record the examination of the personal effects of one Private John Decker, a member of Shuler’s company found murdered near the Stonewall Brigade’s camp on November 18th. While the entry has no details regarding the murder, Captain Shuler was evidently involved in the investigation and recorded the items Decker had on him when his body was discovered. The following is this examination (slightly edited for legibility), which provides a rare glimpse into the pockets of a Civil War soldier. While irrelevant for most historians, for the dedicated reenactor, this sort of information can help improve our impression of soldiers like Decker.

“Examination of Body of John Decker
Nov. 19, 1862
Examined his pants pockets and found nothing but penknife, pocket comb, screw driver, pencil, small piece of tobacco, and leather string. When his shirt pockets, found the left pocket torn, which it seems had been buttoned up, and the right pocket was still buttons [sic] and contained a teaspoon, small piece of soap, and little paper with two buckles in it. The right side of his head seemed to be [the entry abruptly ends]”

The diary of Captain Shuler was transcribed by Robert H. Moore, II and is available via Archive.org.

The Humble Housewife

By Brad Ireland, 4th Virginia, Co. A

The personal sewing kit, affectionately called a “Housewife”, was an indispensable tool carried by Civil War soldiers both North and South. Soldiers were issued clothing in limited quantities. They couldn’t pop out to their local Wal-Mart to buy a new pair of pants every time they wore hole in them. The soldiers had to learn how to mend their own clothing. The Housewife is also an important part of the reenactor’s kit as rips occur in the field, and buttons always seem to pop off just as we are gearing up to go into battle or on a march.

A typical housewife contained needles, pins, thread, scissors, extra buttons, and sometimes patches of extra fabric for mending holes in cloths. Housewives were made in all sorts of materials from wool to cotton to velvet, and even metal. They came in many different shapes and varieties, though the most common seems to be the rolled up rectangle. Some were extremely fancy and others were very plain. On the following pages of this essay, you will see documented original housewives. Use these as an example of what to look for when you decide to purchase one or make your own.

Read the full article here.

Confederate Fighting Knives

By Brad Ireland, 4th Virginia, Co. A

When one thinks of a fighting knife, the first image that comes to mind is the Bowie Knife. The Bowie knife first became famous after Jim Bowie used a large knife at a duel know as the “Sandbar Fight” in 1827. This historic knife has seen many different designs. The most common design has a six inch blade but some are as long as twelve inches. In 1861, as the south was arming for war, many southern soldiers considered a large fighting knife an essential piece of equipment. Soon however the soldier realized the implacability of carrying such a large and heavy knife on long marches and they soon disappeared. Below are some examples of fighting knives of the period.

Read the full article here.

Blanket Displays

By Brad Ireland, 4th Virginia, Co.A

I have been to many living histories in my time as a re-enactor. Most of these living histories involve a manual of arms demonstration, firing demonstration, and a drill demonstration. After the Demo, the visitors are often invited back to see the camp and to ask questions. Quite often the camp scene is filled with disheveled blankets spread out around a camp fire or rows of dog tents. What of the personal items of the soldiers?

Blanket Displays can be a valuable tool at living histories and reenactments that can give the visitors a memorable hands-on experience. You can read about how the soldiers marched and camped day in and day out and yet never quite draw the picture in your minds eye of what little the soldiers actually had to work with and what they had to do without in their daily lives. Blanket displays are a window into the daily life of the Civil War soldier that no battle reenactment or drill demonstration can open.

Read the full article here.

Military Etiquette and Deportment

Reenacting has gone from a pastime where participants were only expected to “act” like soldiers for a few hours over the course of a weekend to one where living history opportunities are encouraged and fostered throughout the course of the event. In this atmosphere it is essential that each “soldier” is aware of and practicing the basic military courtesies of the period and how commissioned officers and enlisted men were expected to conduct themselves. Military manuals and personal accounts provide great insight into this topic.

How was extending courtesies to officers viewed by the military and why was it important?
“One of the first things a soldier has to learn on entering the army, is a proper military deportment towards his superiors in rank: this is nothing more than the military way of performing the courtesies required from a well-bred man in civil life, and a punctual performance of them is as much to his credit as the observances of the ordinary rules of common politeness.”

“Courtesy among military men is indispensable to discipline. Respect to superiors will not be confined to obedience on duty, but will be extended to all occasions. It is always the duty of the inferior to accost or to offer first the customary salutation, and of the superior to return such complimentary notice.”

What were some of the parameters for extending courtesy to officers? How was this done? When was saluting required or not required?
“When a soldier without arms, or with side-arms only, meets an officer, he is to raise his hand to the right side of the visor of his cap, palm to the front, elbow raised as high as the shoulder, looking at the same time in a respectful and soldier-like manner at the officer, who will return the compliment thus offered.”

“A non-commissioned officer or soldier being seated, and without particular occupation, wil rise on the approach of an officer, and make the customary salutation. If standing, he will turn toward the officer for the same purpose. If the parties remain in the same place or on the same ground, such compliments need not be repeated.”

“The following customs are equally binding, though not provided for in Regulations:- When soldiers are marching in the ranks, they do not salute, unless ordered at the time. If employed at any work, they are not expected to discontinue their employment to salute.”

“A soldier or non-commissioned officer, when he addresses an officer, or is spoken to by one, salutes; on receiving the answer or communication from the officer, he again salutes before turning to go away.”

“When a soldier enters an officer’s quarters without arms, or with side-arms only, he takes off his cap and stands in the position of a soldier, and delivers his message or communicates what he came for in as few words as possible and to the point.”

“When a soldier enters an officer’s quarters, he remains standing in the position of a soldier until invited to sit down. When soldiers are in a room and an officer enters, they should rise and remain standing until invited to sit down.”

What about non-commissioned officers? What qualities were they expected to possess? Were non-commissioned officers entitled to explicit obedience from the men under their supervision? How were they expected to handle themselves?
“Non-commissioned officers are entitled to implicit obedience from the soldieries, and they should be obeyed and respected by the men; and when a non-commissioned officer fails in obtaining this regard and obedience from the men, he fails in his most essential qualification.”

“The confidence of the soldiers in the integrity of a non-commissioned officer can only be obtained by his being rigidly just and impartial to those under him, and by keeping his temper on all occasions, and discharging his duty without passion or feeling. A non-commissioned officer who cannot control himself will find difficulty in controlling those over whom he is placed.”

“Confidence and energy are the progressive traits of the non-commissioned officer who would be successful. Let him first feel he is right, and acting in obedience to orders and instructions, and then do his duty with decision and firmness; and success will be more certain, and failure much less discreditable.”

What were some of the day to day duties of Corporals? What was expected of them?
“The duties of a corporal are simple, and depend for their successful performance mainly upon his capacity to control and direct soldiers in the performance of their duty. They take charge of the smaller details for fatigue and police duty in camp and garrison duty: their most important duty if that of corporal of the Guard. They frequently succeed to the responsibilities of Sergeant in his absence, and should therefore be familiar with his duties.”

“Corporals should be living examples for their soldiers in the neatness and cleanliness of their clothing, arms, and accoutrements. They should be the first to fall into ranks at roll-calls, and should have their tents or bunks, wherever their quarters, always systematically in order.”

“Corporals should bear in mind that they are entitled to implicit obedience from the men placed under them; and, whilst they are not usually authorized to confine soldiers on their own judgment, they should always be sustained by their superiors in the performance of their duties, and in the execution of their office.”

