Officers in the field lived much better than enlisted men. They generally assigned one or two officers to a tent. Since they provided their own personal gear, items varied greatly and reflected individual taste. Each junior officer was allowed one trunk of personal belongings that was carried in one of the baggage wagons. Higher-ranking officers were allowed more baggage. Unlike infantrymen, who slept and sat on whatever nature provided, officers sometimes had the luxury of furniture.
Enlisted men, unlike their officers, had to carry all their belongings on their back. On long marches men were unwilling to carry more than the absolute essentials. Even so, soldiers ended up carrying about 30 to 40 pounds. Each soldier was issued half of a tent. It was designed to join with another soldier's half to make a full size tent.
The odd man lost out. When suitable wooden poles were not available for tent supports, soldiers would sometimes use their weapons. Soldiers endured the daily round of roll calls, meals, drills, inspections, and fatigue duties. Throughout this tedious and seemingly endless routine, it was often the personal necessities sent or brought from home, or purchased from sutlers (licensed provisioners to the army) that made camp life tolerable. Many of these items were used for personal hygiene, grooming, and keeping uniforms in repair. Today these diminutive legacies provide us with a very personal and tangible connection to the soldiers of the Civil War.
Confederate and Union soldiers added various clothing and equipment to their military issue. To make their life more tolerable, they brought various personal items to camp or were given them by family and friends. Few soldiers owned all the items in this exhibit, although most had at least some of them. A variety of personal items were used by Civil War soldiers. Confederate and Union soldiers often wore civilian-style underwear that they provided themselves. Officers and wealthy individuals frequently wore linen undergarments purchased from commercial houses.
Junior officers and enlisted men, on the other hand, usually wore military issued cotton and wool garments. Confederate 'haversacks' were used to carry food rations. These bags were typically made of linen and lacked the waterproofing found on Union counterparts. Personal effects grew in number during long encampments and were reduced to a minimum during long marches and battles. Items would generally be boxed and stored in military bases or shipped to quartermaster storehouses to be held until the campaigning season was over. Because of limited supplies, soldiers had to be resourceful.
A leftover sardine tin might be fashioned into a corn shredder. The tin cup was military issue. Each soldier carried personal effects, including his own cutlery. These were carried in 'haversacks' along with their rations, such as: hardtack, salted meat, dried vegetables, and coffee. The most common pastime in camp was sitting around and talking. Reminiscing of home, or grumbling about circumstances.
There were other diversions that helped soldiers battle the boredom. Like soldiers of all wars, games of chance and the exchange of money were popular on both sides. A good gambler could send money home to help in the hard times shared by many. The most popular game was poker which was usually played for stakes. Cards were often discarded before a battle by the conscience-stricken who were fearful of their future. Soldiers also played board games including checkers, chess, dominoes, and cards.
Although many officers forbade gambling in their regiments, the practice could not be stopped. It was not unusual for some soldiers to lose a month's pay on unlucky wagers. The arrival of mail played a large part in the soldier's life. Letters from home were critical to boost soldier morale, although there never seemed to be enough news from home or about the war.
Mail was uncensored, and contained not only military information but many personal feelings and words from the heart.