September 21, 2012

"A Civil War Soldier's Kit" --Advice from a Veteran Soldier



In early 1861, many men enlisted in both the Union and Confederate armies. Most had grown up hearing their grandfather's tales of the Mexican American war and couldn't wait to get their piece of action in what they thought would be a short war. Most new recruits had a lot in common, most had no clear idea of army life or any idea what was realistic to bring with them.

Many soldiers brought along things that they thought would be helpful. many soon realized that the things they thought would be indispensable turned out to be worthless extra baggage. As seen in many period photos, many soldiers brought a big hunting knife, or pistol. Many extra weapons were sent home or discarded soon after enlistment. Bulletproof vests made of heavy steel, were popular purchases at the beginning of the war, but were soon seen as extra weight.  Soldiers all over were asking "What should I bring?"

 Early in the war, newspapers printed advice to help answer the question. The article below was printed in a newspaper based in Atlanta, Georgia but it was also printed in the Milwaukee Sentinel in April of 1861.
A Soldier's Kit

            At this time, when so many are preparing for the wars, a memorandum of the things necessary to take along as baggage will not be unacceptable.  The desired catalogue is contributed, by an old soldier, as follows: 
 Two flannel shirts, red preferable; 2 stout hickory shirts; 2 fine shirts, if you can take them along; four pair of woolen socks; 2 pair drawers, white cotton or wool, indispensable; black silk neckerchief, very useful; pocket handkerchief, indispensable; 1 pair stout and easy boots, if you can, take a second pair; 2 towels, indispensable; 1 piece of soap; 1 fine and 1 coarse comb; 1 tooth brush; 1 butcher knife, (a good place for it is in the boot;) 1 quart tin cup; 1 button stick; 1 vial of sweet oil; 1 piece of rotten-stone; 1 button brush, (nail brush will do;) 1 flannel housewife, for and full of needles--throw in a few pins while you are about it; 1 pair small scissors; strong white and black threads in tidy skeins; 1 blacking brush, if you can take it; 1 box of blacking.  Learn to pack your knapsack tidily, closely and conveniently for use.  
To the above you may add all the grub you can stow away inside and out, and replenish when you can, without waiting for the stock on hand to be exhausted.  

SOUTHERN CONFEDERACY [ATLANTA, GA], June 1, 1861, p. 2, c. 3
 True advice, the veteran emphasizes extra clothes and cleaning supplies rather than extra weapons and bedding. Most of all, he advised as much "grub" as possible. The following suggestions were particularly good and possibly confusing to the new recruit who might not be familiar with real army duties:

Button Stick: A piece of metal that slid behind buttons and protected fabric during polishing. I bet many new recruits didn't consider the amount of time they would be polishing buttons. See one in action here: A Button Stick.
One Quart Tin Cup: The veteran knew something that new recruits probably didn't think about: they'd be using their cups to cook.  
Polish, brush, Housewife, Oil and Rotten-Stone: The veteran soldier knew how much the new guys would have to put into their uniform and appearance. "Rotten-stone" was another name for pumice and a "housewife" was a small sewing kit.   

Similarly to new recruits during the war, many new reenactors buy a ton of things that they think they will need before they can tell what will actually come in useful. My advice to new recruits is to only buy the basic necessities and forgo the trinkets and things that *might* come in useful. A good rule of thumb is that if an item is not absolutely necessary, make sure it has at least 4 uses in the field.  For example, many people eat out of the small skillet they cook in, instead of carrying a skillet and a plate. They also might use the skillet as a hammer and small shovel--really, some people do. :)
    
If you'd like to learn how to pack a knapsack, there is a great PDF article at 26 NC.ORG. 

 Source of article clipping: "A Soldier's Kit." Southern Confederacy, June 1, 1861. Newspaper Research, 1861-1865. http://www.uttyler.edu/vbetts/southern_confederacy.htm  (accessed September 15, 2012.)

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