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Winter Camp in the Civil War

Updated on March 31, 2018
Virginia Allain profile image

In researching my Civil War ancestor, I became fascinated by all aspects of that war. If you're a Civil War buff, check out my topics.

Log Cabin for Housing Troops in Winter

I saw this example in a Civil War museum which shows a log structure with a canvas roof.
I saw this example in a Civil War museum which shows a log structure with a canvas roof. | Source

Winter Housing for Civil War Troops

There weren't many winter battles during the Civil War. The logistics were just too difficult as dirt roads turned into mud. Travel became unmanageable for cavalry, foot soldiers, and for heavy artillery. Mostly the armies settled into crude winter quarters to wait for better weather.

The construction of the camps varied depending on the locale and the resources available to the troops. During the summer, they traveled with portable tents, but in winter they could construct sturdier shelters.

What Were the Shelters Made Of?

Trees were readily available and there was plenty of manpower with expertise from their farming days in cutting down trees.

Below is one which uses less wood and more canvas. Can't imagine that it could handle much snow on that roof, so it would be for areas that were cold but not that snowy.

Example of winter quarters at Petersburg, Virginia
Example of winter quarters at Petersburg, Virginia | Source

The cooking would have to be outside over an open fire as the cabin above has no chimney.

This interior shot below is for the first cabin shown in this article. It does have a very small fireplace. It probably depended on the time and skills available in the group constructing each cabin. There would have needed to be the right kinds of rocks for making the fireplace.

Interior of a cabin like the troops would have crowded into for the winter during the Civil War. (Petersburg, Virginia)
Interior of a cabin like the troops would have crowded into for the winter during the Civil War. (Petersburg, Virginia) | Source

Passing The Time in Winter

I'm sure the men would have preferred to be back with their families in their own snug homes. The tedium and discomforts of winter camp must have worn on their spirits.

As time hung heavily on their hands, they would have played checkers or cards, wrote letters to their loved ones, told stories and sang songs, or found other ways to relieve the boredom of inactivity.

Scene at the Civil War museum in Petersburg, Virginia, showing the interior of a cabin serving as winter quarters.
Scene at the Civil War museum in Petersburg, Virginia, showing the interior of a cabin serving as winter quarters. | Source

YouTube Video of Civil War Camp Life

Winter Shelter in a Civil War Prison Camp

Shelter at Andersonville for Prisoners of War in the Winter

One of the great failures of the Civil War prison at Andersonville was that it provided no structures to protect the prisoners from the weather. Although Georgia has fairly mild winters, the temperatures could reach freezing at times.

The National Park Service gives the average low temperature in January as 35 degrees with it warming during the day into the fifties and sixties. Imagine yourself as an underfed prisoner of war with no tent to keep off the rain as you huddled with the other men from your company trying to keep warm.

This reconstruction shows how prisoners of war created shelters for themselves in Andersonville Prison in Georgia. The lucky ones used canvas to form tents and a few even got some wood for slightly larger structures. The majority lacked any shelter.
This reconstruction shows how prisoners of war created shelters for themselves in Andersonville Prison in Georgia. The lucky ones used canvas to form tents and a few even got some wood for slightly larger structures. The majority lacked any shelter. | Source

Imagine the Scene Jammed with Sick And Starving Men

A total of 45,000 prisoners entered the gates into Andersonville during twelve months near the war. Of those, 13,000 died there. When prisoners died, the others kept his clothing to supplement their own which were falling into rags.

There was no wood for fires except when a detail of prisoners was sent into the surrounding woods to bring back firewood. If one tried to escape while in the woods, the tracking dogs were sent after him.

Civil War Camps - The Rest of the Year

What the Civil War Camps Were Like the Rest of the Year

At the Civil War museum in Petersburg, Virginia, the exhibits show what life was like for Union soldiers in camp. Let's take a look at how they were housed while in camp.

The panorama below served as a backdrop for a display. Note the tidy row of tents beyond the soldiers practicing their marching. The larger tents with walls were not for the common soldiers. These were occupied by officers.

Source

Looking further, you see one tent set apart for the sick. They wait to be seen by the doctor. In the foreground, you see that men spent much of their time outdoors. They've set up a rough table with boards over two barrels. There's a folding camp stool of canvas with wood legs and also several wooden benches.

A coffee pot hangs by a metal bail from the tripod over the fire.

Source

Below, you see a smaller tent and behind that, a canvas-topped shelter with log walls. Hanging from the tent pole is a canteen. On the ground are some blankets, a book, and an open haversack. This kind of tent is called the A-frame.

Source

The life-sized figures show the soldiers relaxing on a blanket where they've been playing cards and gambling.

Source

Behind them, you see a pile of firewood and a metal basin with some wooden boxes.

Notice that this camp was structured for easy packing up and moving, while the winter camp would have more substantial housing for the soldiers.

Short Video of Confederate Winter Camp

Officers Often Found Housing in Local Residences

This officer's room looks pretty comfortable.
This officer's room looks pretty comfortable. | Source
He might sit here to write up his reports.
He might sit here to write up his reports. | Source

© 2018 Virginia Allain

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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 7 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is very interesting. I can just imagine what it must have been like especially in the winter and if you're wounded. Today, we still have men and women who are out there in camps.

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 7 weeks ago

      Excellent article! I enjoyed reading it as well as watching the videos. The people of that time where a bit more strong than many of us today.

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