93rd New York in camp, 1863 contrast of uniforms

Civil War Federal NCOs enjoying a repast

(click image to enlarge, 93rd NY Volunteer Infantry Bealton, VA 1863)

The first thing that stands out in the image is that this is a long term camp or the term being long enough to afford some common comfort as these chairs and folding table. A constant argument in reenacting today is what level of camp presence do you portray when at a battle event. This image is proof that this level of equipage was used in camps, but what was common for a campaign? There are two camps (pardon the pun), one that wishes to portray as much of the comfort (for themselves) by using implements such as this table and chairs, tents, cooking and eating utensils etc. The common reply is “if they used them, why can’t I”. The problem is that they would not travel well requiring a large baggage train. The other camp are those who wish to portray a campaigner impression. My own reenacting battalion, The Army of the Pacific – a western reenactor group, does a campaign impression whenever possible. A motto is use only what you can carry on your back as being representative of what the common infantryman was allowed to carry with him. NCOs and officers were allowed more baggage, but an infantryman was only allowed what he could stuff into his knapsack. Tents such as what are in the background were cumbersome and necessitated a long and vulnerable baggage train to transport, meaning more animals to feed and more wagons to haul stuff around in.

I find it interesting that the photographer chose to arrange the men in rank order, the Corporals being in the middle flanked by the two Sergeants. Also note the booze on the table, at least what I’m guessing is probably alcohol. This was not uncommon to purchase from sutlers or from civilian sources. The army did allot a whiskey ration to their quartermasters, the higher the rank the more you were allotted and there are stories of soldiers breaking into Sutlers tents or pilfering the Officer’s allotment of whiskey at times, but for the enlisted men this would amount to barely a mouthful per man per day. This would have been a regulated allotment and kept under tight control.

From the uniforms, the federal Sack Coat or fatigue blouse is what is in evidence. This was a four button coat that is obsequious with the view of the common federal soldier.Original Sack Coat image This fatigue blouse was what the soldier wore for all normal duties as opposed to dress format for parade and other official functions. Volunteer units when raised were issued state level equipments and uniforms and once federalized would then often be issued federal kit that would have included the Sack Coats. But, this was not a universal issue as Ohio and New York in particular issued state militia jackets, a shorter waist and many more buttons on the front.

Another feature of this image is the forage cap dangling from one of the support legs of the foldable table. For the federal armies, this was the most common head ware used. Deriving its name from the deep, pocket like top of the hat that falls down unto the brim, the hat was used for gathering forage when sent out on such patrols where the goal was to by hook or by crook gather in as much food stuffs as the men could carry. Original Federal Forage CapForage caps were common issue as opposed to the head gear being worn by the sergeant to the far left of the image. He is wearing a Kepi, a shorter crown cap that is probably more synonymous with civil war headgear but less often worn by the enlisted men and NCOs. Kepis were most often worn by private purchase. Officers in the Federal army were given a clothing allowance as part of their pay and not issued uniforms, having the freedom to make their own. The most famous example of this is George Armstrong Custer whose uniforms were hyper customized. To this day it is the prerogative of Generals in the army to customize their own uniform wear. It is probable that this sergeant has privately purchased this Kepi for his own use. A close look at the Corporal second to the right shows the common look of a forage cap.

Another view of some of the variety evinced in this image is the wide NCO stripe down the trouser legs of the sergeant to the left of the table. NCOs were allowed to wear a distinction to their trousers denoting rank, a thinner stripe for corporals. The sergeant to the far right has not affixed any to his trousers.

The corporal third from the right is wearing, as near as I can tell from the research of other images for this unit, his NY militia frock coat and black rank. This is not the federal issue Frock coat as can be see here:
93rd NY, Bleaton VA 1863

The difference here can be clearly seen by the man standing second from the left. He is wearing the Federal Frock, high standing collar and infantry piping on the cuffs. There are other NY Frocks evident in this image as well sporting a traditional collar. The black chevrons on the above image on the man in question are of militia vintage for NY pre-war units. At the date that this these images were taken, the preponderance of militia uniforms is interesting as three years of campaigning had either not worn them out or that the state of New York was still suppling her regiments with materials.

If there are other items of interest I’ve missed or tidbits I’ve gotten wrong, please pitch in and let’s mine these images for what they tell us.

