New Recruit’s Perspective

Good Morning readers! I’ve been thinking lately about the soldier’s of the war. What did they go through? What was their experience the first time on the field? The fear, the overwhelming of senses. Could they make it through battle? Rather than sharing my supposition, a friend of mine has graciously shared his first-time experience with me. Check it out!

By Les Patton

It was my second re-enactment. I had only a uniform and a musket. I was given a pair of boots that did not fix too well. I told my Captain that the boots were tight. He told me that was realistic. A good portion of the Army of Northern Virginia did not have shoes. The shoes and other needed equipment were often taking from fallen soldiers after a battle.


Photo credit: Joey Young

The unit marched out onto the field and assumed our defensive positions. We were in a trench about 10 feet in front of another mound where I could hear a cannon crew preparing their gun. It was cold and snow flurries were falling. There was a slight whiteness to the ground where the snow would melt almost as fast as it hit the ground. Ahead of me I could see about 200 feet. There were numerous trees to both the left and right but thinned out in front. There was a mist hanging over the field and
there was hardly any wind.


I then heard my Captain give the command to load. Everyone in the company loaded as quickly as they could. You could easily tell who the veterans were. Their musket were loaded before us newly arrived recruits had our cartridges out of the box. Then for what seemed like an eternity, we waited, and listened, but heard nothing except the falling snow flurries. They fell like the stars.

Then the ground began to shake, I heard the thunder of horses getting closer. I saw a horse and rider approaching fast. I heard him say to an officer several yards from me. “The Yankees are coming.” He pointed into the trees and said they would be here in minutes.


Photo Credit: Charleston Tintypist (Be SURE to check out her work!)

Then, I heard the shout of a word that will forever be engraved in my memory. From behind me, loud and crisp, “Fire”. Within a second, the cannons began to roar. Each time they fired the ground would shake. We laid in the trenches with our hands over our ears. It was a deafening roar. Leaves and twigs began falling all around us. Some even fell on us. The air in front and all around us turned blue from the cannon blast. I could not see more than 50 feet in front of me.

Posted by Charles Harris

From Charles Harris

We then heard the word “Rise.” We all stood up and dressed out lines. “Forward March.” At the arms port, we walked through the blue smoke. With each breath, my throat became dryer and dryer. It was a horrible taste. This was the taste of battle. Then came the command of halt. We all stopped and stood staring into the blue smoke. Then came the command of “Fire!”


Photo credit: Matt Young

I pointed my musket and began to fire. I started to re load as fast as I could. I still could not see at what I was firing. Just aiming and shooting into the blue smoke. By now the smoke was so think I could only see about 20 feet in front of me. Which each round of ammo fired, the blue smoked, thickened. It was like a big blue blanket covering everything. The air was alive with sound. The muskets firing, the cannon roaring to our rear, The commanders shouting orders. It was a constant roar of noise which made anything difficult to distinguish.

I then heard someone yell “There they are boys, pour it into them!” I looked and saw faintly dark silhouettes appearing from within the smoke. For the first time I met the enemy, almost face-to-face. As they approached, I could hear them yelling. I could hear their commanders shouting orders. I could even hear the twigs cracking with each approaching step.

They stopped at a short distance which seemed just a few feet from us. I saw them level their muskets pointing straight at us. I could barely make out their faces when suddenly there faces were consumed by a bright flash. The person standing beside me fell to the ground. I hesitated with my loading and looked down at my falling companion. He was motionless. At that instant, the horrors of war hit me.

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Photo Credit: Matt Young

I felt someone grab my back and pull me backwards, I then heard someone yell ‘I said fall back.” Was this command meant for me? Or was it from the Federals? I started to fall back with the rest of the unit. When the order to halt was given, I found myself surrounded unfamiliar faces. To my left I saw an individual that I have never seen before. He had long hair and a beard. Neither his hair nor his beard looked as if had been washed in weeks. His uniform was in complete disarray, Patches everywhere. It
seems as if he was wearing just a bunch of patches sewed together. I looked down towards the ground and noticed his bare feet. I asked him where his shoes were, He told me that he has not had shoes in some time. Wasn’t the ground cold I asked, He smiled and said, “You get use to it.”

Gettysburg reenactment

A reenactor rests his feet during the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pa. on Saturday.