“When a soldier neglects his duty towards a corporal, the corporal should at once report the fact to the first sergeant, whose duty it is either to decide in the matter, or to report it to his company commander.”

What about recently promoted Corporals, what advice do the manuals impart to them?
“The corporal should insist upon obedience, without being arbitrary, and should maintain his position as a non-commissioned officer firmly, but without arrogance. When he first receives his appointment, his calibre meets with the severest tests. Soldiers, for a time, will be apt to try the material he is made of, which they do in many ways, and by progressive steps, and, if not checked, will increase to a complete disregard, and terminate in an entire inefficiency of the corporal.”

What were some of the duties of Sergeants? What were the differences/similarities between the duties of Corporals and Sergeants?
“Sergeants generally have a more general supervision of the men, whilst corporals have more of the detail to attend to. The company should be divided into a number of squads proportionate to the number of duty-sergeants in the company, with a proportionate number of corporals, who should have charge when the sergeants are absent.”

“It is difficult to draw the line between the duties of the corporal and those of the sergeant. There is really no great difference in their duties. Sergeants generally have larger details under their charge, and have corporals under their direction to assist them. They are usually intrusted with more responsible duties, and they are supposed to have greater experience, and to approach nearer the commissioned officer in a knowledge of all military matters.”

Did the armies really expect NCOs to handle themselves in the manner previously described? Was it that important that they did so?
“Corpls. Ball & Coleman will be reduced to the ranks to morrow for long continued neglect & ignorance of duty. They have done no one very serious thing but have been deficient in a number of small ones. They could not desist from talking & laughing in the ranks had to spoken to every day or two about standing at attention at roll call. These things are not allowed in a private, & in a non-commissioned officer, who is expected to be perfection itself in all the minutiae of military affairs, it cannot be endured. Again they had no control over their squads. They were rolled & tumbled about at the will of the men. Disobedience to Corpls. Is the germ and fountainhead of insubordination in the whole army.”

As this article illustrates military deportment and courtesy were considered absolutely vital to the health, discipline and daily routine of army life. A close adherence to these guidelines will prove beneficial to today’s living historians wishing to accurately portray life in the army.

Customs of Service for Non-Commissioned Officers & Soldiers by August V. Kautz
The Military Handbook & Soldiers Manual by Louis LeGrand
For country, Cause & Leader: The Civil War Journal of Charles B. Hayden

Guard Duty: A Primer for Civil War Reenactors

By Austin Williams, 5th Virginia

What follows are the most salient points of guard duty, tailored to the circumstances we most often encounter during reenacting events. When improperly executed, guard duty is tedious and boring, but when following the period requirements, it can be a memorable part of your impression of a soldier of the 1860s. For anyone really interested in the intricacies of guard duty, I recommend Instructions for Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers on Outpost and Patrol Duty and Troops in Campaign (1863).

Types of Guards
The guard system used during the Civil War was designed to serve a variety of purposes, ranging from maintaining internal camp discipline to preventing a surprise attack from the enemy. As such, the system as structured around layers of guards. Just outside of the sight of the enemy, a line of outposts of a few men would be posted. These outposts send forward guards to directly observe the enemy, called sentinels if composed of infantry or vedettes if composed of cavalry. Behind this line of outposts and sentinels, a line of grand guards provides support to slow the enemy if he should attack. These grand guards are in turn supported by a line of pickets, which consist of 40 men commanded by a lieutenant. Their purpose is to hold the enemy until the main body of troops has time to form up. The camp of the main body lies behind the pickets and a group of police guards surround the camp of each regiment and are posted at important points within the camp.

It is very rare to see a reenactment which attempts to maintain a line of pickets, grand guards, etc… due to the manpower required. In most cases, when we conduct guard duty during an event, we are portraying police guards. The remainder of this primer will discuss police guards.

Composition and Duties of the Police Guard

Per regulations, the Police Guard consists of the following personnel:

  • One Captain, serving as Officer of the Day (OOD)
  • One Lieutenant, serving as Officer of the Guard (OOG)
  • Two Sergeants, one serving as Sergeant of the Guard (SOG) and the other commanding the Advanced Post
  • Three Corporals, serving three shifts as Corporal of the Guard
  • Two musicians, one located at the Guard Tent with the Officer of the Guard and the other located at the advanced postAt least thirty nine privates, serving three shifts of 13 sentinels. If the regiment is on either flank of the brigade, the guard contains at least 42 privates, as an extra sentinel is posted on the flank of the brigade.

Thirteen sentinels are on duty at a time and are arranged as above. Off duty sentinels remain either at the Guard Tent, which functions as the headquarters for the guard, or at the Advanced Post. The Advanced Post contains the battalion’s prisoners and is commanded by a Sergeant. He will have under his command a musician and nine men. Men assigned to the Advanced Post should be the best of the guard and do not leave the Advanced Post; they do not drill or march with the Battalion and their food is brought to them at the Advanced Post. The Advanced Post positions two advanced guards and a third guard who watches the prisoners and the arms of the Advanced Post off-duty sentinels. All other sentinel posts are relieved by sentinels who remain at the Guard Tent when not on duty.

In reenacting, a guard will more commonly consist of the OOD, a Corporal of the Guard, and sentinels. If less than thirteen men at a time are available to serve as sentinels, priority should be placed on posting guards at the Guard Tent, the colors/arms, and at least one sentinel on each flank and to the rear and advance of the Battalion.

The placement and size of the guard will be determined by the Regimental Staff and the OOG, although no sentinel should be out of earshot of the Guard Tent, either directly or by having closer sentinels relay alarms from distant sentinels. When placing sentinels, each sentinel should be giving a number, beginning with Post No. 1 for the sentinel at the Guard Tent. When calling for the Corporal of the Guard, the sentinel can then relay his position, i.e. “Post No. 3! Corporal of the Guard!”

Rules Governing the Conduct of Sentinels and Their Duties
Sentinels take orders only from the OOG, OOD, Sergeant of the Guard, or the Battalion commander. Unless ordered to march over a particular stretch of ground (“walking a beat”), sentinels may not leave their appointed position for any reason. Likewise, a sentinel must never ground or allow anyone to touch his weapon and should carry it on either shoulder.

When posted, sentinels should be provided with the orders and regulations they are tasked to enforce. All sentinels have the following general orders:

“I am required to take charge of this post and all public property in view; to salute all officers passing, according to rank; to give the alarm in case of fire, or the approach of the enemy, or any disturbance whatsoever; to report all violations of the Articles of War, Regulations of the Army, or camp or garrison orders; at night, to challenge all persons approaching my post, and to allow no one to pass without the countersign until they are examined by an officer or noncommissioned officer of the Guard.”

Additional responsibilities may be assigned based on the sentinel’s assigned post:

  • Sentinel at the Battalion Commander’s Tent: This sentinel has orders to inform the Colonel, day or night, of “unusual movements” in or around the camp.
  • Sentinel at the Battalion Colors: This sentinel has orders that no one may touch the colors except the color bearer or the Sergeant of the Guard if accompanied by two armed men. The colors may not be moved without an escort.
  • Sentinel over the Arms Stacks: These sentinels ensure no one removes a weapon from the stacks without permission from an officer or the Sergeant of the Guard.
  • Sentinels at the Battalion’s Flanks, Rear and Advance: These sentinels ensure no one leaves camp with a weapon unless conducted by an officer or NCO and prevents all NCOs and privates from leaving the camp at night except to visit the sinks. They are also charged with arresting any suspicious people in the vicinity of the camp.

