by Steve Hanson
Co. C, 2nd U.S. Infantry, Sykes Regulars
Last month, we had an overview of the regulation tent dabri.
After a campaign, if the men are ordered into a more-or-less permanent camp (one with company streets) and are not carrying their issued tent poles, ropes, and stakes, they must make do with field-expedient materials. At the very least, each tent requires four stakes for the corners and two more for end supports, and two uprights are needed if enough rope is available to serve as a ridge and end supports. If no rope is available, a ridge pole is also needed The ridge pole eliminates the need for the rope, and the two end stakes can be used to pin the center sides of the tent for a few days until the correct items can be reissued.
Long before the soldiers arrive at a new camp site, a party is sent out to measure and mark it off, cut at least enough firewood for the next meal, dig sinks, clear one or more roads for wagons if necessary, etc. That party is composed of the pioneer sections of each regiment with extra parties of men if a lot of work needs to be done. In the process of cutting trees for firewood, saplings and end branches of trees that are not worth the effort of rendering into firewood, and if not needed as abatis to defend the camp, can be rough-trimmed for tent-constructing material and left in the company areas for the men to pick up when they arrive and rework or finish to their satisfaction When a camp is being established, the men have just ended a march and are tired. They need to clean up the area designated for them, build their tents, light their cooking fires, and cook their meal before settling in. In addition, some men are drawn off for guard duty and for various fatigue parties: clerks for HQ areas, unloading wagons, stacking supplies in their proper places, digging sinks if that hasnt already been done, and any number of other duties that might be peculiar to that particular site, including building breastworks if the enemy is close. They dont just drive up, drop everything off, pitch their tents, and either park their cars a mile away, and visit the sutlers on the way back, or settle in to catch up on everything that has happened since they last got together.
You may have wondered why some field-expedient tents will withstand strong winds and driving rain and other tents fall down when someone walks by on the next street, or when a grasshopper climbs the pole and disturbs the delicate balance. One remedy is to drive the uprights into the ground. For that, they need a sharpened end However, when attempting to hammer them, the Y at the top splits and wont hold the ridge pole anymore, so people forego driving uprights into the ground. Back up one step — the answer is not to use a true Y. You want the upright to be straight so it can be hammered, but with a branch end coming off the side to act as the Y (see diagram A). Tent stakes are the same. A straight stick wont hold a rope well unless it is driven into the ground at a rather steep angle away from the stress. However, if the ground is very dry or very soft, they wont hold at that steep angle. If not angled, wind moving the tent will cause the rope to ride up and off the stake. You need a design similar to the top of your upright a straight stick that can be driven and a branch end to hold the rope loop of the tent (see diagram B). In both cases, that particular design is much easier to find in nature than a true Y shape anyway. The rope loops provide a sort of expansion buffer that will stretch and shrink in damp and dry conditions. The tension between the canvas itself and the stake is much less than if the canvas was directly staked to the ground.
Diagram C shows the outline of a sapling or a tree branch with the various pieces of tent-constructing material marked out in shadow. One tall or two medium saplings can provide everything you need I find that a good average for me is about waist high for the uprights and just over head high for the ridgepole. Shorter uprights will make a shorter but wider tent for those who like to sleep parallel to the street. Taller uprights will make a taller but narrower tent for those who like to sit up in the tent without touching the top. As for the ridgepole, all you need is about four inches beyond the canvas, front and back. More will do nothing but get in your way. Uprights and ridgepoles dont need to be any more than an inch or so in diameter. Stakes need to be at least 6-8 inches long and about to one inch in diameter. Make several more stakes than necessary because some will break. Taper the ends of the uprights and stakes to a rough point. They dont have to be perfect, just angled enough so they can be driven into the ground. Remember, all a Civil War soldier would have is a small hatchet or a camp knife, so dont make any modern-tool marks on the wood.
When storing uprights and ridgepoles between events, dont stand them up in a corner of the garage, especially when still green or after getting very wet. They will sag and dry crooked. They should be laid on a flat dry surface until thoroughly dry and seasoned at least an entire summer or an entire winter If your stakes get wet at an event, spread them out instead of leaving them together in a bag where they will rot. For carrying and storing stakes, an old haversack or even an old haversack-liner bag is great. Ideally, these wooden items should look like they have been cut within the last week and no more. Beyond that time, regulation uprights and stakes should have been reissued and the field-expedient materials would have disappeared as the camps were stracked up. However, we cant afford the luxury or time to cut new wood for each event, so dry and seasoned wood is the alternative.
Next month, construction techniques.