June 21 Gettysburg Campaign: What They Carried.

It was a cloudy, cool Sunday as Franklin Horner and Thomas Ware sat in their camps.

Horner heard some firing “towards Leesburg” to the west which would have been the cavalry battle around Upperville—Jeb Stuart’s men holding off the prying Yankees desperate for information on the Confederate main column—the same Upperville Thomas Ware visited a few days before.

Ware gets orders to prepare for dress parade and to be on the march immediately. The movement never happened.

Since both soldiers were relatively inactive, I took this point in the book to reach back to my own research as a “living history interpreter” ranger/historian at GNMP and explain just what the common soldier wore and carried during an active campaign.

According to his earlier diary entries, Ware complained in the spring of 1862 that his pack weighed about 25 pounds. By the summer of 1863, his burden was considerably lighter.

The pack probably would have been tossed. His extra clothing (perhaps a shirt, a change of underwear, and extra socks) was rolled up flat inside his wool blanket; the blanket would have been rolled inside of his “gum” (rubber) poncho, which also doubled as a shelter half. He tied the ends together then slipped the light, flexible roll over his head hanging from shoulder to hip.

Underneath the rolled blanket he carried his haversack. The Yankees had a tar-covered, waterproof haversack, but the Confederates (if they hadn’t “liberated” a tar haversack from a dead Yankee) slung a cloth bag from right shoulder to left hip. In it he carried personal items: bits of food and coffee, sugar, writing paper, letter from home, pencil or pen, tin plate and eating utensils, money, pocketknife, gun cleaning tools, and, most likely, a “twist” of tobacco.

Underneath his haversack to keep it in the shade, was his canteen—tin or possibly a wooden one, like a flat barrel, in the Southern armies. Going into battle the men would strip themselves of much of this equipment, some even emptying cartridge boxes into pockets. But one thing they always carried was their canteen. If wounded, they knew water was often the difference between life and death. Rudyard Kipling, writing a few years later about the British army in India, summed it up in verse:

“You may talk o’ gin an’ beer/When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere/ An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’Aldershot it;/But if it comes to slaughter/You will do your work on water/An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ‘im that’s got it…”

Attached loosely to the canteen was the ubiquitous tin cup, probably the most versatile piece of equipment in either army. Coffee could be cooked rapidly with just a small fire during a break on the march. Water could be scooped quickly from a stream. A brief halt on the march next to a huckleberry patch and the cup would be filled. The tin cup also gave a sort of music to the march with its rhythmic clinking, hundreds of times over, against the canteen or a bayonet socket.

On his right hip Ware (or Horner) carried his cartridge box with 40 rounds when battle loomed. Strapped to the waist-belt was his cap pouch, filled with the copper, top-hat-shaped percussion caps, the next generation improvement over flint and pan, which ignited the powder in the barrel of his rifle musket.

Ware may have carried the particularly savage-looking triangular bayonet, probably used more for cooking than combat. Since he was a non-commissioned officer he may have been issued a sword which, on active campaign, likely ended up in a supply wagon somewhere. His real weapon, and the true killer of the Civil War, was the rifle musket. More on that tomorrow.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote


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