When required by his orders, a sentinel should sound the alarm by calling for the Corporal of the Guard as described above, making sure to state his post number. A sentinel may also sound the alarm by firing his weapon or yelling “Fire!” as the situation dictates.

Sentinels are to be respected by everyone, officers and enlisted. They are not allowed to converse except as part of their official duties. For additional details on the conduct of a sentinel, please see pages 28-39 of Customs of Service for Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers.

The guard, as the only group of men in the Battalion camp who are armed at all times, is responsible for rendering honors for general officers and other dignitaries. Since, as reeneactors, we rarely have a guard other than sentinels on duty, this primer will not cover many of these honors, as they involve the off duty sentinels be formed up. As we rarely maintain a guard of off duty sentinels, those interested in learning the procedures for these honors should consult pages 584-586 of Gilham’s Manual.

Sentinels halt and give the following honors at anytime between reveille and retreat:

Shoulder Arms Any officer above the rank of Captain; the OOD; the Battalion’s commanding officer; friendly groups of armed men led by an officer; the Colors of any battalion
Present Arms Any Captains or Lieutenants; friendly groups of armed men led by an NCO

At night, no honors are paid, except to the OOD, who may inspect the sentinels as part of Grand Rounds and upon whose approach, sentinels come to shouldered arms (see Challenging and Grand Rounds).

Guard Mount and Relieving Sentinels
Guard Mount is a daily review and parade between the guard of the previous day and the guard of the new day. As reenactors, we almost never conduct guard duty on 24 hour shifts and generally only provide men for the guard just prior to their guard duties rather than having the entire guard reviewed during a morning Guard Mount. The purpose of Guard Mount is to transfer authority from one OOD and one OOG to a new command team, as well as to inspect the new guard’s weapons. The full description can be found on pages 610-614 of Gilham’s Manual.

Sentinels are to be relieved by the Corporal of the Guard. The relief will march by the flank in two ranks at support arms. The Corporal of the Guard will designate the man in the first rank of the first file as No. 1, the man in the second rank of the first file No. 2, and so on. If the relief passes any officer, the corporal will order the men to come to shoulder arms until the officer is past. When a sentinel sees the relief approaching, he will halt and face the relief at shoulder arms. Approximately six paces from the sentinel, the Corporal will order:

1. Relief. 2. HALT.

The corporal will then designate the man to replace this sentinel and will order than man to come to arms port.

1. Number One. 2. Arms – PORT.

The sentinel will also come to arms port and he and his relief will approach each other and the sentinel relay his orders to his relief. The sentinel and relief will then come to shoulder arms and the old sentinel will go to the rear of the relief column. The corporal will then order:

1. Support – ARMS. 2. Forward. 3. MARCH.

The column then proceeds to the next sentinel until all posts are relieved.

Challenging and Grand Rounds
Challenges are only given at night and are done by calling out “Who comes there?” and coming to arms port. After a challenge, the approaching party provides the countersign, a word given to officers and NCOs of the guard or other individuals authorized to leave the camp at night. Unlike the modern usage, there is no sign/countersign exchange, such as the famous “Thunder. Flash” sign/countersign used during the Normandy invasion in World War Two. Instead the countersign is a single word set by the OOD, and was historically the name of a battle. The following is the exchange as laid out in the manual:

Sentinel: Who comes there?
Approaching Party: Friends.
Sentinel: Halt, friends. Advance one with the countersign.

The countersign should never been spoken above a whisper. If the incorrect countersign is given, the sentinel should call for the Corporal of the Guard.

At night, the OOD will conduct Grand Rounds to inspect the sentinels and ensure they remain alert. He will travel with an NCO and two men. Upon being challenged by a sentinel, the NCO will answer “Grand Rounds!” The Sentinel will reply “Halt, Grand Rounds! Advance, Sergeant, with the Countersign!” The NCO then advances and provides the countersign. The sentinel will then state “Advance, rounds!” and stand at shoulder arms until they have passed.

Instructions for Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers on Outpost and Patrol Duty and Troops in Campaign (1863)
Manual of Instruction for the Volunteers and Militia of the United States; by William Gilham (1861)
The 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; by William Craighill (1862)
Customs of Service for Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers; by August Kautz (1865)

Cooking on Campaign: A Guide to Period Rations and Food Preparation

Authentic food and correct food preparation enhances any living history and becomes quite an enjoyable activity for a mess of “possums” around the campfire. Still, for many members of the Brigade, authentic cooking is viewed as quite daunting and many are discouraged from even trying to cook while in the field. Fortunately, similar to learning the rudiments of drill in Gilham’s manual, once the basics are mastered, campaign cooking is easy and the benefits are great: correct rations are simple to prepare, affordable to purchase, and make life much easier – and hey, it could even become fun. In addition, utilization of period rations in our haversacks and preparing them correctly (and safely) is critical to accurately portraying a Confederate soldier on campaign. With practice, each living historian can become self-sufficient in the field with respect to period cooking, and combined efforts of messmates can result in tasty, enjoyable meals at events, while being authentic to the time period.

The purpose of this article is to provide a general guide for cooking in the field. Vendors and food source suggestions are provided in the appendix attached to this guide. This guide is not all-encompassing but is written to provide the minimum essentials. Each living historian is encouraged to conduct their own research on vendors, food sources, and cooking techniques.

Mess Gear
At the outset, you need the proper utensils, implements, and storage containers.

Individual Mess equipment – Everyone should have the following items at a minimum:

  • Huck Towels (at least one for food and one for personal cleaning)
  • Poke Bags
  • Tin Cup
  • Tin Plate or Canteen Half
  • Spoon and/or fork
  • Pocket Knife
  • Lye Soap (in a small muslin bag works best)
  • Match Safe
  • Haversack
  • Canteen

Optional Individual Items and Extra Necessities for Dog Robbers/Foragers:

  • Linen, muslin, or cotton rags
  • Peach can with bail
  • Small skillet
  • Small hatchet
  • Forage Bags (for dog robbers/foragers)
  • Extra Haversack (for dog robbers/foragers)
  • Small burlap sacks (for dog robbers/foragers)

By way of background, “dog robber” is a period term for the member of a mess most often charged with cooking and/or foraging.

Mess Equipment
When portraying a Confederate infantryman on the march, it’s important to remember that less is more. If a static camp is used for an event, then more leeway is available. If we are going to march and fight for the entire weekend (like at McDowell or Burkittsville), then only bring what you and your messmates can easily carry (i.e. a spider is unrealistic, but a one quart camp kettle or small coffee pot can easily be attached to a knapsack or bedroll). Mess items include such things as:

  • Hot Tin Dipped Camp Kettle (one quart “nesting” variety that can be carried on march)
  • Skillet (small or medium sized to fit in haversack or strapped to back of knapsack)
  • Spider (for static camp impressions)
  • Small coffee pot (small enough to strap onto back of knapsack)
  • Medium or large size Wooden Spoon

Food Storage
The most important aspect of proper use of period rations is correct storage. Nothing can kill a period scene for a spectator (or other event participants) and ruin the atmosphere of a living history/event if an otherwise period looking living historian reaches into his haversack and suddenly pulls out a bag of potato chips, food wrapped in plastic, or other modern food items.

