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What Was in the Civil War Soldier's Backpack?

Updated on October 31, 2015
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.

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The Essential Belongings of a Civil War Soldier

My great-great grandfather marched many miles in the Civil War. He was an infantryman with the 93rd Indiana Volunteers. On his back, he carried all the essentials for a soldier in the field. His pack contained his blanket, tent, plate, cup, and personal items.

I wanted to find out what would be in the typical Civil War soldier's backpack. Some videos explain the gear needed by a soldier. You can still buy such things as a reproduction of a Civil War canteen. If you have a Civil War ancestor or are a Civil War re-enactor, check out what I found about a Civil War soldier's gear.

Graphic from Zazzle: Private Ford Rallies The 61st PVI at Fair Oaks by 61stpvi
Note the backpack and gear on the soldier by the flag.

A Soldier's Pack from the Civil War

Taken at the National Museum of the Civil War Soldierl in Pamplin Park in Virginia.
Taken at the National Museum of the Civil War Soldierl in Pamplin Park in Virginia. | Source
Civil War re-enactors can get handmade leather replicas to use. This one contained several tin lined compartments which I think would hold gunpowder or bullets.
Civil War re-enactors can get handmade leather replicas to use. This one contained several tin lined compartments which I think would hold gunpowder or bullets. | Source

Civil War Tents

Soldiers Needed to Carry Shelter with Them

At first the soldiers had tents with side walls and a peaked roof like a house. These proved too weighty to tote around. A later tent looked similar to an Indian teepee (the Sibley tent). Much easier to carry with you as you marched along.

Finally the soldiers were issued a single flap of canvas that would combine with another soldier's flap to make a tent like the one in the picture below.

The Haversack Was Made of Canvas

The haversack was separate from the backpack. In this, they kept their food and eating utensils.

Source

Print available from Zazzle: Confederate Soilder Print by sethkelly

These Videos Explain What Gear the Soldier Had - Videos from YouTube

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Video of a Civil War Soldiers' Gear

Video Showing a Civil War Soldiers' Uniform and Equipment

The Civil War Canteens Weren't Popular

The cover of the canteen could be soaked in water and through evaporation would keep the water inside the canteen cooler.

I read that many men threw away their heavy and sometimes leaky canteens and used instead their tin cups which were lighter. They used the cups to dip water from streams or a well. They could put it in the fire to cook their coffee.

The canteens came in handy for the captured soldiers at the Andersonville Prison. With the 2 parts separated, half of the canteen could serve as a plate or for cooking food when they were able to get a little firewood.

The canteen half was also used to dig in the sandy soil to form a small cave for shelter from the grueling southern sun. Men desperately tried to tunnel out of the stockade and used anything they could, like a canteen half, to dig.

Canteens and Haversacks

Museum of the Civil War Soldier, Pamplin Park, Virginia
Museum of the Civil War Soldier, Pamplin Park, Virginia | Source

Utensils for Eating

Display at Pamplin Park, Virginia
Display at Pamplin Park, Virginia | Source
Shelves in a suttler's tent displaying plates and tin cups for soldiers. Photo taken at the March 2015 re-enactment of the Battle of Narcoosie Mill in St Cloud, Florida.
Shelves in a suttler's tent displaying plates and tin cups for soldiers. Photo taken at the March 2015 re-enactment of the Battle of Narcoosie Mill in St Cloud, Florida. | Source

Metal Plate Like a Civil War Soldier Would Carry in His Knapsack - This One Is Stainless Steel for Long Term Use by a Reenactor

The reality was that soldiers of that era didn't have stainless steel, it was not available in those days. The plates would have been of tin at that time.

Soldiers Playing Cards on a Blanket

Pamplin Park in Virginia
Pamplin Park in Virginia | Source

Union Army Blanket - Just Like the Civil War Soldier Carried

U.S. Army Bed Roll Grey Wool Civil War Blanket
U.S. Army Bed Roll Grey Wool Civil War Blanket
These are 100% wool and must have been pretty itchy to roll up in at night. After marching miles and miles, I guess you were too tired to worry about details like that.
 

Sewing Groups Made Quilts for Their Loved Ones in the Army

It is unlikely that a soldier would carry a heavy quilt along on the march. More likely a quilt such as this would have been used while the troops were in winter camp.
It is unlikely that a soldier would carry a heavy quilt along on the march. More likely a quilt such as this would have been used while the troops were in winter camp. | Source

Soldiers Playing Cards - Time in Camp Went More Quickly with a Card Game

Civil War museum at Pamplin, Virginia. Not the bottle of booze in the background of this scene in the museum and the money on the blanket.
Civil War museum at Pamplin, Virginia. Not the bottle of booze in the background of this scene in the museum and the money on the blanket. | Source

The Soldier Might Carry with Him Letters from Home or a Photo of His Wife

Taken at the Civil War Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
Taken at the Civil War Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. | Source

Soldiers Spent Long Days in Camp

Being a soldier wasn't all marching or fighting. Over the winter, troops built huts to hunker down until weather was favorable for troop movement and battles again.

They had time for storytelling around the fire, reading, playing cards and letter writing.

My Ancestor's Pocket Diary from 1864

My great-great grandfather owned this diary. He was in the 93rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Company G.
My great-great grandfather owned this diary. He was in the 93rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Company G. | Source

Traveling Photographers Took Photos of the Soldiers

It was popular for a soldier to have his photo taken to send back home to his loved ones. Many of these have survived the war and are in museums or private collections. You can find them for sale on eBay but be aware of reproductions and possible scammers if you plan to buy these.

The folks back home also had their photos taken so the soldier could carry a picture of his wife or parents with him.

© 2011 Virginia Allain

Are You a Civil War Buff?

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    • Joan Haines profile image

      Joan Haines 

      5 years ago

      My ancestors fought in the Union Army from New York. One shot off cannons. I'll bet his hearing was bad after that!

    • Virginia Allain profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Allain 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      @Cassidy Wadsworth: The weight depended on what the individual soldier was willing to carry. If he wanted to have a book or his Bible, that added weight. An extra pair of socks wouldn't weigh that much, but then add a deck of cards, a blanket, the flap for half a tent and it starts to get pretty heavy, I'm sure.

    • Cassidy Wadsworth profile image

      Cassidy Wadsworth 

      8 years ago

      About how many pounds did the average Civil War soldier carry? I read somewhere that one Confederate general drilled his men in 6-mile-long double quicks while they carried everything with them and am curious to know how hard this would have been.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

      8 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Congratulations on your 26th lens of the quest. I knew you could do it, and your niche is a most interesting one too.

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