The Civil War soldier: “This wasn’t what I joined up for!”

B. Nash as Union soldier

B. Nash as Union soldier


We’ve read that the Civil War soldier had “joined up” for many reasons, including patriotism-or the “fun and excitement” of it. When I was in the U.S. Army, we posted “F.T.A.” on our steel-pot helmets- “Fun, travel, and adventure.” There was an alternate meaning to “F.T.A.”- but I won’t go there. I remember getting my gear issued to me when I first joined. I thought: “My God, I’m gonna have to carry all this!” I think the average weight carried by an infantry soldier during Viet Nam era was 65 pounds? Frankly, I don’t remember-I could be way off. Some things don’t change. The infantry soldier in the Civil War had to contend with A LOT of gear-that is probably why many of the soldiers threw their supplies away. Consider the following from the book:  The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Antietam edited by Jay Luvass and Harold W. Nelson:


“The usual load for the Union soldier in the field was about 45 pounds, including a rifle-musket and bayonet weighing 14 lbs. and 60 rounds of ammunition (40 rounds in the regulation cartridge boxes and another 20 rounds in pockets or knapsack) weighing 6 lbs. Three to eight days’ of “marching” or “short” rations weighing 4-12 lbs. were carried in the haversack or knapsack. In addition, each soldier generally carried a canteen (4lbs.), a blanket or overcoat (5lbs.), and a shelter half (1.5 lbs.). Some soldiers also carried a rubberized poncho or ground sheet. Mess gear (knife, fork, spoon, cup, plate, and sometimes a small skillet), extra clothing, and a few personal items such as a razor, mirror, “housewife” (sewing kit), letters, notebook and pencil, Bible, and miscellaneous items were carried in the knapsack. The loaded knapsack usually weighed more than 20 lbs. and was habitually discarded when going into action. The Confederate soldier was usually less well-equipped and carried what little he had in the characteristic blanket roll slung over the shoulder. Veterans in both armies soon learned what items they could do without and carried only the bare minimum.”


In other words, the Civil War soldier discovered very quickly that he couldn’t possibly carry everything that might have been issued to him. But, he also realized early what he absolutely had to have. Besides, It’s my guess (as a veteran of the army myself), that the Civil War soldier probably thought about carrying his gear like a pack-mule: “Hey, this wasn’t what I joined up for!”

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