All food items should be stored in poke sacks, wrapped in huck towels, or otherwise stored with period wrappings, such as muslin. Brown paper is sometimes used by re-enactors, but given that paper was in such short supply in the Confederacy (and especially in the army) during the war, paper wrappings should be kept to the minimum.

Preparing and eating foods that were most commonly issued to Confederates during the war is relatively simple. Most foods that were issued back then are still available for purchase today. These items do not require refrigeration in order too keep from spoiling (no refrigeration in the 1860s!). Even slab bacon can keep in your haversack for a two or three day event without spoiling or causing health/safety concerns. Food rarities to the common soldier in the field, such as cheeses, pies/sweets, fresh foods that require special care in warm weather, should be avoided. In addition to not being very accessible for most soldiers on the march in a campaign during the Civil War, such items require special handling and storage that are not available at events (i.e. access to a cooler with ice, need for plastic wrapping etc), particularly living history programs or events where there is no access to vehicles.

List of Period Ration Items:
It is important to remember that rations varied depending on the time of year (summer, winter, spring, fall) and campaign scenario. These factors impact the availability and selection of food (i.e. seasonal foods and accessibility depending upon wagon transportation, etc.).

  • Salt pork/slab bacon
  • Black eyed beans
  • Long grain rice (unprocessed)
  • Corn Pone
  • Parched Corn
  • Corn Meal
  • Dried Peas
  • Corn (unshucked) and other seasonal appropriate vegetables
  • Goober Peas/Peanuts
  • Salt
  • Coffee substitute (i.e. sweet potato coffee)
  • Cone sugar, molasses or sorghum

Fresh beef would be appropriate for rations on rare occasion. Make sure it’s a poor cut of meat, like rump roast or shoulder roast, not T bones and tender sirloins. Unlike slab bacon which is smoked /cured and will not spoil for up to 3 days before cooking, fresh beef needs to be issued and cooked immediately for health safety reasons.

Corn pone is authentic. Corn bread generally is not. The difference is that corn pone does not rise, while corn bread does. Corn pone, when cooked properly, is harder in substance and will not crumble as easily if stored in a haversack. A corn pone recipe is included below.

Corn meal should be coarse ground – not the fine ground meal sold in supermarkets. Most international food sections of supermarkets have coarse ground. A vendor is also listed below.

Partial List of Period Foraged Items:
Availability of “foraged” items depends upon the season and campaign. These items could be sent in a box from home, foraged from the country side, taken from a federal haversack on the battlefield, or purchased from a sutler if the army was in winter quarters or otherwise stationary. It is important to remember that forage items would be rare and in small quantities, since an army of 20,000 to 80,000 soldiers on the march would strip a countryside clean of food items. Foraged items would include:

  • Corn on the cob (unshucked)
  • Apples (in the fall)
  • Peaches, Cherries (summer)
  • Dried Fruit (sent from home)
  • Spring Onions (in the spring)
  • Potatoes (sweet/yam; red or white)
  • Eggs (boiled eggs will keep for a week w/o refrigeration)
  • Coffee beans (green coffee beans were most common, requiring toasting before grinding)
  • Turnips
  • Baked biscuits/round loaves of soft bread
  • Federal Hardtack

Issuing Rations
For a large group, you can spread out a couple of ground clothes and make individual piles of each food item. The members of the company line up and proceed down the line to receive their portion of each item. The supervising sergeant and NCOs can use a tin cup to dole out equal quantities of the goods from the bags directly to each person receiving rations. Demeanor for rations issue: Be business-like about issuing the rations. The Sergeant (or person running the issue) should be quick and decisive when issuing.

Another method is to buy quantities of cheap muslin that are cut it into handkerchief-sized squares, put the requisite quantity of food stuff in the middle of this square, and wrap and tie it up hobo style. Each person receiving a ration is then given one muslin package that contains equal quantities all food items issued.

Rations can be received in a canteen half, in a cup, in poke bags, or in a piece of cloth – it’s just a matter of a soldier’s ingenuity. Each person should always have at least 4-5 poke sacks and 1-2 huck towels or pieces of cloth in their haversack for rations. Foragers can also store rations for transportation in larger forage bags or small or medium sized burlap sacks. These bags can be tied to a knapsack, tied and hung off of a belt, or even tied to the haversack strap to hang down by the forager’s side while on the march. Again, food storage and transportation on the march is just a matter of ingenuity and creativity in the field. As long as period items are used, just do whatever you come up with that works: chances are a soldier back in the 1860s figured out and used the same method.

Cooking (The Moment of Truth)
Salt Pork/Slab Bacon: Salt pork was often called ‘sow belly’ by soldiers in blue and grey. Salt pork was the most common meat issued soldiers in both armies – a rations staple no matter what time of year. Avoid modern ‘salt pork’ sold in supermarkets – it’s mostly fat and tastes absolutely terrible. Period salt pork is not readily available. The best substitute is slab bacon (which is also better to eat, tastier, and not nearly as salty).

Slab bacon does not need to be refrigerated and can keep in your haversack for up to three days before cooking. Just use common sense if you have raw slab bacon in your haversack (i.e. don’t leave it sitting out in the sun during the summer). You can also cook your slab bacon at home and then store in your haversack for up to three days without a problem.

Slab bacon is generally sold (by the vendors listed below) in 4-5 pound slabs. Upon receipt, simply take the slab out of its plastic wrapper and cut into one half pound or pound pieces. For storage in your haversack, the easiest method is to simply wrap it in a huck towel or place in a larger sized poke bag. Extra slab pieces can be stored in larger sized forage bags.

Slab bacon can be boiled, roasted, or fried.

  • For boiling: place a piece in a tin cup or peach can, add water, and place on the fire. After the meat is cooked through, the remaining water can be used as a base for a broth or stew.
  • For roasting: you can simply place the slab bacon on the end of a stick or bayonet and place over the fire. For cooking for a large group, simply take the slab bacon pieces and put onto a ramrod; next, rest the ramrod on the backside of socket ends of two bayonets stuck in the ground on either side of a fire.
  • For frying: place a piece of slab bacon in a canteen half or small skillet, after a small amount of grease cooks off the bacon into the cooking container, add a bit of water to avoid burning the meat; continue to add water as needed to avoid burning until cooked through.

Black Beans or Field Peas: The most important thing to remember when issued beans in the field is to soak them overnight or through the day (at least 8 hours) in a cup or boiler to facilitate cooking. When preparing beans, simply boil until soft enough to eat. Beans can be combined with rice, or added with other items for a stew or soup.

Hominy: This makes a great breakfast as it is a good idea to soak the hominy overnight (or all day if you plan on making it for supper) before you boil it. Cover the hominy with twice as much water plus a bit extra (one cup of hominy to at least two cups of water or if you want a runnier consistency add more water). Hominy is very bland. You can add a bit of the sugar cone or molasses to this if you want it somewhat sweet or you could add salt pork fat, or both the sweetener and the fat.

Rice: Make sure to use only natural, unprocessed rice. Most stores that sell “organic” foods will have a variety of rice available to buy in bulk. In addition for use with stews, beans, and soups, rice can also be used as a breakfast item. Simple boil the rice until ready, and then add brown sugar and/or molasses. This provides a tasty cereal and plenty of carbohydrates for a long day.