I found myself in a completely different unit. I had no idea where my unit was or what
happened to it. I found the unit first sergeant and told him I did not know how I ended up with his unit and that I had to find my unit, He chuckled and said, “you are now part of this unit.” Part of that unit I remained for the duration of this battle.

I have served our country and retired from the United States Army. Although I have been in countless deployments, field exercises and assigned to a rapid deployment unit in Operation Desert Storm, I have never felt the confusion, chaos, and camaraderie within a unit facing the horrors of battle.


I hope you enjoyed Les’ story, and that it gives you a small look into the life and terror of a new soldier in battle. War is not all guts and glory. Sometimes it’s fear, terror, pain, suffering, and finding out just what one is made of.

Be sure to check out past blogs to learn more, and stay tuned for more blogs in the future!!

What are some things you would like to read about?


Chamberlain’s Wounds

Joshua L. Chamberlain is famously known as the “Hero of Little Round Top.” As commander of the 20th Maine, and placed on a hill called Little Round Top at the end of the Federal line at Gettysburg, he was tasked with holding it at all costs. Though he and his men held the hill against wave after wave of charging Alabamans and Texans, and then ordering his infamous bayonet charge, there is another reason I find Colonel Chamberlain majorly important. The face of medicine changed because of a wound he incurred.

General Joshua Chamberlain with sword

Petersburg, Summer 1864
The Battle of Petersburg (more accurately the Petersburg Campaign), started June 9, 1864 and went through March 25th, 1865. Just 9 days into the campaign, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine led the Union charge on the Confederate line. At this time, officers led from the front, not the rear (unless you were a brigade or army commander such as Longstreet, Jackson, and Lee). This made them much more likely targets for the enemy. Another of the main people the enemy would aim for was the color-bearers. When the colors went down it was disheartening to the troops, it would cause confusion on the line if the colors could not be seen, and the regiment could not stay together or aligned properly.

During the charge, his color bearer was shot and killed. Chamberlain picked up the colors and continued forward. Now he was doubly a target for the Confederates, and indeed, they found him. A ricocheting .58 caliber Minié ball struck Chamberlain in the right hip, traveling up and through his pelvis and lodged in the inside of his left hipbone, ripping through organs as it went. Knowing that the wound was most likely fatal, but not wanting his men to know, Chamberlain thrust his sword in the ground for support as blood poured from his body, filling his right boot. He stood there commanding, until the blood loss made him so weak that he collapsed on the field as the battle raged.

Commanders at the rear saw Colonel shoulder boards lying on the field through their field glasses and realized the famous Colonel was down. They ordered men forward with a stretcher to retrieve him. When these four men arrived, Chamberlain begged them to leave him there as he believed the wound was fatal (over 90% of abdominal wounds were fatal at this time) and he did not want others dying because of him. Knowing their orders, and that they could not let the hero of Little Round Top die on that field, they told him that their orders out ranked him, placed him on a stretcher and dispatched him to the rear. By the time he reached the field hospital three miles to the rear he had been bleeding for hours and lost a significant amount of blood, not to mention having a fractured pelvis, punctured bladder, and severed urethra.

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Harmon, W.J., McAllister, C.K. (2000) The Lion of the Union: The Pelvic Wound of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. The Journal of Urology, Vol 163, p 716.

His brother, Tom, would hear of his brother’s severe wounds and come running with two of their physicians who would join with the doctors caring for Chamberlain. Finally finding him in one of the many field hospitals, they set about trying to figure out what to do. Gut wounds were nearly always fatal, but they couldn’t let the Hero of Little Round Top (and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient) die, but surgery on the abdomen was usually fatal as well. It would end up being the patient who made the final decision – Chamberlain himself asked them to try it. Now at the time, abdominal surgeries were almost strictly prohibited because the majority of the patients DIED, yet he was asking them to take a chance and try. At this point, what did they have to lose? He was certainly going to die if they left him there. So they agreed.

As many of you may remember from previous blogs, we did have anesthesia at this time, in the form of Ether and Chloroform, though Chloroform was the most commonly used agent due to it’s stability, and being less flammable. The thing with these early anesthetics is that they are heavy gasses, and if left under too long, the anesthetic to make one insensible to the pain would actually take their life. This happens by the heavy gas displacing the oxygen in the lungs. To prevent that, they would have to awaken the patient and get them taking big breaths to replace that oxygen and force the gas out. This means that they would have to awaken the patient every 15 minutes or less. Chamberlain’s surgery was going to take far longer than that, yet he persisted.