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Deadly Teepee: Musket stack in Petersburg, VA 1865

Musket Stack with accouterments

(click image to enlarge)

Image is from Petersburg, 1865 after the city was finally in Federal hands by April 3rd, after ten months of siege.

One can see the devastation the siege wrought on the city by the rubble and buildings in the background. The image was taken in a residential area with a gas lamp to the far left of the frame. It is still cold and the leaves have yet to return on the trees. Oringinal Federal Greatcoat Another indication of time of year is the great coat slung over the musket stack in the foreground. A big indicator of this is the arm with its french cuff visible as pictured here. Greatcoats sported a long rear cape and a high collar made of thick kersey blue wool. The wearer obviously did not need it at this moment and chose to disrobe.

I have found that the cape works well for a face covering when sleeping out if one needs an additional layer. Enlisted men were allowed limited baggage and would often mail home such articles of clothing once campaign season returned as they would have to carry everything with them otherwise, greatcoats being heavy and cumbersome to pack in the two compartment knapsack. Or, they would simply discard the extra impediments once winter weather was over hoping to draw new by next winter.

The rifle stacks themselves are another facet of soldier life. Formed of three central muskets whose bayonets have been intertwined to form a teepee, the formation was devised as a way of keeping soldiers from losing their weapons while halted and on rest, for allowing a formation of four men, two in front and two in back, to intertwine and remove their pieces while in company front (two files), and for quick breaking down of the stack when ready to move on. These stacks are made whenever a unit is at rest after a halt and when in camp but on other duties and a musket is not required. You can see the ghost of a soldier on the upper left side of the frame and several others barely visible on the hillside.

Another common feature of the musket stack is the hanging of a soldier’s basic kit or “traps” as they were called by the soldiers. Original Federal Cartridge Box w/SlingA soldier’s traps would consist of his leathers: cartridge box with sling, belt and brass buckle, haversack, water bottle, and bayonet and frog. You can see that several leathers have been wrapped over the stacks. These would belong to the individuals who would line up behind that stack in the company formation. On the ground are several bundles of blankets and other personal gear. If this were a permanent movement, the privates would also have grounded their knapsacks in front of the rifle stacks or some distance beyond also in formation or if they expected to be in close contact with the enemy. What is more probable, is that this is not a permanent movement of troops but a patrol into the city 9though the blanket rolls do indicate a possible anticipation of a longer sojourn). The length of the stacks width wise indicates a company sized unit. A regiment or battalion sized stack would have extended much further down the street and would have been broken down into companies with the center or left most having the regimental flag rolled up and laid across the stacks lengthwise. None is clearly visible.

The stacks of rifles out in front of the formation would be those of the non commissioned officers who would act as file closers when in company front (two files standing shoulder to shoulder) and whose position in line of march is to the right flank of the marching column or in company front are in the rear of the formation. It is probable that we are looking at the rear elements of the stack and the soldiers would have faced to the right when in company front to stack their muskets and then been released from formation by which most have found a place to sit or lie on the hillside behind them. One can barely make out men in the upper right quadrant of the image by a house with a fence, possibly officers.

If you attend any civil war reenactments, these stacks are as ubiquitous as tents, but know that they served a specific purpose in the life of the soldier and not just for spectator show.

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Contraband Slaves in Union Camp, 1863

Contraband Slaves in Union Camp, Culpepper VA 1863

(click photo to enlarge)

There are several things to glean from this image.

It is winter time or late fall given the lack of leaves in the tree, the buttressing of the tent with planks for heat retention and a wind break, and a chimney visible at the left of the tree trunk. They are also in a permanent fortification given the planking that makes the high wall that their tent rests against.

They are wearing decommissioned federal army clothing, most clearly visible in the state of the trouser leg on the right. Army quartermasters had to account for everything, even articles of clothing that were changed out when an enlisted man’s clothing allowance allowed for replacement. Both men are wearing military issue foot ware, cavalry boots of rough out leather. The military vest, the shell jacket of the man on the right (short coat that comes to the waist with up to 8 buttons on the front without piping or epaulettes) and the sack coat and hat hanging on the tree to the left further indicate that these men have been fully furnished from military stores.

