The Lamar Rifles


Boxes From Home


Many soldier’s memoirs or collections of letters mention a box or package from home. Sometimes the soldier is asking for a family member to send him something. At times he is thanking them for what they have sent. This is a well documented activity involving both civilians and soldiers that can be interpreted by reenactors.

 

What History Tells Us

When it appeared the army was going to be in one place for sometime, soldiers often wrote to family members asking for items from home. For example, when going into "Winter Quarters," Carlton McCarthy requests materials needed for building huts: nails, hinges, and an axe. He also asks for old church music books or other books that would only be practical if the army was to be in one place. Christmas was also a popular time for sending boxes.

It made sense to ask for a box from home only when it was fairly certain that the box could be safely delivered. Many times a box or package would be sent by hand when a wagon was headed to camp. Sometimes another soldier returning from furlough carried it. If the army was resting in place not far from home, a neighborhood man might bring the box. To risk normal mails meant the box may never be delivered, the army could again be on the move, or those for whom it was not intended might intercept the box. Once a box was requested, a series of letters often followed inquiring as to whether it had been sent or received. The box became an object of great concern.

Both new and used clothing were often asked for. When the seasons changed, the soldier would prefer to throw away his dirty clothes rather than wash them. He would ask for clothes from home as replacements. Items of clothing often asked for or sent included shoes, underclothing, shirts, cotton or woolen socks, hats, a "warm visor", scarves (even fancy colored ones), coats and knitted gloves.

But by far the most anticipated items were "good eatables." Food was almost always requested: coffee, apples, apple butter, fresh pork, dried fruit, milk, eggs, risen bread, cakes, preserves or jelly, pickles, egg-nog, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, salt, fresh butter, roast beef, ham and turkey. While McCarthy discreetly asks for a bottle marked "to be used in case of sickness or wounds," the Allen boys of Amherst County, Virginia, request as much whiskey as the family can spare. They had intentions of selling this valuable commodity to others.

Many other items of necessity or comfort were sent. These included blankets, paper ink, pens, pencils, photographs, tobacco, pipes, pin cushions, needle cases with thread and buttons, and embroidered tobacco bags. A Valley soldier asked his family to send him shot and caps, presumably for squirrel hunting.

It was not always possible for a family to grant a soldier’s wishes. Bolling Barton’s mother Fannie writes from Winchester in October 1862 to "...explain why I do not send a box of eatables to you. We have no sugar for cakes and indeed scarce any thing that would be nice to send." Many times a soldier asked that the items only be sent if they could be spared without causing hardships at home.

 

What Reenactors Can Do

This is particularly appropriate when the reenactment or living history involves a time when the army will be in one place for a relatively long period. The soldier writes home asking for items to be sent. Just like his predecessors, he often gives directions for where they are to be procured, how and where they are to be sent. He makes sure to include any special wants or needs. If he knows of a soldier convalescing nearby whom is do to return, he will suggest him as a courier.

Although the historical records tell us what was often requested, it less often mentions how the items were packaged. The US Sanitary Commission published sensible suggestions that may be useful for Southern reenactors too. Boxes were preferred rather than barrels and should be a convenient size that can easily be lifted by one, at the most two men into a wagon. eatables should be packed alone. Stone jars should be corked and bound with oiled linen or leather over the cork. Corks can also be sealed with wax. Sending jellies in tumblers covered with paper and liquids in bottles with paper or poor stoppers were discouraged as subject to breakage or leakage. Use sawdust, hay peanuts, or small apples to fill any spaces. A soldier returning to his company or a civilian gentlemen is recruited to deliver the box — by wagon, if possible.

When a box is delivered, the military reenactors should show the same emotions as their counterparts. Recipients are excited and their friends, although disappointed at receiving none of their own, still hopeful that something will be shared.

This interpretation makes for excellent involvement of both military and civilian reenactors. It does require planning and time to develop, but it is a great educational tool. Much can be learned about civilian material culture and soldiers’ wants and needs.

 


 

 

 

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