Corn Meal: The following corn meal cooking techniques are listed in a cooking article from the 16th Virginia website (reprinted here with permission from the author, Vince Petty):

  • Corn Cakes (“Corn Dodgers”) – To the corn meal and flour mix add bacon grease and enough hot water to make stiff dough. Pinch or spoon off from the dough enough to pat out into a patty the size of an old silver dollar and fry it in a canteen half (make sure you use plenty of bacon grease) until golden brown and a little crunchy.
    Texas troops in winter quarters in 1861 near Manassas display their fresh baked cornbread.
  • Hoe cakes – To the corn meal and flour mix add bacon grease and enough hot water to make stiff dough. Pinch or spoon off from the dough enough to pat out into a patty the size of an old silver dollar. Instead of frying, prop up a canteen half close to the heat of the fire and bake rather than fry (an ideal method when there is no bacon grease available to fry with). By propping up the canteen half very close to the fire you are using it like a reflector to bake with. It is because these corn cakes were often cooked on the blades of hoes and shovels that they were often called hoe cakes.
  • Ash cakes – When no mess gear is available the ash cake is another option for using corn meal. Prepare your dough as you would for hoe cakes or corn cakes. Once prepared wrap up the dough in corn husks, tie the husks closed and bury in ashes and coals of a fire. Allow to bake for about 30 minutes. Following is one soldier’s account of baking ash cakes: “The next morning we drew bacon and meal from which the commissary had ‘presses’ in the country. This was the first food we had had for three days, except the small ration of beef on the day before, but there was not a cooking vessel of any description in the brigade, so we had to make up our dough on boards, pieces of bark or any flat material we could procure. Probably more ‘ashcakes’ were made in one hour than had ever been made in the same length of time and everybody knows they are hard to beat for bread, but I made an improvement on the style of cooking mine without the unpleasant feature of having it coated with ashes. I found a corn shuck from which the ear had been removed and, making my dough on a broad piece of bark, filled the shuck, tying the end with hickory bark, covered it with hot ashes and coals. My experiment proved a complete success, for when I uncovered it and stripped of the shuck, I had a beautiful ‘pone’ of bread just the size and shape of an ear of corn and I can truthfully say it was the best bread I have ever eaten before or since.” J. P. Cannon, 27th Alabama Infantry.

Dried Peas: Follow the same general process as for cooking hominy and beans (soaking over night or most of the day before putting the kettle or cup on the fire). You do not need to add sugar or salt pork fat as dried peas actually keep their flavor.

Potatoes: Potatoes can be baked in coals; sliced and fried in bacon grease (make sure to add a bit of water to avoid burning); or boiled. Potatoes can be combined with other items for soup or basic stew.

Sweet Potato Coffee Substitute: Put about two heaping tablespoons of coffee substitute in a tin cup, add water and boil the hell out of it. The recipe on how to make sweet potato coffee substitute is included below.

Unprocessed Sugar Cone: Can be purchased in one pound cones. Easiest method is to shatter the cone and divide among your mess mates for storage in a poke sack.

Mess Practices
All mess activities revolve around the Dog Robber and Assistant Dog Robber. They take the lead in food preparation and cooking, but everyone in the mess and/or unit needs to participate. For example, two people should gather firewood, another charged with prepping/cutting the meat or veggies, another messmate in charge of maintaining adequate water supply, and one or two in charge of actual cooking and supervision of the food preparation.

Mess equipment (and you don’t really need very much) should be divided among the messmates while on the march.

A practice that works well for the 4th Virginia is to pre-assign food items to bring. For example, in the 4th VA newsletter before an event, each person attending is assigned one food item: i.e. one or two people are charged with bringing 3-4 sweet potatoes each; one person is charged with bringing rice; another with corn meal; another with spring onions, etc. etc. etc. Generally, only one person handles ordering slab bacon, and then the rest of the messmates reimburse that person their pro-rata share of the costs. Granted, if a person does not show up, then that food item is missing – but when you think about it that would be entirely correct if a messmate carrying rations straggled on the march or was killed in battle, thus rendering his stored food or cooking implements unavailable for the rest of his messmates.

Parched Corn: Parched Corn was also issued to Confederate soldiers. This food item needs to be prepared at home prior to an event. Parched corn is a nice “snack” food, easy to store in a poke bag, lightweight, and perfect for your haversack.

Parched Corn is made by first drying fresh corn cobs until thoroughly dried, and then cooking the dried kernels with a small amount put in a skillet or spider with some bacon. The bacon grease would keep the corn from sticking and the heat would make the small kernels of dried corn swell up and turn brown. Parched Corn is the swollen and browned kernels.

If you can’t get fresh corn on the cob (or don’t want to because of the price and time involved in drying it), then just go buy frozen whole kernel corn at the grocery store. If you have a dehydrator that will simplify drying the corn, but if not, then you can simply spread the corn kernels out on cookie tins and set your oven to 150 degrees and leave the door cracked an inch or so. It will take up to eight (8) hours or more to dry, just be sure to check on it every thirty minutes or so.

Once you get it fully dehydrated, then it’s time to get out your favorite skillet and oil or grease. Almost any kind of oil or grease works, just heat the skillet on a low heat and oil the skillet. Once the skillet is hot, spread the oil around for just a thin coating on the skillet surface. PAM spray also works very well for this.

Next, you should pour in a little of the dried corn; you should have not quite enough corn to coat the bottom of the skillet. You have to constantly stir the corn around so it won’t burn. It takes less than a minute to parch the corn. When the corn swells up and turns a light to medium brown color, it is ready. Dump the corn out onto a plate that has some cloth (or some paper towels) on it to soak up any of the oil/grease that might be left on the corn, then re-oil your skillet and do some more. If you are doing it right it will take several skillets full to make a weekend’s ration but you won’t end up burning any of it. The corn kernels will take a while to dry out. You should allow the kernels to stay out overnight to dry.

Sweet Potato Coffee Substitute: Peel and cube the sweet potatoes. Dry in an oven on low heat (about 150 degrees) for several hours. Afterwards, you can brown the dried cubes in a skillet (do not use oil, just place on skillet). Next, finely grate/ground the dried cubes using a cheese grater or food processor. You can use these grounds for brewing coffee or, for some caffeine content, you can make a mix of three parts sweet potato grounds, and one part coffee grounds.

“Corn Pone” or “Indian Bread”: From Confederate Receipt Book: A Compilation of over 100 Recipes Adapted to the Times – West & Johnson, Richmond – 1863

1 quart Butter Milk
1 quart Corn Meal
1 quart Coarse Flour
1 cup Molasses
a little Soda (baking soda) & Salt
Mix and Bake

Editor’s note: Mix ingredients together, let batter sit for an hour. Pour batter in greased cake pans and bake in 425 degree preheated oven for 35-45 minutes (though baking in greased cast iron skillet is best – if using skillet bake a bit longer).

You can add more molasses to make it a bit tastier. Note that if properly cooked, this will be harder and more ornery looking than regular cornbread.

Corn Pone in the Field: You can also make corn pone in the field – simply take left-over bacon grease and add to corn meal and a bit of water. Make a dough and place on a skillet on camp fire coals (low heat) and then cover the skillet with another plate or some sort of lid.