The wall tent is another curiosity as it is crammed with a table and other cookware. Wall tents were supplied to officers as their quarters. Enlisted men at this time would still be living in Sibley tents or would have at this time of year constructed a winter hut made of logs and covered in canvass. From their attire they are both being paid by the army as cooks or teamsters, my guess being cooks.

The refuse in front of the tent also seems to signify what role they played in the camp as cooks. The other thing to note is that in this time frame, the thought of a candid shot is unknown. One does not whip out a camera and just shoot. The table inside the tent was probably outside for normal use but stashed away. The cans on the ground splayed out by the photographer (these men, though not inducted into the military would still have had to follow decorum), the ladle given to the man on the left to hold, and the man on the right with his forage cap on the ground by his feet told to sit in a relaxed manner, the cigar being an interesting addition if posed.

As long as the army was stationary, these men had a home and or an income if they were hired to perform specific duties. Once an army or unit moved on, these men would have been homeless unless they could hire themselves to another unit. The campaign season was one of hardship for the many former slaves who managed to escape or were liberated by Union forces as the army promised no protection for families and those who could not perform some needed duty. When on the march, they would follow and camp nearby, but unless they were being utilized in some form or fashion they were on their own.

Have fun noting other things from this image, it is remarkably clear and focused.

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Confederate POWs in Federal Camp, 1862

civil war Union soldiers guarding Confederate prisoners, Shenandoah Valley, 1862

I would normally crop or resize a photo, but wanted to keep this one full size so you could get an idea of the many little details it holds. This is taken in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862. (click photo for closer view).

Several things pop out at me. One, this is early war as evidenced by the tentage. The tall canonical tents are called Sibley tents, designed by a regular army Colonel by the name of Henry Hopkins Sibley in 1856 . Sibley would resign his commission and be commissioned a Brigadier General of Volunteers in the Confederacy and lead a failed invasion of the New Mexico territory. The Sibley tent was a mainstay of the Federal Army until the introduction of the shelter half, a canvass sheet that could be combined with two others to form a low lying pup or dog tent and would save on much needed transportation space.

Another interesting note is the Trooper at the lower right corner with his single shot carbine resting on the ground.Sharps Carbine, 1859

Carbines were issued primarily to the cavalry arm for their portability but were not accurate or as powerful as a single shot musket, so cavalry typically fought dismounted and acted as pickets and skirmishers where they’re mobility could come to bare. Cavalry also did not fight in tight formation as the short barreled carbines did not allow for two ranks with the rear rank firing of the right shoulder of the front.

The square tents are called Wall Tents, an obvious descriptive point in that the tent was constructed like a little house. These were usually officer or quartermaster tents. Enlisted men slept in the Sibley tents. There are several lean to’s visible, constructed of just two canvass halves, but these are too big to be the smaller shelter halves that would later see exclusive use in all branches of the army. Each enlisted man would carry they’re own shelter half further reducing transportation space. Civil War Shelter Half

In front of the long line of men in the background are another group of Union soldiers with their rifles in a stack. This teepee like structure is the default method of releasing ones rifle when not on individual slewing arrangements or on picket and camp guard. Whenever soldiers are at rest, as these are, the rifles are stacked so that three muskets with fixed bayonets intertwine the angles of the bayonet into a free standing structure that the leathers and other gear are then draped over.

The last thing is the old infantryman’s mantra: why stand when you can sit, why sit when you can lie down, why lie down when you can sleep.

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Women of the American Civil War Soldiers and Nurses

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AGO records also reveal that on August 3, 1862, a nineteen-year-old Irish immigrant named Albert D. J. Cashier, described as having a light complexion, blue eyes, and auburn hair, enlisted in the Ninety-fifth Illinois Infantry. Cashier served steadily until August 17, 1865, when the regiment was mustered out of the Federal army. Cashier participated in approximately forty battles and skirmishes in those long, hard four years.

