The Lamar Rifles

Hints on Campaign Camping From Those Who Really Did It
By Steve Acker

On a Saturday night under a tree on the Shiloh battlefield, a passel of Hoggs (Hogg Mess) greeted a soaking rain with an oilcloth and blanket per man. The first couple of hours we sang and laughed. The next few hours we made coffee and huddled around the fire. The last hours of rain, we sat in quiet resignation of our fate. Around midnight, the clouds moved on leaving a full moon and wet Hoggs, each futilely trying to dry our uniforms over the fire.

As Sunday awoke and we returned to the fire, we all agreed, the rain made an awesome event even better. Sure we, and the rest of the guys who stayed out, were soaked to the bone. Sure we would have been better off if it hadn't rained. And sure that wet chaffed feeling did persist all Sunday. And our food was soaked And... And that's my point. Being uncomfortable is exactly what the Civil War veteran was through his time in the army. He couldn't retreat to his car, head to a hotel, or opt to do some battlefield touring instead of sleeping in the rain. He had to make the most of the climate dealt him, be it rain, cold or heat.

That rain, just like the heat we have all endured and the cold that freezes canteens making us wonder why we aren't home watching cable, brings us closer to the Civil War experience than just about anything else. We can't recreate battles authentically (thank God). We can barely recreate marches thanks to pavement, power lines, Doctor Shoals and automobile traffic. We can camp like them. And we should.

For me to offer a how-to on campaign camping would be an insult to all those who do it better and more often than I do. So I thought I would offer some helpful hints on our topic using the first hand experiences of experts; those who knew first hand how to negotiate weather condition without heading home.

Below you will find quotes from veterans of the Civil War, both Confederate and Union. Each one offers us insights into campaign camping done right. The men I quoted were ingenious in some instances. They were desperate in other instances, and in every instance they made the best of the situation they were in. I hope you find my efforts and their words helpful:

10th Massachusetts Battery
"The soldier did not waste their time and strength(pitching shelter tents every night). If the night was clear and pleasant, they lay down without a roof shelter of any kind, but if it was stormy... shelters were then quite generally pitched... two muskets with bayonets fixed were struck erect into the ground the width of a shelter half. A guy rope which went wit h every shelter half was stretched between the trigger guards of the muskets, and over the as a ridge pole the tent was pitched" (Billings, 53).

21st Virginia
"About midnight we were awakened by the firing of muskets. Each man rose up and took his place in ranks more quickly than I ever saw it done and when the order was given to " take arms" every man had his gun ready for action" (Worsham, 33). * An example of sleeping near stacked arms.*

21st Virginia
"It was easy for men to move, because by this time (Sharpsburg) we learned to live without tents. The only shelter was an oil or rubber cloth and cotton flies...We were dependent on the Yankees for them(flies) as I never heard of our quartermaster issue any" (Worsham, 33).

5th New Jersey
"So in order to make ourselves as comfortable as possible, we set to work pulling wheat, getting together quite a stock. It was spread on the ground making a very respectable footing and bed, and over all we pitched our tents and were happy enough with little exception" (Ballard, 107).

12th Iowa
"One of the boys and myself got down on a bunch of wet leaves and covered our blankets over us, rain turned to cold and I shook..." (Logsdon, 19).

21st Virginia
"...Made a shebang by putting two forked sticks in the ground about six feet apart, lying a pole in the forks, placing brush with one end on the ground, the other inclined on the pole, enclosing in this way one side and the ends, and leaving the other side open. This would accommodate 3-4 men, and with care could be impervious to the rain" (Worsham, 131).

5th New Jersey
"As our tents were still at Poplar Hill 14 miles to the rear, we slept on the ground with the sky for a quilt and slept soundly till morning" (Ballard, 83).

21st Virginia
"The 21st Virginia (camped) in a large wood where we gather(ed) fresh fallen leaves into piles, placing our oilcloths on them laying down, covering with our blankets, we enjoyed the bed as much as any we ever slept on" (Worsham, 43).

9th Tennessee
" ...We found a good hickory fire burning, which had been abandoned by the parties who built it. As the night was cold, we lay down with out feet next to the fire, lying on a single blanket and covering ourselves with the other" (Fleming, 59).

7th Illinois
"Colonel Babcock with his men could be seen pacing up and down a hill to keep from freezing. Oh what a long cheerless night it was" (Logsdon, 21).