Cush: Another Confederate staple made in a variety of ways. One soldiers account:

“We take some bacon and fry the grease out, then we cut some cold beef in small pieces and put it in the grease, then pour in water and stew it like hash. Then we crumble corn bread or biscuit in it [some soldiers made mush or paste of flour or meal and added one of both of these at this point instead of crumbs] and stew it again til all the water is out then we have . . .real Confederate cush.” The Life of Johnny Reb, at pp. 104-105, by Bell Irvin Wiley.

Editors note – you can also add vegetables, like potatoes and/or onions to cush.

Irish Mashed Potatoes: Boil Irish potatoes and green apples together, then mash together, season with salt, pepper, onions, and/or garlic. Wiley at p. 105.

Special Thanks to Greg Schultz (17th Virginia, Co. E/Delmonico Mess) of Michigan for his guidance, information, and recipes; and to Vince Petty for allowing us to use excerpts from his research article on corn meal from the 16th Virginia website.

Equipment Vendors and Food Suppliers
Grocery Items:
Carter and Jasper Mercantile
Excellent selection of period dry goods and food containers

Green Coffee Beans and Cone Sugar:
Jas. Townsend and Son

Hominy and Stoneground Corn Meal:
Blue Heron Mercantile

Slab Bacon Vendors: Each of these vendors will ship slab bacon to your doorstep via two day air delivery. Affordable and reliable. It’s advisable to call ahead to ensure availability. It’s recommended to order at least 7-8 days before an event to ensure it arrives in time for an event. The slabs are packaged in plastic. To prepare for an event, simply remove plastic and cut into ½ or ¾ pound pieces, and put in haversack. Slab bacon will last in the field without refrigeration for at least 3 days.

Scott Hams
Item #55 Slab Bacon

New Braunfels Smokehouse
Catalog Item #394 – Smoked Comal Slab Bacon (4-5 pound slab)
To order by phone call 1-800-537-6932

Edwards Virginia Smokehouse:
Catalog Item # 078B Country Style Virginia Half Slab Bacon (4-5 pounds)

Mess Equipment Vendors:
Carl Giordano Tinsmith
Small Nesting Kettles – One quart with lid and bail

The Village Tinsmith
Small Coffee Pot – Catalog Item #3
Peach Can Boiler – Item # 9
Tin Mucket – Item #10
Tin Plate (copied from original) – Item #20
Tin Dipper – Item #37
Match Safe Tin – Item #50

N.J. Sekela

The Rebel Yell: The Pibroch of Southern Fealty

By Monte Akers

One of the enduring legends of the War Between the States is that of the Rebel Yell. Various primary and secondary sources declare that the sound made by victorious Confederate soldiers was so singularly unique, so unforgettable, so commanding, that some federal units became demoralized and fled when they first heard it. Other, equally romantic accounts speak of Southern units competing to be the “best yelling regiment” in their brigade, or of becoming known as a “good yelling unit.” Douglass Southall Freeman, biographer of Lee and author of Lee’s Lieutenants once described it as “the pibroch of Southern fealty.” A “pibroch” is a musical piece, usually for the bagpipe, usually martial. “Fealty” refers to absolute loyalty, as that of a vassal to a feudal lord.

The Yell was best known as being shouted by Confederates when they charged or were winning a fight, but it had other uses. It is said that units would often take up “the Yell” while they were on the march, passing it from unit to unit down the road. When anyone in the pre-Chancellorsville Second Corps heard it from afar, soldiers would supposedly declare “It’s Jackson, or a rabbit.” On one occasion during the Valley Campaign, while the Stonewall Brigade was in camp, one of its five regiments began yelling. Soon another regiment took it up, and then another, and another, until every member of the entire brigade was delivering the Yell at the top of his lungs. General Jackson came out of his tent, leaned on a fence, and listened. The cacophony continued for several moments and then began dying away. When the last echo had rebounded from the Blue Ridge, old Blue-Light, universally known to be totally tone deaf, turning toward his tent and said “That was the sweetest music I ever heard.”

But what did that sweet music sound like? What was the exact pronunciation, accenting, spelling, and grammar of the Rebel Yell? Was it the “yee-haw” produced in various Civil War movies? Was it something else, something more? Was it a specific, definable, unique cry, or was it something more generic, magnified in effect and reputation by thousands of voices, the sweetness of victory, the embroidery of memory, and the veil of years?

Some attempts to describe it provide colorful description, but little clue about the actual sound, such as that by Confederate Colonel Keller Anderson of Kentucky’s Orphan Brigade:

Then arose that do-or-die expression, that maniacal maelstrom of sound; that penetrating, rasping, shrieking, blood-curling noise that could be heard for miles and whose volume reached the heavens–such an expression as never yet came from the throats of sane men, but from men whom the seething blast of an imaginary hell would not check while the sound lasted.

Equally vivid but vacuous were the words of a New Orleans Times Picayune reporter:

“It paragons description, that yell! How it starts deep and ends high, how it rises into three increasing crescendos and breaks with a command of battle.”

Somewhat more descriptive, but still unfulfilling, was the explanation given by historian Henry Steele Commager in The Blue and the Gray:

“We hear a great deal about the Rebel Yell, though no two people seem agreed on just what it was, or even on its origin. It has been variously described as “more overpowering than the cannon’s roar” and “a mingling of Indian whoop and wolf-howl.”; it was probably born on the hunting field.”

Specificity came from an unexpected source. In the mid-fifties, a humorist named H. Allen Smith went on a sort of literary Easter Egg hunt across the South, collecting different versions of the Yell from people–none veterans of the war–who were arguably in a position to know what it sounded like. The book, entitled The Rebel Yell, and published by Doubleday in 1955, was intended as whimsical satire, and it contains many anecdotes and witticisms whose ability to invoke mirth did not survive the decade. However, tucked among the cuteness are no less than nine candidates for being the Yell’s exact pronunciation.

The first–“Eee-Yow!”–came from a 1952 Time magazine article. The next–“Keeook”–was provided by a Northern scoutmaster whose only credentials were that his Panther patrol used the same cry on Boy Scout outings. Historian James Street authoritatively offered “Rrrrrr-yahhhhhhhh-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip” as the true Yell, although he was also heard to emit it as “Yeeeeeeeeeeeow!” during a post-party argument with a Chapel Hill shoe merchant over the correct sound of the Yell. The merchant claimed the true sound was “Whoooooooooooooo-wow!” In Charleston, a lawyer considered an expert on the Yell, offered “Yuhhhhh-woooooooo-eeeeeee-UH!” Douglass Southall Freeman, who should have known if anyone did, delivered it as “Yeeeeeeeeeee-ahhhhhhhhhhh!” When Smith published a newspaper article on the subject, he was challenged by the Twin City Sentinel, which claimed “Eeeeeeee-YUH-haaeeeeoooooooo.” Finally, composer Richard Bales offered “Ooooooo-eeeeeeee!”

Mercifully, someone with better credentials and experience also offered an exact spelling and pronunciation of the Yell. Colonel Harvey Dew of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, who surely heard the sound repeatedly in his war days under J.E.B. Stuart. carefully recorded it’s intonation as it was given by his regiment during a charge at the Battle of Brandy Station. Writing in an April, 1892 article in Century Illustrated Magazine, he said:

In an instant every voice with one accord vigorously shouted the “Rebel yell,” which was so often heard on the field of battle. “Woh-who-ey! who-ey! who-ey! Woh-who-ey! who-ey!” etc. (The best illustration of this “true yell” which can be given the reader is by spelling it as above, with directions to sound the first syllable “woh” short and low, and the second “who” with a very high and prolonged note deflecting upon the third syllable “ey.”)

