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What Was in the Civil War Soldier's Backpack?
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
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.
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
Utensils for Eating
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
Union Army Blanket - Just Like the Civil War Soldier Carried
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
Soldiers Playing Cards - Time in Camp Went More Quickly with a Card Game
The Soldier Might Carry with Him Letters from Home or a Photo of His Wife
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
Some Soldiers Carried a Pocket Diary with Them
- Civil War Journals Online - Confederate
If you're a Civil War buff or a student needing primary source material for a paper, you'll find the links you need here. I'm a librarian and have compiled a state-by-state list of online Civil War diaries written by soldiers who fought for the...
- Interpreting Civil War Diaries
There's a wealth of letters, diaries and other hand-written documents from the American Civil War, but it isn't always easy to understand what you are reading. Unfamiliar handwriting, archaic abbreviations, no-longer-used words, faded ink and...
- Civil War Diaries Online - The North
One of the family treasures is the pocket diary that belonged to my great-great grandfather who survived the Civil War. It's amazing that something so small can be so valuable in terms of the information contained in the pages. Fortunately for...
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.
Check out These Sites for More Information
- The Personal Equipment of a Civil War Soldier
Page by the Army Heritage Center Foundation.
- Civil War Soldiers for Kids! - Company A, Fifth Minnesota
Home of company A of the 5th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, an American Civil War reenactment group This has good photos and explanation of the equipment for soldiers.
© 2011 Virginia Allain