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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.

Making Reproduction Extract of Coffee

For use in a modern-day encampment; a close copy may be made by combining instant coffee and Condensed milk. Condensed milk is the original, thick, heavy-sugar product invented by Dr.Borden in the 1830s. Although other brands may be found, I like to use “Borden’s” brand condensed milk. It brings me just a little closer to the original. Do not use evaporated milk. It is not thick enough and does not contain sugar.

After unsuccessful experiments with liquid coffee and Italian espresso, I tried present day instant espresso mixed with Borden’s or Eagle brand condensed milk. I had to go to several groceries to find instant espresso, but it is out there. I think that this mix makes a very close copy of the original. I think that coffee prepared from ordinary American roast is not quite strong enough. Nestles makes an instant dark roast if you can’t get instant espresso.


Place one half cup of instant coffee crystals in a cup and add a few drops of boiling water.

Use as little water as possible, adding just a few drops at a time. It doesn’t take much water to break down the coffee crystals. When the crystals have barely dissolved, you should have no more than a teaspoonful of water mixed into the half cupful of coffee powder. You can mix the dry crystals directly into the condensed milk but this makes the extract look spotty and it takes more labor to mix.

Next, empty one can of Borden’s condensed milk into a suitable bowl. You may heat the condensed milk slightly in the microwave or on the stove. This is not necessary but will help with the mixing. Now mix the coffee paste into the condensed milk until it is all blended together.

The resultant Extract of Coffee will be a thick paste that looks like liquid fudge. Pack the Extract of Coffee in any suitable container. One tablespoon of the Extract of Coffee, mixed into a tin cup of hot water will produce Civil War instant coffee, as made from Extract of Coffee, one of the most popular but long-forgotten food items issued to the Federal troops.

Reprinted from Civil War Reenactors Forum 

Roll Call

 Military manuals and soldier’s accounts from the time of the Civil War indicate that the company roll was to be called three times a day: at reveille (the first formation of the day), retreat (near sunset), and tattoo (9-9:30 p.m.). It is apparent that these roll-calls were viewed as military formations and it appears that there was a set routine followed for the calling of the roll. In order to better our military impression at events we will attempt a closer adherence to the available manuals of the period.

The most complete description of how roll-calls were undertaken can be found in August Kautz’s “Customs of Service”. He describes the routine as follows: At all roll calls the first sergeant takes his place six or eight paces, according as the company is small or large, in front of and opposite the center of his company, facing towards it. If the company is forming without arms, the men fall in and take the position of parade rest, and the first sergeant takes the same position. They should fall in in two ranks, whether with our without arms. With arms they fall in at a shoulder arms instead of at parade rest. The company is formed in the interval between the musician’s call and the last note of the assembly(reveille) when every man should be in ranks; and those who fall in afterwards should be punished for being late. When the music has ceased, the first sergeants commands, “Attention!” whereupon the company, if at parade rest, take the position of the solider, and if with arms, the sergeant adds, “Support arms.” The roll is then called, commencing with sergeants, Adams, Smith, &c., in the order of rank, until all are called; then “corporals, “Brown, Jones, &c., to “farriers;” then “buglers or musicians;” and finally “privates,” Ames, Brown, Cox &c., in alphabetical order. As each names is called, they answer, “Here;” and if with arms at a support they come to a “shoulder” and finally to “order arms,” immediately on answering to their names” After the roll has been called, the first sergeant turns to the officer superintending the roll call, and reports the absentees by name. If none are absent without proper authority, he reports, “All present or accounted for.” If the officer should then take command of the company, the first sergeant takes his post on the right of the company, and acts as right guide.

If you are wondering, yes “Customs of Service” is a federal manual. Unfortunately, Gilham’s Manual does not specify how a roll call was to be conducted. However, if you read Gilham’s description of a muster you will notice not so subtle similarities between Kautz’s Roll Call and Gilham’s muster. These similarities include how each soldier was to answer his name (“Here”) and what he was to do with his musket immediately afterwards. Given the similarities between these two manuals on a closely related subject, and because “Customs of Service” may be the only Civil War period manual that contains an in depth description of how a roll-call was to be conducted, it would seem that the use of Kautz’s roll-call is a safe choice for the SWB. I do not suggest that every roll-call conducted during the war was taken in the manner Kautz describes. Obviously there would be times when the men would be much fatigued from march or battle and a roll call in another less strict form would be instituted. On the other hand, it is apparent that the roll-call described by Kautz and referenced by other military publications of the period became an integral part of routine camp life. The use of Kautz’s system of roll-call will improve the military impression of the brigade while creating little or no increase in work for the men in the ranks.