After the war, Cashier worked as a laborer, eventually drew a pension, and finally went to live in the Quincy, Illinois, Soldiers’ Home. In 1913 a surgeon at the home discovered that Albert D. J. Cashier was a woman. A public disclosure of the finding touched off a storm of sensational newspaper stories, for Cashier had lived her entire adult life as a man. None of Cashier’s former comrades-in-arms ever suspected that he was a she. Apparently, neither did the commandant at the Soldiers’ Home. She died October 11, 1914, in an insane asylum.(12) [A deposition from a fellow soldier taken in 1915 revealed that her deception was quite complete.]

via Women of the American Civil War Soldiers and Nurses.
I ran across this and the following, leaving good meaning to those wives, daughters, girl friends who want to join their husbands, boyfriends, brothers out in the field for reenacting, if you can’t do the above, then don’t do this:

from the TV show Warehouse 13

My first thought was, he’d better hope that dueling pistol aint loaded. My second was, they should fire their costume and prop guy. I’ve been on a movie set before as I was a german reenactor for the Malmedy Massacre scenes in the Indie film Saints and Soldiers, but they had their act together authenticity wise, so I can imagine the reenactors here having a grumble about how these two look.

Contraband of War: Runaway slaves and the Union Army

Look closely at this image. What is notable are the two servants. They are not in uniform but look to be wearing Union kersey blue trousers. The tents also suggest the three other men are officers as well as some of the equipage. Enlisted men would not have had privilege, pay, or baggage to have a table, chairs, and servants.

I am currently reading about the 21st Ohio Volunteers for my next novel and the man charged with writing the unit history describes a period of time where the regiment was on garrison duty in Alabama around the Huntsville area. It was quite common for them to shelter and retain contraband negroes as servants. An officer was given a ration allowance and expected to see to his own mess. Many a runaway slave was sheltered in the Union camps in this manner as officers and men alike saw it as their duty to both deprive the southern owners of the labor and to help a fellow human being out.

Captain Canfield of the 21st describes a point where near mutiny existed over the coddling of southern civilian slave owners and the forcible return of negroes being employed as servants. The history of the 21st Ohio can be found on Google Books for free.

History of the 21st Regiment, Canfield pg. 54-55

On the 23d a planter came near camp, and meeting Captain Canfield, said he heard his servant was in his (Canfield’s) camp, and asked the captain if he had any objection to his going to see. “Oh, no,” said the captain, “not in the least;” but seeing several groups of men casting significant glances toward the stranger , he added, “You will not consider me responsible for anything that happens.”

Hearing this the stranger turned back. Shortly after the Lieutenant Colonel’s orderly came with an order dated and directed to Captain Canfield, saying:

Negro boy Pat, in your company is the property of —-. You will deliver him outside of camp lines to his master. Signed J.M.Neibling, Lt. Col Comdg Rgt.

Captain Canfield wrote in answer, acknowledging the receipt of the order, and added “I respectfully decline to obey it,” signed it officially, as Captain Commanding Company, and kept a copy of the correspondence. Nothing further was said or done about this, however.

Matters were in this condition, when for the first time in two months I was detailed as officer of the day, a duty I should often have performed before. I received my order in the evening, and that night I made up my mind that when I went on duty the next morning, I would break up the slave trade in the regiment for twenty four hours at least; and my success surprised me. The county jail was full of prisoners, chiefly fugitive slaves, who were not turned over to me, but one of my sentinels was posted there, and I assumed whatever authority I lacked to investigate the resin of their detention. I knew very well there were no charges against these black men. After my guard was fully posted and every duty performed I took a non-commission officer and file of men for escort, and reported to Lieutenant Colonel Neibling for any orders he might be pleased to give me. I found him sitting in the shade of a public house near the depot, surrounded by a number of gentleman of the town. After informing me that there were no new orders for me, I was turning away to leave him, when he called out to me, “Where are you going with that guard?” to which I answered, “I am going down to release the prisoners int he jail, against whom there are no charges.” He answered me, “Sir, I order you not to do it.” I then said with deference of manner, “Colonel, will you be so good as to have charges preferred against them.” He replied in a towering rage its as none of my damned business, and that I should go to my quarters in arrest. Of course I obeyed the order of arrest, and quite crestfallen, went to my tent, followed by the boisterous laughter and jeers of Colonel Neibling’s companions, who were sitting about him and heard all that was said.

I had up to this time been considered a severe disciplinarian, and had incurred the displeasure of many officers and mend of the regiment on that account, and their judgement at first as, that I was served right. But before sundown hat day, all of the slaves were relieved by Colonel Neibling himself, and the regiment was in rebellion against its commanding officer, and my arrest was the pretext of the mutiny.

An interesting and oft unknown look into the inner workings of civil war Union regiments in the field.