Retrieved from

Therefore, on an operating table in a field hospital somewhere on the Virginia soil, four doctors and a brave man embarked on an unprecedented operation. Given morphine and chloroform, they opened his abdomen and began a surgery of exploration and restoration – tying off vessels, finding the bullet and removing it, having to rejoin his urethra to his bladder and repair the organ, during which they had to bring him out of anesthesia many times. Halfway through the surgery, the surgeons decided to stop, saying they could not torture him anymore. Chamberlain disagreed, and though in unimaginable pain, most likely held down to the table while they worked inside him, he gasped in pain and asked them, “I’m not dead yet. Please continue.” The incredible surgery would last FOUR HOURS. When they finally closed him, no one knew if he would survive. In fact, the exhausted doctors were incredibly skeptical that he would, but they had done their best. They nearly lost heart when they saw urine leaking from one of the wounds, knowing that most assuredly they had been unable to close everything and he would die, most likely from “ulcers” forming in the abdomen and causing death 1 (most likely they were indicating abscesses).

Yet, for several days he continued to fight and live. With no antibiotics (there were none until the 20th century), non-sterile conditions, unclean instruments with which the operation had been performed, lying in a field hospital surrounded by death and disease, no significant pain medication to deal with the tortuous agony he was enduring, and only able to void via a catheter they had placed (either made of metal or wood, most likely metal at this time), he endured. Due to concern that he might contract a disease on top of his wounds in his weakened state, eight litter bearers were ordered, and carried him 16 miles until he could be placed on the hospital ship Connecticut which was at City Point.3 The ship carried him to Annapolis where he was placed in the naval hospital for care. They say he arrived, “booted and spurred, blood soaked and smeared, hair and beard matted with blood and earth, pale as death and weak as water.” 1 One can only imagine his condition when they were operating on him! Probably laying right there on the table still in the blood and filth, and operated upon still in uniform.


But God and Chamberlain had other plans. Miraculously, for that is all that can be said about it even by his doctors, Chamberlain began recovering. Six weeks after his surgery, the doctors had to admit that he was recovering so well that his chance of survival was nearly certain. Indeed, he would recover, but with several prolonged issues. He developed a fistula (tunneled opening) from the urethra that opened just in front of his scrotum due to the prolonged use of the catheter. It was unforeseen, and most likely unavoidable, but made things difficult the rest of his life. Due to this fistula and his issues voiding, he would have chronic urinary tract infections the rest of his life. In a day and time where there were no antibiotics, this was quite terrible and painful, taking him out of commission for sometimes weeks at a time. The pelvic fractures were (thankfully!) not unstable fractures – which is a serious medical emergency and often fatal – but would cause him continued issues, making him unable to mount his horse, Charlemagne, without help, or to sit in the saddle or even walk for very long.

Yet, all of these things did not stop this formidable man. He would return to command his troops in November 1864 as a newly promoted Brigadier General and would finish out the Petersburg campaign. He would, in fact, finish the war, being chosen by General Grant to receive the final surrender of arms from Confederate General John B. Gordon just three days after the armistice signing at Appomattox, VA. After the war, he returned to Maine and wrote extensively about his time serving in the Army of the Potomac and his experiences during the war. He returned to teaching for a time, and would serve as President of Bowdin College from 1871-1883, during which time he founded a Scientific Division and the establishment of a military drill at the college.2 At the urging of many, he ran for Governor of Maine and won, serving not one, but four terms in office.

Joshua Chamberlain by Dale Gallon

Painting by Dale Gallon

Strangely, it would be the War Between the States that took his life, but this would not happen until 1914. Complications of his wounds and multiple surgeries later, he continued to be plagued with problems and chronic infections. On his death in 1914, his doctors listed one the death certificate, “Bacteremia, probably secondary to a urinary tract infection.” 3 In other words, he got a urinary tract infection that went systemic, causing sepsis, and then death. He had survived heat stroke, malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, smallpox, having his horse shot out from under him 5 times (twice on Charlemagne), being shot a total of six times. He engaged in 24 major battles, who knows how many skirmishes, captured 2,700 POWs and 8 battle flags.3 He accepted the final surrender and retired from military service a Major General. He went on to have quite a significant career in education and public life for 50 years, contributing much to this country, and yet in the end, the devastating wounds he incurred on Virginia soil would ultimately take his life.