Sources: Gilham’s Manual for Volunteers and Militia Customs of Service for Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers

Stonewall Brigade 1861 Impression Guidelines

By Bret Sumner, 4th Virginia

The purpose of this article is to provide a brief summary of preliminary research findings for the uniforms and equipment of the Virginia volunteer companies originating from the Shenandoah Valley in the Spring of 1861 that later formed part of the First Brigade under General Jackson at First Manassas. This article is by no means an exhaustive research paper; rather, its purpose is to provide general guidance for an appropriate impression for June/July 1861.

At the start, I would like to note that it seems to me that there has always been a notion that a civilian impression is entirely acceptable for Virginia volunteer troops at a First Manassas event (plus, another attraction is that the financial outlay for a basic civilian impression is minimal). While a civilian impression is probably most appropriate for certain companies raised in the deep south and then hastily transported to Virginia, I personally believe that the Virginia volunteer soldiers where fairly well uniformed and that there was a certain level of uniformity on the company level at the time the company was formed in the spring of 1861.

As this news article excerpt notes, the civilian population of the Shenandoah Valley appears to have taken great efforts to produce uniforms for their new soldiers:

“The ladies of Staunton, and especially the pupils of the different Female Institutes here, have entwined their brows with glorywreaths of evergreen, which beautifully reflect the fresh and buoyant courage of their hearts. For days they have been busily engaged in making the uniforms of the new volunteer companies, scarcely permitting twenty four hours to pass after the order had been placed in their hands, ere the full uniform, neatly made, was presented to the young soldier. What a touching evidence of the affection of these fair daughters of Virginia and the South for the sunny clime of their nativity. The sweet heart caparison her lover, and with a smile and a tear bids him go and dare and do, and then return for his reward in the gift of the hand that fashioned the badge of his calling God bless the sweet girls, and God speed and protect the brave boys.”
The Vindicator, April 26, 1861, p.2, c.4 (Staunton, Virginia).

In a memoir, John Newton Lyle, a first lieutenant for a company from Rockbridge county, explains how the members obtained their first uniforms:

“The ladies of Rockbridge county . . . sent word that they would equip and send us forth as their special knights to do battle for their dear old mother, Virginia . . . And right royally did our ladies fair prepare us for the camp and march. Each lad was provided with everything a fond mother might dream her son might need, even to a needlebook, buttons and thread, linen gaiters, a havelock to screen his neck from the rays of the sun, and a red flannel waistband towear next to the skin to keep off the diarrhea. They made our uniforms with their own hands. To do this work, they employed a tailor to cut out, whilst they formed a circle and did the sewing in one of the public halls of the town”

Another news article describes the appearance of a newly formed company, the Augusta Riflemen, and discusses the cost for equipping them:

“. . . . . . Capt. Harman’s company has appeared in full dress parade, presenting an attractive and truly soldierly appearance. The soldiers themselves are not only Augusta men, but the cloth from which their uniforms were made was manufactured at the Wollen Factory of Messrs. Crawford & Co. at this place. The County Court made an appropriation of $3,000 to equip the company, but the actual cost will not amount to more than from $300 to $500. Such an example of economy is worthy of imitation. Augusta can well trust such with her credit and her honor.”
The Vindicator, April 26, 1861, p. 2, c. 2 (Staunton, Virginia)

These materials suggests that soon after Virginia’s secession in April 1861, uniforms were being made at a fairly rapid pace for the new volunteers.

Furthermore, while I cannot offer documentation (which I recognize as a crime even for an amateur historian like myself), I do believe that, while there was a great rush and patriotic fervor to go off to war, most volunteers wanted to “look the part” and wear the uniform of a soldier and that most newly formed companies attempted to fashion some form uniformity amongst themselves. As the above materials may suggest, I believe that many volunteer infantry companies from the Shenandoah Valley had their first uniforms made at home fairly quickly and received support at the county level to procure the necessary fabric and garments.