For those of you who want to try the Dew version of the Yell at home, note that “deflect” means “to bend or turn to one side, to swerve.”

The Yell has probably been recorded many times; I am aware of only three. The first is least deserving of notice. It was done during the Civil War Centennial for an album of Southern music entitled “The Confederacy.” The composer was Richard Bales, who was one of H. Allen Smith’s demonstrators, and his “Oooo-eeeey” is contained at the end of the last tract of the album as background for the concluding strains of Dixie. It can best be described as somebody’s impression of a windy night.

A recording with better credentials came from the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. During a newsreel filming of the obligatory handshake across the wall by veterans of both sides, six or eight Confederates took up the Yell. It was sort of a high-pitched “Wa-woo-woohoo, wa-woo woohoo.” The newsreel is captured about 40 minutes into Volume II of the video “Echoes of the Blue and Gray.” It has also been recorded on the Internet and was recently circulated among members of the Stonewall Brigade of reenactors.

A third recording, possibly a fourth, is in the possession of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and consists of a wax recording located in the UDC’s national headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. The recording was either made just before the end of the 19th Century–at a Florida UDC Convention it was decided to “have the Rebel Yell preserved for posterity by means of a victrola record”–or during the 1930s. At the latter time, Hollywood approached the UDC about capturing the Yell for use in the movie “Operator 13.” A magazine article reported that the UDC obtained such a recording from a veteran in Stuart’s cavlary. However, the movie contains no Rebel Yell.

I first attempted to get the UDC to allow me to hear or copy their recording in the mid-1980s. In a series of phone calls, I was able to ascertain that the recording did exist, but I was never connected with, nor did I receive a call back from anyone with authority to either allow or deny permission for me to do so. Then in 1998 and 1999, a fellow Yell enthusiast and I connected by e-mail and made a two-pronged assault on the UDC, with the same result. The ladies acknowledge their possession of the recording, but indicated that they had no equipment to play the wax cylinder, and did not respond to any of our offers to secure such equipment in return for a chance to hear the recording. They do not seem anxious to share what they “preserved for posterity” with those of us who make up that posterity.

During the 125th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Chickamauga, I served on the staff of Charles Clark, and distributed copies of the Harvey Dew article to the members of his brigade. After some discussion and coaching at dress parade, the brigade then attempted the Yell in battle. It sounded pretty good, and a few seconds of the brigade’s impression was captured on the Classic Images video of the reenactment.

If one were to ask me what I believe the true sound of the Rebel Yell was, I would have to say that beyond the fact that it was high-pitched, or falsetto, that its spelling and phonetics were probably less important than the adrenaline that supported its emission. I think that different units and armies gave different versions of the Yell. Its origin has been attributed to Texans imitating an Indian war cry, to Virginians giving the fox hunt cry, and to backwoods coon hunters repeating their cry to the hounds. All of those attributions are probably correct. At the time the Yell became famous, its sponsors were simply yelling in an excited manner, the way all soldiers have yelled for time immemorial, and the yell they selected was surely the same one they used back home when they were excited. Why should they have given the exact same sound? J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry almost certainly sounded like Harvey Dew describes, and perhaps Lee’s entire army did also, but what of the Army of Tennessee, and those in the Trans-Mississippi? They were yelling long before anyone from Virginia came out west to teach them how. As Douglass Southall Freeman told H. Allen Smith, “The rebel yell is pure legend. In Richmond it goes one way. In Atlanta you’ll hear another. In Birmingham still another”.

I believe, however, that I once came close to hearing the. or a, real, Rebel Yell. It was at the filming of the movie “Gettysburg.” Troy Cool, sometime member of the Stonewall Brigade and the Southern Guard, was working full time for TNT and one day when we were portraying Confederates, someone asked Troy to demonstrate the Yell during a lull in the filming. After a few seconds of preparation, he did. It was the Harvey Dew version, but he went far beyond Dew’s ability to describe and Clark’s Chickamauga brigade’s ability to imitate. He reached down into his gut and uttered it as loudly and with as much desperate, penetrating force as the original Confederates must have produced after coming through a hailstorm of lead and seeing that they were winning the fight.

Finally, I offer a poem I wrote in the mid-1980s. It lacks the power Troy Cool gave the Yell, but says what I believe about it:

None of us have ever heard it.
None of us ever will.
There’s no one left who can give it.
Tho you may hear its echo still.

You may hear it up near Manassas,
and down around Gaines Mill.
In December it echoes in Fredricksburg,
in May around Chancellorsville.

It’s the “pibroch of Southern fealty”.
It’s a Comanche brave’s battle cry.
It’s an English huntsman’s call to the hounds.
It’s a pig farmer’s call to the sty.

It’s a high-pitched trilling falsetto.
It’s the yip of a dog in flight.
It’s the scream of a wounded panther.
It’s the shriek of the wind in the night.

It was yelled when the boys flushed a rabbit.
It was passed man to man in the ranks.
It was cheered when they saw their leaders.
It was screamed when they whipped the Yanks.

But none of us will ever hear it.
Tho some folks mimic it well.
No soul alive can truly describe
the sound of the Rebel Yell.
-Monte Akers-

Click on link to hear
Rebel Yell
These are Confederate Veterans from the 75th Anniversary of Gettysburg demonstrating the Rebel Yell.

Canteens of the Army of Northern Virginia

By Bret Sumner, 4th Virginia

Federal Canteens [1]

As we all know, the Federal army was perhaps the most efficient quartermaster for the Army of Northern Virginia. There are numerous first person accounts of Confederate soldiers utilizing federal equipment, taken after a battle from yanks who no longer needed it. I recently read a first person account about a Confederate private who, while a battle was still raging, rushed in front of his own line to obtain the haversack of a dead federal soldier. (Several of us may remember the SWB’s very own Sgt. “Dusty” Chapman of the 27th VA – doing something similar this year during the Wilderness Campaign at Sanders Field – to obtain some yankee brogans!).

There were two basic patterns of canteens issued to the Federal army during the War Between the States: (1) the “smoothside” pattern (aka 1858 pattern); and (2) corrugated canteens (aka “bullseye” canteens; aka 1862 pattern). “Smoothside” canteens were manufactured by a variety of Federal contractors and were issued or produced from the federal depots in New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. The “Pattern of 1858” was described as a “oblate spheroid tinned sheet iron” canteen, which in modern parlance, translates to “smoothside.” The corrugated canteens were first produced around July of 1862 by the Philadelphia Depot. Corrugated canteens generally had either 5, 7, or 11 rings on the sides, as opposed to being smoothside, hence the modern parlance “bullseye” canteen.

The New York Depot issued only the smoothside canteen (1858 Pattern), it did not have manufacturing capability and therefore only received and shipped lots of “complete” canteens received from its contractors. New York Depot canteens had the following characteristics:

  1. The “body” of the canteen was made of “oblate spheroid tinned sheet iron” (translation = smoothside tin).
  2. A spout of white metal (not tin), occasionally mounted on the canteen with large spout “shoulder” reinforcement that bulged out from the canteen.
  3. The Stopper (cork with wire loop) was attached with a jack chain, with a hole punched in a tin strap keeper to hold the chain.
  4. New York Depot canteens had leather slings until mid-1862, and then cotton, linen, or cloth slings thereafter.
  5. Most canteen covers were made of course gray wool jean cloth. Some of this jean cloth may have been dyed with logwood, which would have faded with exposure to the sun into a brownish color.