I personally find Chamberlain an amazing man, one from whom we can learn much. But what I find most exciting about this tale, is that because of him, and his valor and fortitude, the first successful abdominal reconstructive surgery was performed on American soil!



  1. Nesbitt, M., Chamberlain, J.L., and Chamberlain, J.J.: Through Blood and Fire: Selected Civil War Papers of Major General Joshua Chamberlain. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1996. Quoted in Harmon, W.J., McAllister, C.K. (2000) The Lion of the Union: The Pelvic Wound of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. The Journal of Urology, Vol 163, p 713-716.


  1. Harmon, W.J., McAllister, C.K. (2000) The Lion of the Union: The Pelvic Wound of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. The Journal of Urology, Vol 163, p 713-716.


Other reading you may enjoy:

  • Trulock, A.R., Nolan A.T. (1992). In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Wallace, W.M. (1988). Soul of the Lion: A Biography of General Joshua L. Chamberlain. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Stan Clark Military Books.
  • McAllister, C.K. (1998). Fire, Blood, and the Lion of the Union: Joshua Chamberlain’s Civil War Ailments. The Paros of Alpha Omega Alpha, 60: 40.
  • Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion: U.S. Surgeon General’s Office 1861-1865. 3 Vols., 6 parts. Washington, D.C. (1870).

Hello readers!

Be sure to check out this short film about reenactors and the war, and interviewing reenactors. I personally have been on two of the battlefields featured in this production, and know some of those in it! I think you will enjoy it!

Let’s talk about Reenactors

Reenactors are a rare breed of people. They love history, they love teaching, and they LOVE this country. Many of our reenactors are military veterans who have sacrificed and served for this country. Many more of us are military family members who have sacrificed on the home front. But, all in all, whether veteran, family member, or civilian, our reenactors truly love this country and are very patriotic.

Those of us who are serious reenactors, are historians. We spend countless hours in research, pouring over journals, records, first-hand accounts, other historian’s research, maps, troop movements, military manuals, and more. We learn and know the correct clothing designs, materials, and accessories. We know our weapons and how to use them, the equipment of the time, items that would have been used at the time, medical equipment and procedures, troop movements, the manual of arms, actions on the battlefield, we learn skills of the time, and more.


Ladies of the 53rd working on our crocheting skills.

We delve into the thoughts of the time, the motivations behind historic events, the reasons people joined the war (and they were quite varied), the reasons the war took place, the politics leading up to the war, and throughout the war, the complications for the war and the home front – from decisions made, to the impact of the war on the country as a whole, down to the Northern or Southern housewife. We study the shortages caused by the war and how it affected the people as well as how or if they were able to overcome it. We explore the effects of the war on the countryside from the North and the South. We find out what it was like to watch one’s town shelled until it’s nothing but empty husks of once majestic buildings, or to see your home, farm, and town burned and destroyed by an invading army. We educate ourselves on the cost of war, from minor skirmishes, to 16,000 men falling in one day, to the long-term effect of losing over 650,000 men in 4 years.


Photo Credit: Sherry Frazier

We don’t just study these things, we are impassioned by them. One cannot study these things to the point that you feel as though the people about whom you read were one’s family members, without being passionate about it. We seek to describe it and portray it from the viewpoint and context of those who were there. Only those who lived through the actual events can give us true perspectives on the issues and time that we portray. Then, we take our passion and use it as the impetus to educate any and all who will listen!


Photo Credit: Kellie Morgan

Reenactors aren’t motivated by politics, or the whim of a time. We are motivated by history! We feel our only job is to tell the history of what happened – good, bad, or ugly – and then let the reader or hearer decide where they stand on the issue, and whether or not they would have agreed with those long ago. It is not our job to interpret the issues, only to present them, and let each person decide for themselves.

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Reenactors are like family. We say we have a reenacting family, and we truly do. Of course, we have the ups and downs, the conflicts and selflessness of any family, blessings and extreme irritations (just like a real family), especially when you have hundreds of passionate people all in one place! But for all of that, we truly get along and support one another. There are times when we may want to knock someone in the head one minute, and will go running to their rescue the next. We watch out for each other, protect each other, sacrifice for each other, and we do it gladly.