Richmond Howitzers
"Tents were rarely seen. All the poetry about tented fields died. Two men slept together, each had a blanket and a oilcloth. One oilcloth went next to the ground. The two laid on this, covered themselves with the two blankets, protected from the rain with the second oilcloth, and slept very comfortably through rain, snow, and hail as it might by..." (Gragg, 27).

41st Illinois
"To keep warm we made a circle of about 20 or 30 feet in diameter and around this we trotted most of the night" (Logsdon, 23).

14th Iowa
"The boys lay down singly or in couples and covered themselves as best they could with their blankets. I crouched beneath a leaning tree and wrapping my blanket around me and my gun so as to keep it as dry as possible" (Logsdon, 19)

7th Virginia
"The method of carrying our few assets was to roll them in a blanket, tying each end of the roll which was then swung over the shoulder. At night this blanket was unrolled and rapped around its owner who found a place on the ground with his cartridge box as a pillow" (Johnson, 137).

14th Iowa
"My bunkie and myself had each a rubber and a woolen blanket. We selected a little mound made by a root of a fallen tree. We spread one rubber down, then a woolen. Bunkie laid down on his side, pulling his cartridge box well up on his hip, taking his gun between his knees, muzzle to foot. I spread the other woolen over him, then the remaining rubber over all, turned them down, crept in behind him placing my cartridge box and gun in like position. Each used his haversack and canteen as a pillow. We now pulled the blanket over our heads and proceeded to fall into a dreamless sleep" (Logsdon, 21).

18th Louisiana
"I... and Justilien Gros made a stack of guns and extended a blanket over it; we sat underneath the little shelter it afforded. Many others however had no protection from the inclement weather" (Logsdon, 67).

38th Tennessee
"It soon commenced to rain. I stood under a tree for a shelter" (Logsdon, 87).

6th Massachusetts
"Feet wet, boots for a pillow, the mud oozing up around our rubber blanket, but making a soft bed and we sleeping the dreamless sleep of tired men" (Goss, 25).

2nd Mississippi
"There was a fence along the road that skirted the swamp, the water along which was nearly knee deep. I waded to the fence, picked out two rails that suited my purpose, put the rail s close together with one end on the ground and one end on the fence. Then I climbed up on the rails got in between them and slept there all night" (Holt, 266).

5th New Jersey (On mosquitoes)
"...An army of Virginia mosquitoes made general attack on our post, that was on the edge of the wood. We were completely surrounded and had to keep our arms continually in motion trying to brush them off. Not being able to stand it any longer we built a fire, making plenty of smoke in the hopes of smoking them out, but it was no go, as they would bite us even after we got into the smoke. But we could not stand the smoke, we had to back out to escape being smothered to death. Everything else failing we wrapped ourselves up in our blankets leaving nothing but our eyes and nose exposed and stood it as best we could until daybreak, when they retreated" (Ballard, 111-112).

154th Tennessee
"...Feeling too much fatigued...(we) lay down on the ground to sleep, with no shelter from the rain" (Logsdon, 67).

As you may have noticed, I avoided stories of garrison camp or sleeping in fortifications. I focused only on active campaign because that's the impression we most often portray. I hope this validated some of your sleeping tactics and/or gave you some new ideas. There is no better resource for campaign camping than from those who really did it.

Your humble servant,

Steve Acker


Ballard, Michael B. Thomas D. Cockrell. A Mississippi Rebel in the Army of Northern Virginia: The Civil War Memoirs of Private David Holt. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995.

Billings, John D. Hardtack and Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Donald, Herbert David. Gone for a Soldier: The Civil War Memoirs of Private Alfred Ballard. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1975.

Fleming, James R. Band of Brothers: Company C, Ninth Tennessee Infantry. Shippenburg: White Mane Publishing Company, Inc, 1996.

Gragg, Rod. The Illustrated Confederate Reader. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.

Goss, Warren Lee. Recollections of a Private: A story of the Army of the Potomac. New York, Thomas Y Crowell & Co, 1890.

Hutton, Paul Andrew. John Worsham: One of Jackson's Foot Cavalry. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.

Johnston, David E. The Story of a Confederate Boy in the Civil War. Radford: Commonwealth Press, Inc., 1980.

Logsdan, David R. Eyewitness at the Battle of Fort Donelson. Nashville: Kettle Mills Press, 1998.

Logsdon, David R. Eyewitness at the Battle of Shiloh. Nashville: Kettle Mills Press, 1994.



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