The Things They Carried

This entry is part 1 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Outfitting a Civil War SoldierSoldiers in both armies carried similar items. Reduced to a minimum, the private soldier in either army consisted of the following:

  • One man,
  • One hat,
  • One shirt,
  • One pair of pants,
  • One pair of drawers (underpants),
  • One pair of shoes,
  • One pair of socks.

Depending on their branch, Civil War soldiers carried a rifled musket, a musket or a rifle. They also may have carried a bayonet, a sword or a knife. Some soldiers even carried brass knuckles in case they got in a hand to hand fight.

He carried:

  • One blanket,
  • One rubber blanket,
  • One haversack.

Click image to expand.

One Union soldier described the contents of his haversack as including flannel and sole leather for bending clothes and shoes. Mixed in could be 20 extra rounds of ammunition, photographs, cards and letters, huswife, testament (Bible), pens, ink and paper. The huswife was a cloth roll which contained a woman’s tools, such as needles and scissors. They also may have carried soap, a razor and perhaps a hair comb.

The same Union soldier also said that his load included a double wool blanket, a shelter half tent rolled with the rubber blanket. He also carried a haversack that contained a mixture of bacon, rice, sugar, coffee, salt, tea and desicated vegetables.

Soldiers in both armies would also carry a candle, and matches. Some soldiers smoked either cigarettes, or pipes so they always had tobacco, and the fixings for a smoke.

The early Confederate knapsack contained much the same materials. One Confederate soldier described it as carrying two great blankets and a rubber or oil cloth. It weighed between 15 and 25 pounds. However, the Confederate knapsacks often disappeared as the war went on. “The better way was to dress out and out, and wear that outfit until the enemy’s knapsacks, or the folks at home supplied a change.” 

The soldiers in both armies found that boots were not good for a long march. They were soon replaced with brogues or brogans with broad bottoms and big flat heels. Shoes, or the lack thereof, were a particular problem for the Confederates. Oftentimes, the men went barefoot. Other times, they got pieces of raw hide from the butchers and wrapped their feet in rags sewing the hide around them. They then wore this arrangementConfederate Soldiers until it wore out.

Most men found that overcoats became too heavy on long marches so they dropped them along the way. Most men threw away their canteens and made do with a good strong tin cup. It was far easier to fill at a well or spring and could be used as a boiler to make coffee or tea.

Finally, most soldiers carried pre-packaged bullet and powder packs, along with the percussion caps for their rifle or musket. In some cases they filled up their pockets with additional rounds of ammunition before a big battle. It would not have been uncommon for soldiers to carry as much as 100 rounds if they were available.

At the beginning of the war each mess of five to ten men was issued a camp chest which held a skillet, a frying pan, a coffee boiler, a bucket for lard, a coffee box, a salt box, utensils and cups. However, this cumbersome piece of equipment soon disappeared. The men each carried a portion of the equipment and supplies.

Following is a report by one Samuel Weaver who document the things found on the bodies of soldiers who were reburied at Gettysburg National Cemetery.

“Sir, I herewith submit the following brief report of the results of my labors as the superintendent of the exhuming of the bodies of the Union soldiers that fell on the battle-field of Gettysburg.”

“There were some articles of value found on the bodies ; some money, watches, jewelry, &c. I took all relics, as well as articles of value, from the bodies, packed them up and labelled them, so that the friends can get them. There are many things, valueless to others, which would be of great interest to the friends. I herewith submit a list of names of persons and articles found upon them, and you will, no doubt, take means to get information to the friends, by advertisement or otherwise, so that they may give notice where, and to whom, these things shall be forwarded. I have two hundred and eighty-seven such packages.” 

Mr. Weaver then listed by state, the name, company and regiment of each soldier plus the items found on their bodies.


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