Photo Credit: 53rd GA


Photo Credit: 53rd GA

Not only do I write this blog, and articles for several publications, but I also travel all over my state here in the South to teach in schools and universities, and give guest lectures to whichever group invites me. I know that there is almost no place in this state, or over the line into other states, where I do not have connections within 1-2 hours, or less, who would drop everything and come to my aid if needed. I have crashed in friend’s houses, had friends look at my vehicle when there were issues, or simply say “pull up a chair and I’ll make you a cup of tea” when I show up on their doorstep. These are the type of people I find among reenactors. They will help you, pray with you, clothe you, feed you, rescue you, and literally give you the shirt off their back if needed.


Photo Credit: Les Patton

Reenactors are also special, and a rare breed! There are things that make us happy and excited that no one would understand unless you have spent time with us. For instance, seeing what appears to be canvas rolled up with tent poles in the back of someone’s truck going down the highway and getting all excited because you’re thinking about your tent and being in camp (and very sad when you realize it isn’t a tent). Or knowing how to handle and survive in all different types of weather and hardships because you have WILLINGLY gone to events and survived in it before!

Nash Farms 2015 camp fire frozen-Robert C

Photo credit: Robert Carswell. It was below freezing when this was taken!

Or making and putting on clothes that went out of style 140 years ago. Or loving the smell of your stinking uniform that smells of black powder, sweat, the terrain in which you have fought and camped, campfire smoke, and more, because it reminds you of camp, your family and friends, and all the adventures and stories contained in those few yards of fabric. Or being willing to pack for a full day, to drive between one and thirteen hours to do an event for a few days, just to drive home and have to go straight back to work. Or choosing to go to the field with nothing but an outhouse or port-a-john for days, living with people who, along with you, have not had a shower in days, only to go home, shower, and get comfortable in your house with HVAC, sigh and say, “Okay, when is the next one?”


Photo Credit: 53rd GA

When we are out of the field too long, we miss it. It is currently January, but it’s been six weeks since the last event for many of us. Just a few days ago I was speaking to other reenactors and we were all saying, “I need to get back in the field!” Now we all do not want to be camping in this cold front that’s the coldest in 30 years, but we are yearning for the day the next campaign will start and we can roll into camp in our SUVs, trucks and trailers full of gear, just to set up camp and live like the 1860s for several days.


Photo Credit: Sherry Frazier


For me, not only do I recognize all these things, but also the awesome guys who volunteer to be our patients for the medical demonstrations. They recognize that the war was not just soldiers fighting, but also being wounded and killed. As a medical reenactor, I couldn’t do my role, if it were not for these guys willing to be my patients, and to make it very real. They do their own research, and listen to me and my co-surgeon as we explain the details of the case we have pulled from the records, and what that soldier would have experienced, and then they bring it to life. Boy do they do a good job with it too! Many times, it is so real that people have to leave if they have a squeamish stomach lest they get sick. These boys take it as a challenge to make it more realistic than the previous event with every demonstration we do. Who else but reenactors would volunteer to have their arm or leg “taken off?” 😀


Photo Credit: Cathy Stancil



Photo Credit: Heidi Edge

When I was in college, I wanted to be part of a group, to have my own nickname, to have a family away from home. I didn’t realize that would not happen during my education, but that I would find my “tribe” on barren fields once burned by Sherman. I never had to ask to be included – I was invited. I never asked for nicknames – they were freely given. I never had to ask to be a part of something or ask whether I was allowed – I was adopted. I have never found something in which I felt so much like myself, and yet so much a part of the greater whole, as I did reenacting. Honestly, these are some of the best people I know.


Photo credit: Kellie Morgan

So, to all my adopted siblings, my adopted family, my friends in the GVB, thank you for being incredible, loving, patriotic, passionate, giving people, who strive to keep history alive! I’m looking forward to seeing you all in the campaigns of 2018!

Happy Holidays

Good morning readers! Thank you all for following me and reading all the articles I work hard to put out for you!

I debated long and hard about what to write for this month, and have several things in the works. However, I decided to skip and article during this holiday season to spend the time on what was more important: family and God.

So I wish you all a wonderful, happy holiday season with your families! May we remember all the boys who did not get to be with their family as they marched through frozen lanes and bled to death in frost-covered fields. May we remember and support all our soldiers deployed now, and provide for and encourage our homeless veterans. May we give back during this season of giving. Most of all, may we never forget what is most important: not the things, the stuff, the materialism which is here today and gone tomorrow. May we put our focus on those who have less, on our families, and most of all, in thanksgiving to God who provides all!