The following was published in the Staunton newspaper to provide new recruits with guidance on what to bring with them when they first joined their company:

“The following is a list of articles necessary to a soldier’s comfort bring all of them you can, or the best substitute you can obtain: Two flannel over shirts, 2 woolen under shirts, 2 pair white Cotton drawers, 2 pair woolen socks, 2 pair cotton socks, 2 colored handkerchiefs, 2 pair stout shoes, 3 towels, one blanket (hole in the middle), 1 blanket for cover, 1 broad brim hat, 1 pound castile soap, 2 pounds bar soap, one belt knife, some stout linen thread, large needles, thimble and a bit of bees wax; some buttons, and some paper of pins, all in a small buckskin or stout cloth bag, 1 overcoat, 1 painted canvass cloth, 7 feet 4 inches long and 5 feet wide.”
Staunton, June 7, 1861

Excerpts from Supplemental Official Records – Company Reports

The following uniform descriptions were obtained from my review of April-July 1861 company reports found in the supplement to the Official Records of the Confederate Army. These companies were present at Harper’s Ferry in May 1861 and were soon formed into the regiments that comprised the First Brigade under General Jackson at Manassas.

Mountain Guards – April 19, 1861 – “The company left home with only a fatigue uniform (red flannel shirt and gray pants).”

Southern Guard – “Came into service with gray uniform, [illegible] coat and pants and United States navy cap and blue flannel jackets. Have new checked shirt. All the uniform furnished by the company and Augusta County.”

Augusta Grays – “Uniforms in bad condition of gray woolen goods.”

West View Infantry – April 29, 1861 – “The company uniform consists of one suit viz: gray pants and fatigue jacket.”

Staunton Rifles – “Substantial uniform furnished by Augusta County. Has sixty-nine minie rifles and complete accoutrements. The company has knapsacks and belts furnished by Augusta County.”

The Richmond Daily Whig provided two separate descriptions of the “Grayson Daredevils” – a volunteer company from the backwood mountains of Virginia which later became Company F of the 4th Virginia:

“The “Dare Devils” from Grayson county, arrived on Tuesday. Their uniform consists of red hunting shirts, but they will change to gray before going into service. The men are unfailing marksmen with the rifle, and, if the opportunity offers, will perforate many of that band who so vauntingly swear that the havoc of war a home and country shall leave us no more.”

“The corps from [Grayson] county are said to be perfect nondescripts – they call themselves “Dare Devils” and deep in leggings, moccasins, and other back-woods appliances. There is not a man in the company who is not over six feet in height.”

Pre-War Militia Uniforms:

Numerous pre-war militia units also were organized into regiments under Jackson at Harper’s Ferry. For example, of the 10 companies that comprised the 4th Virginia Vol. Infantry – 4 were Virginia militia units before the war – Company A (Wythe Grays), Company B (Fort Lewis Volunteers), Company C (Pulaski Guards), Company K (Rockbridge Rifles).

The 1858-59 Virginia militia uniform regulations called for gray single breasted frock coats and gray pants. The 1860 regulations called for blue frock coats. This change in uniform regulations could help explain why certain companies included either blue or gray within their company name desigation (i.e. the “Wythe Grays,” the “Smythe Blues,” the “Botts Grays” or the “Hedgesville Blues”).


The following information was obtained from an original document in Richmond titled:  Message from the Execttive [sic] of the Commonwealth: with Accompanying Documents, Showing the Military and Naval Preparations for the Defence of the State of Virginia, &c. &c. [Richmond, Va. : s.n., 1861]. 95 p. This document details issuances from the Richmond Armory to Jackson’s troops at Harper’s Ferry from April 1 through June 13, 1861. For the sake of convenience and brevity, I have only listed a representative sample of the total issuances detailed in the document. Webbing is one of the most notable issuances to companies at Harper’s Ferry – it appears that thousands of yards of webbing were issued for usage to make cartridge box slings, baldrics, and waist belts.

Captain J.Q. NADENBOUSCH–Martinsburg,
80 Rifle Muskets
80 Cartridge Boxes
80 Bayonet Scabbards
80 Cap Boxes
80 Sets Plates
450 Yards Webbing
1,000 Cartridges
1,200 Caps

Captain A. KOINER–Augusta.
50 Cartridge Boxes
50 Cap Pouches
50 Sets Plates
300 Yards Webbing

Captain JOHN WELSH–Madison.
50 Cap Pouches
30 Altered Muskets
30 Sets Accoutrements
180 Yards Webbing