The Philadelphia Depot issued smoothside canteens until July, 1862 and thereafter issued the “bullseye” pattern canteen. The bullseye pattern canteen had the following characteristics:

  1. Corrugated sides with generally either 5 or 7 rings. 11-ring varieties were also produced.
  2. A spout of white metal (not tin).
  3. The Stopper was attached with a string or cord. No hole was punched into the tin strap holder. Note: Only the New York Depot produced jack chains for canteens. Also, jack chains were not produced by any Confederate state – jack chain manufacturers were only located in the North.
  4. Leather slings – until approximately, July 1862. By mid-8162, canteen straps were made of one-inch white cotton herring bone webbing.
  5. Canteen covers were made of either (1) cheap kersey; (2) cheap sky-blue or gray satinet; (3) any other material available, such as material from old blankets, discarded overcoats, and upholstery material.

General Characteristics of Federal Canteens

Canteen Slings:
Up until mid-1862, most federal canteen sling was made of leather, with a tin buckle and protector (which was a “lip” of leather underneath the tin buckle, apparently made to protect the uniform or clothing from rust or staining). After mid-1862, all federal depots manufactured canteen slings were made of cotton, linen, or cloth. The cloth straps had folded and machine-sewn edges, or “four-panel, double chevron” weave one-inch wide web. In regard to non-leather canteen slings, its interesting to note that numerous surviving originals indicate that the soldiers modified their canteen slings by shortening them and then re-stitching the ends together. This personal modification makes sense – individual soldiers modified their slings to fit their size, in an effort to keep their canteen riding high on their body to avoid the canteen banging against their legs or hip.

Stopper Attachment:
As mentioned above, only the New York Depot produced canteens with jack chain stopper (cork) attachments. Generally, all other Federal depots attached the canteen stopper with approximately 20 inches of stout cotton or linen cord. The cord was tied in a loop and passed through itself, first through the stopper loop, and then through the sling keeper loop.

Canteen Covers:
As mentioned above, the most common material used for canteen covers was cheap, course grey jean cloth or wool. This material would oxidize with time and develop into almost a “camel” color brown. Other types of tan, brown, or gray jean cloth were also used for covers. Importantly, federal canteens with sky blue covers were extremely rare, and dark blue wool covers were non-existent. Unfortunately, there is a prevalence of dark blue or sky blue canteen covers in re-enacting today. Dark blue wool was not used for canteen covers because it was fairly expensive and usually reserved for the making of frock coats and sack coats. Jean cloth was very inexpensive, yet durable, material – and therefore more practical for the construction of canteen covers.

Confederate Canteens

I did not have time to conduct much research regarding the issuance of canteens produced by the Southern States and issued to the Army of Northern Virginia. I have not yet found any real documentation or reliable secondary source material. Obviously, there was a wide variety of canteens worn by Confederate soldiers, including a variety of wooden canteens (most prominent in the Western Theatre), tin drum canteens (please consult Echos of Glory for representative examples), and Federal canteens. I do know that Confederate produced tin drum canteens were issued to many ANV regiments in 1861 and early 1862. For example, I know that some companies of the 4th Virginia had tin drum canteens at First Manassas. I also recently examined an extremely detailed inventory of quartermaster and ordnance records for the 4th Texas Vol. Infantry – Hood’s Texans (Longstreet’s Corps) and, interestingly, there are no records for the issuance of canteens after December 31, 1862. (I am in the process of writing another article to discuss and analyze these quartermaster records – they are amazing).

Based upon examination of pictures of Confederate prisoners (i.e. the famous picture of Spotsylvania prisoners at “The Punch Bowl” and the picture of prisoners at White House Landing), it seems that many of the Confederates with federal canteens did not have any cover on them whatsoever. It may be inferred from these pictures that Confederate soldiers would have “canabalized” their canteen covers in order to use the materials for patching worn clothing.

General Recommendations for Fine-Tuning your impression:
(Remember – these recommendations are just well-meaning advice from a pard, – and should not be taken as directive or mandatory requirement.)

  1. Disregard sky blue or dark blue wool canteen covers and replace with grey wool or grey or brown jean cloth.
  2. For late war impressions, the absence of canteen covers and the utilization of cloth or linen slings, as opposed to leather slings would make sense.
  3. Only smoothside (New York Depot) canteens should have jack chain stopper attachments. All other canteens should have cord/string attaching the cork to the canteen or no attachment at all.
  4. Non-leather canteen slings should be shortened to “ride high” on your body – resting just above your hip. Extra holes can be punched in leather slings to allow for further shortening.
  5. If you are doing an 1861-62 impression and have a leather sling, you may wish to consider purchasing a correctly construct sling that has a “protector” (leather lip) underneath the tin buckle. (Unfortunately, there are very few people who make correct reproductions – see below)

Modern Sutlers – Sources for Correct Canteens:
[Admin’s Note: This is an older article we are reprinting and so cannot confirm the following sutlers remain in business or that prices remain as noted below]

  1. Confederate Wooden Canteens: The best source is Fort Branch Supply Co. – the owner, Ken Bucher, makes an exact reproduction of a Gardner pattern Confederate wooden canteen, made of juniper. This reproduction canteen is copied from an original issued out of the Raleigh Depot in North Carolina. Every detail of this original canteen is reproduced, including the depot stamp on the sling, coopering the staves, applying the banding, and sealing the inside with bees’ wax. These canteens are so authentic that the National Park system and several antique dealers requested that the reproduction canteens be signed and numbered to prevent one from being passed off as an original. The cost is $64.95 (which includes shipping). Contact Information: Fort Branch Supply Co., P.O. Box 190 Windsor, NC 27983; Phone: (919) 794-5400; e-mail: fbs@entgroup.com
  2. Federal Smoothside or Bullseye Canteens: The most correct source is C&D Jarnigan – yes, I said Jarnigan. However, when ordering be sure to request a tin (not stainless steel) canteen, with a canvas sling and no cover. Jarnigan only offers sky blue or dark blue canteen covers. Contact: C&D Jarnigan – phone: 601-287-4977; e-mail cjarnag@jarnaginco.com; web-site: www.jarnaginco.com
  3. Correct Canteen Covers: Charlie Childs offers a simple canteen cover kit for $6.00. Contact: County Cloth, 13797-C Georgetown St. NE, Paris, Ohio 44669; phone: (330) 862-3307. You can choose the material from his current selection of jean and then he will send you a kit, with the necessary markings and directions to assist you in sewing the cover. Making your own canteen cover is relatively simple.
  4. Correct Canteen Slings:
    Cotton Web Straps: Leighton Young, 1601 Wingate Way Dunwoody, GA 30350; phone (770) 901-9048.
    Correct Leather Slings (with tin buckle “protector”): James Owens – Silver Spring, Maryland; phone (301) 681-7462. Or ​Historic Clothiers, P.O. Box 28, Butler N.J. 07405; e-mail HistCloth@aol.com; Website: www.HistCloth.com
[1] Sources: “The Federal Canteen” by Robert A. Braun (33rd Wisconsin); “The Civil War Issue Canteen: Patterns of 1858 and 1862” by Earl J. Coats; “Oblate Spheroid Canteen 1858-1916: A Standard Recognition Guide” by William Phillips and Carter Rila.

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.


[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.