Happy Holidays!

~The Southern Belle


Becoming a medical reenactor was one of my dreams. A bucket-list item truthfully, and something for which I had studied for over a decade-and-a-half. So, when the opportunity arose to be a medical reenactor of the War Between the States, I couldn’t believe my ears, nor contain the excitement!

Starting with my first reenactment on the field, I portrayed a medic. Now, two years later, I alternate between medic and assistant surgeon. Since I have treated numerous reenactors for real ailments and emergencies, the boys call me “Doc.”


There are many things that go into being a medical reenactor. One doesn’t only have to understand the military side of reenacting, the orders on the field, chain of command, the role of infantry, and safety on the field, but also every type of wound they would have incurred and how to treat them. Hours upon hours of research go into every aspect of our portrayal. We have to know every wound, how they would have examined it and determined treatment, what type of treatment they would have given, what tools and supplies they would have used, and whether they would have even had them! These details will change depending on which battle is being portrayed and what year it was, whether or not it was a multi-day or massive casualty battle or not, whether supply trains had been captured, or the blockade had affected supplies, and even which side of the war one is portraying. That means that one has to have an understanding of each battle, the troop movements, the capture of supply lines, and how they managed.


Explaining that his leg is shattered and we are going to have to take it off, just before I put him under chloroform.

For instance, the Confederate medical corps used Chloroform or Ether whenever they had it, and they had lower mortality rates with its use than the Union army did (None by the end of the war). On the other hand, the Union medical corps was still having occasional casualties from anesthesia complications at the end of the war. They also would not use anesthesia for an amputation on a wound over 24 hours old. They thought the complications from the anesthesia along with the wound would be more than the patient could overcome, but did not account for the shock they would incur, which would subsequently kill many.

What did they do when they ran out of chloroform, such as at the battle of Sharpsburg, or when a Union soldier had received the wound more than 24 hours prior to facing the surgeon? That is the few instances where they would have to call in strong men to hold them to the table. Thankfully, they did have access to medical whiskey (if that had not also been taken in a raid, or drunk by the staff or trouble-making soldiers, as in a few cases), and at times morphine. Morphine had just come on the scene about this time and was being put to use. It came in liquid or powder form, and was applied topically to the wound for local pain relief, or might have a small amount placed in the mouth, or injected into the arm. The problem was that dosing was not yet understood, nor its addictive qualities, and after the war America began seeing its first cases of Morphine addicts and DTs when it was no longer available to them.


Photo Credit: Kenny Stancil

At the beginning of the war, there was no procedure known as excision, but by the end of the war, there was an entire chapter on the procedure in the medical textbooks!

The procedure known as excision came about because of the physician’s desire to send as many boys home whole or functional as possible. If you read the records, you will see that they did not enjoy carving on boys and taking off limb after limb until they were stacked as high as the windows, or even rooftops, but for many it was the only way to save their life. If the bone was shattered beyond repair, if the blood vessels were severed, or nerve function destroyed then the limb had to come off. To leave it would mean the patient contracting gangrene and pyeamia (blood poisoning), and certain death. But for those whose bones were damaged, but blood flow and nerve function remained intact, could there be another option? The doctors found there was. They would send the patients back to the general hospitals and after they had recovered from the initial shock of the bullet wound(s) – the average soldier came in shot 3-4 times – then they would take them into surgery. During surgery, they would remove the damage section of bone, make sure all splinters or fragments were removed, and ensure that blood flow and nerve function remained intact. Then they would put the two ends of bone together and put the patient in a type of splint which would keep the limb aligned and the bone pieces together. The patient would then have to remain on strict bed rest for 6 weeks with absolutely no pressure on the limb. The idea was that if the bones would grow back together, then the soldier would retain use of his body. It worked! In fact, it worked on such a great scale that it changed the cobbler industry! Cobblers started making shoes with elevated soles so that patients who had undergone excision on their legs could once again walk as a normal man!


Example of Excision. Picture taken while in Gettysburg, PA.