Captain JAMES A. WALKER–Pulaski.
78 Altered Muskets
10 Bayonet Scabbards
78 Cap Pouches
20 Sets Plates
90 Yards Webbing
16 Cartridge Boxes

Captain J.F. KENT–Wythe.
12 Altered Muskets
12 Cartridge Boxes
12 Bayonet Scabbards
12 Cap Pouches
14 Sets Plates
90 Yards Webbing

Captain P.N. HALE–Grayson.
80 Harper’s Ferry Rifles with sword Bayonets
80 Cartridge Boxes
100 Bayonet Scabbards
100 Cap Pouches
100 Waist Belts and Frogs
100 Waist Plates
90 Yards Webbing
10 Harper’s Ferry Rifles
10 Cartridge Boxes

Major M.G. HARMAN–Staunton.
50 Double Barreled Shot Guns
5,000 Caps
10,000 Flint Cartridges
2 Kegs Rifle Powder
10,000 Musket Caps

The following uniform descriptions were obtained from my review of April-July 1861 company reports found in the supplement to the Official Records of the Confederate Army. These reports indicate that there was a shortage of accoutrements for many of the companies, particularly bayonet scabbards and cap boxes.

Rockbridge Rifles – “Clothing in comfortable [illegible]. Most of the outfit of the company is quite good, sixty-five minie rifles and accoutrements complete. Tents furnished by the county of Rockbridge.”

Mountain Guards – “We were armed with the Deringer rifle. Shortly after arriving at Harper’s Ferry, we exchanged them for the Mississippi rifle, Model 1842, altered to minie. We had forty-five of these rifles, no bayonets, eighty cartridge boxes without belts, twenty cap boxes, no bayonet scabbards.”

Augusta Grays – “Sixty-three percussion muskets, sixty-three cartridge boxes, sixty-three cap boxes, fifty-three bayonet scabbards, and sixty three belts purchased by the captain.”

Ready Rifles of Augusta County – “Fifty-one rifles, forty-eight cartridge boxes, no company equipage except cooking utensils, no cap boxes, no bayonets, no bayonet scabbards, and no tents.”

Montgomery Highlanders – “It is armed with the Mississippi rifle and saber bayonet, which together with its accoutrement on hand, are in good condition. No bayonet scabbards nor a full supply of camp boxes have ever been furnished them.”

Grayson Daredevils – “It is armed with Harper’s Ferry rifle and saber bayonet, which with their accoutrements are in good condition.”

Rockbridge Grays – “The uniform and general outfit of this company was originally very good, but is now greatly worn. The service it has performed has been exceedingly hard upon the men, clothing, and equipment. No tents have been furnished or shelter, just such as they could put up for themselves. It is armed with cadet muskets. No bayonet scabbards or cap boxes. They have old cadet and cartridge box, which is totally inadequate to hold a sufficient supply of ammunition. The arms are in good order.”

Liberty Hall Volunteers – June 18, 1861 – “Its uniforms and clothing are very poor . [illegible] furnished it and it has been much exposed therefrom. It is [illegible] musket which is in good condition. Has no bayonet, scabbards, and no cap boxes were furnished. The captain furnished them to the company at his own expense of —-. The cartridge boxes are old and indifferent.”

Suggested Impressions

Based on the above research materials, the following range of impressions would probably be most appropriate for Jackson’s troops at First Manassas.

For Uniforms:

  1. Pre-War Virginia Militia Uniforms:
    Gray or Blue wool single breasted frock coats
    Gray trousers with black or dark blue stripe
    Grey kepi
  2. Flannel Overshirts or Jackets:
    Gray, red, or blue flannel overshirts (aka “battleshirts” in modern parlance)
    [black piping optional] – I would recommend the Holliday shirt pattern.
    Civilian – or – gray wool or jean trousers
    Slouch hat
  3. Woolen Jacket or Coats – [Warning – This is a bit of speculation on my part] Gray wool sack coat w/o lining – or – homespun gray wool or jean “imitation” frock coat
  4. Generic Civilian Impression:
    For a “minimalist” civilian impression – I would simple recommend a civilian coat or frock or even just wearing a civilian shirt.

In terms of Equipage:

Regardless of the uniforms chosen, I would suggest that all troops should obtain, at a minimum:

  1. White webbing cartridge box sling
  2. Either white webbing waistbelt or civilian style leather belt
  3. White linen haversack (no Federal haversacks)
  4. Tin Drum or wooden canteen (no Federal canteens)