Every time I show the contents of my knapsack to someone, one of the first responses is, “That’s neat, but I’m sure they didn’t carry all that stuff around with them.” ‘All that stuff’ is required to maintain the soldier’s body, his clothing, his leather, and his weapon in the manner prescribed by the Regulations.
Remember that, until Grant’s campaigns of 1864, soldiers in the Army of the Potomac spent only about 1-2% of their time under actual battlefield conditions (2-3 major battles a year, of 1 or 2, occasionally 3 day’s duration. Truly active campaigning of constant movement and temporary camps only occurred during the weeks immediately before and after major battles. Counting about a month for each battle, this accounts for about 25% of their time Most campaigning was conducted for only 7 months of the year, this left them about 40% of the time in winter camps. The remaining approximately 35% of the time was spent in camps of several week’s or month’s duration. This means that a total of 75% of a soldier’s time was spent in more or less permanent camps. Only so much of that time could be taken up with drill, fatigue, and other duties. During guard mounts, inspections, and parades, soldiers were expected to look their best. They occupied their time with cleaning and polishing their equipment so it would not fail when it was needed. With only so much clothing issued per year, and with any issued overage taken from a soldier’s pay, it was in his best interest to keep his clothing and equipment in good order. And, even though bacteriological infection was not clearly understood, a connection had been made between dirt and sickness. Soldiers needed to keep themselves clean to avoid sickness, and the camps had to be kept clean to cut down or prevent all the critters that thrive on human filth.
In reenacting it is rare to spend more than two nights in the field. We are too used to modern amenities, and some of us try to bring it all with us and then have difficulty keeping it hidden during the events. This is especially difficult in dog tents, which are supposed to accommodate two men, or three with a rear covering Each man was issued only one shelter half, one gum blanket, and one blanket – no more. Men sharing a tent could also share these items for extra warmth. Except for social beverages after the tourist tribe have returned to their hovels, everything you need for two days of camping should fit in your knapsack. These things are not just decoration for inspection displays, they can be used to “camp” with for the weekend so you can leave your modern trappings at home. More importantly, because they are period and/or regulation pieces, they do not have to be kept hidden from view. Their use in the field is actually part of the living history experience, and an education to tourists.
Written by 1st Sgt. S. Hanson,
2nd US Inf.