Amputations were literally a life-saving procedure. Most people think of them as barbaric, but most of the time, it was the only way to save their life or to save as many men as possible. When a soldier was shot with a .58 caliber to .69 caliber Minié ball or round ball, it could literally shatter the bone or joint. It could cause breaks for inches up the bone, or worse yet, the bullet could have lost momentum or ricocheted off another object before impacting the soldier. That impact with another object could cause the bullet to start spinning end-over-end and when it struck the soldier it would continue its momentum, causing spiraling breaks up the bone. If any of these were the case, the limb would have to be removed or the soldier would die a painful death.

The average amputation took only 12 minutes. TWELVE minutes! They had to be fast for multiple reasons. One, if the patient stayed under anesthesia for more than about 15 minutes it would kill them. Another was getting the limb off and homeostasis restored. They also had to be fast because the boy in front of them wasn’t the only one wounded and bleeding to death. By quickly and efficiently treating each one, they could get to more wounded in a shorter amount of time, and thus save more lives.

These doctors, in many cases, were innovators and world changers. Now, you did have the quacks and those without formal medical training treating some wounded (a standard for army medical doctors came into place during the war, but early war was terrible), but there were also those who changed the face of medicine. Many of the things that we take for granted in medicine today can literally be traced back to the War Between the States. These would include such things as washing wounds with cool water instead of warm. This, unknown to them, caused an environment that was unfriendly to bacteria, of which they still did not know or understand. Another is cutting out infectious areas with boarders of good tissue in order to keep it from spreading. We take this for granted today in cancer treatments and severe diseases, but it was more of a novel idea during the war. Sealing wounds came onto the forefront during the war, causing quite an argument through the Confederate medical corps, but they would eventually prove that by hermetically sealing wounds the rate of infection went down significantly. Today we do this with things like sealed dressings, wound vacs, and more.

CW surgeon's kit

Example of a surgeon’s medical case

Prior to, and during the war, abdominal and chest surgery was considered certain death. To go into the chest cavity, the patient would surely hemorrhage or get an infection and die. Yet, the doctors would work on the chest superficially and take out broken pieces of ribs, or tie off surface vessels if the patient had been shot in the chest. They would cover the wound and wait and see if the lung would seal off itself and re-inflate, or if the patient would die. Abdominal surgery was viewed the same way. Most patients shot in the belly, or those who had doctors attempting to go into the belly, would die of peritonitis. Yet, all this would change with the nearly fatal wound of Joshua Laurence Chamberlain at the beginning of the Petersburg campaign. They could not let the hero of Little Round Top die, and so the first successful abdominal reconstructive surgery took place on American soil! (Those details are for another article). Now we take it for granted that surgeons can go and do surgery on whatever organ or body system is need. But that was not an option prior to these brave and innovative surgeons.

I could go on and on about the discoveries and innovations alone for well over an hour (I actually do when I’m lecturing!), but I will not bore you with them in this article. Suffice it to say that these old, barbaric “Sawbones” were hard-working men trying to keep as many men alive and together as they possibly could. Considering the carnage they were seeing, the lack of supplies, and the overwhelming number of wounded, not to mention the diseases and malnourishment which took out 2/3 of those who died, these men achieved more than one would imagine under other circumstances.


Photo credit: Kathryn Holland. Field Hospital, Hurricane Shoals 2017

When we portray these men, when we stage a field hospital and do surgery on our men, what do we do? We attempt to think of each of these details. We strive hard to make sure that each component from our assessment, to tools, to treatment methods are to the standard of what these men had and did. We choose our cases specifically out of the medical records or journals of the doctors and nurses who treated the wounded. So, if you ever come to one of our events and see my co-surgeon Joel and myself treating the wounded, know that we have done our research and you are getting a little taste of the horror and help that these brave men endured. We hope you will join us soon!

A Confederate Soldier’s Thoughts on World War I

Very interesting account of a soldier from the War Between the States and his views on the Great War in comparison to his war. Check it out!

Mississippians in the Confederate Army

Many of the Civil War soldiers who served from Mississippi lived well into the 20th century, and saw many technological advances: automobiles, telephones, airplanes and electric lights just to name a few. Those that survived into the second decade of the new century also saw the United States take part in “The War to End All Wars,” better known today as World War I.

In September 1917 a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram visited Camp Bowie, in

Tarrant County, Texas, shortly after the facility opened to train the 36th Infantry Division. Accompanying him was Fort Worth Judge Charles C. Cummings, who was a combat veteran of the 17th Mississippi Infantry. The reporter was eager to hear Cummings thoughts on the modern army, and he wrote the following article about his visit for the September 2, 1917, edition of the paper:

Bombs huried to earth from aircraft on European battlefields…

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The story of the CSS Neuse

By Matthew Young

In October 1862 Thomas Howard and Elijah Ellis began construction of a new ironclad
gunboat at Whitehall (present-day Seven Springs) North Carolina. This new vessel, to be named Neuse, for the river on which it was to be built was one of a class designed for used in North Carolina’s coastal waters. These ships were not intended to be ocean-going or to raise the blockade, rather they were intended to defend coastal towns and wrest control of the sounds from the Union navy. The Neuse was a smaller “ironclad” type of vessel, measuring only 158 ft. long, and drawing eight feet of water.

Work on her construction at Whitehall was delayed by damage suffered in a Union raid
in December of 1862, but some ten months after the work had begun, the hull of the vessel was completed.

Following completion of her hull, the Neuse was launched and floated to Kinston in
August 1863. Work to complete her was very slow, with only a handful of workers employed in Kinston where she was being outfitted. The men assigned to her were mainly employed setting up workshops and drilling iron plating for the new ship.

By early 1864 Confederate authorities in Richmond were anxious to see the ironclads
under construction in North Carolina hurried to completion. At the beginning of February, little of the ship’s armor was on, the engines were in place, but the boiler was not in (in fact the boiler had not even arrived in Kinston at that point). Until the boiler had been laid in, the main deck could not be completed, and obviously, until the deck was in place the guns could not be mounted. Responsibility for completing the ship fell to her first commander, Lieutenant William Sharp. Also instrumental in the effort to see the ship finished was Brigadier General Robert Hoke, whose brigade was stationed in the area for defense.

Lt. William Sharp

On February 1st and 2nd , 1864, Major General George Pickett attacked in the direction of New Bern, but the assault failed to penetrate the Union defenses. Pickett concluded that New Bern probably could not be recaptured without naval support. Major William J. Pfohl of the 6th North Carolina, stated as much in a letter he wrote on February 9,
If we had had the boat along with us before I have not doubt but that we would have

The failure of the attack emphasized the importance of completing the vessel as rapidly as possible. In the same letter Pfohl said that: “The work on the gunboat building at this place had been redoubled.”


Though he could not have known it, Pfohl’s brigade commander, Robert Hoke, wrote to
John Whitford, President of the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad on the same day to expedite work on the ship.

H. Justis goes to see you about having the boiler brought forward. All the iron here will
be prepared for the boat tomorrow & we are putting it on as fast as the holes are
drilled…The engines are in the boat and we are now awaiting the boiler which please
have brought forward at once. After it is gotten in the work will go on night and day.

Whitford also received a letter from Stephen Mallory, Confederate Secretary of the Navy seeking his assistance in getting the iron armor plating shipped.

Sir, the construction of the naval vessels in North Carolina and particularly on the Neuse and Roanoke Rivers has been greatly retarded by the difficulty of getting iron armor for them over the railroads…I take liberty therefore of requesting whatever assistance you may be able to afford in the transportation of iron from the rolling mill in Atlanta to Kinston and Halifax.

Anxiety over the tardiness of completing the ship was great enough in Richmond that
Mallory ordered Lt. Robert Minor from the navy’s ordnance bureau on February 10,
proceed without delay to Kinston, NC and endeavor by any means in your power to
hasten the completion of the gunboat now under construction at that point…You will
explain to the officer in charge of the vessel the views of the department and…impress
upon him the necessity of employing as many mechanics as can work on the vessel day
and night, and you are authorized to send agents elsewhere to collect them. You will
keep the department advised of your movements and report upon the condition of the
gunboats at Kinston and Halifax and the progress made toward fitting them for


The next day Minor related the details of his orders in a letter to his wife.
…The ground attack on New Bern having failed in its object is the basis of my orders I
believe- and hence the clues I have to the whole matter…” (Mallory told Minor) “You
can have carte blanche to employ as many men on her as you like, to send agents out to
collect mechanics, to hurry forward the iron plates, and to do just as you like, only push
her forward, and tho’ she is not under Lynch’s command I will place her independently
under your orders- For I want her completed as soon as possible.


Within a few days of receiving his orders Minor told his wife in a February 14, letter the
situation he found in Kinston:
My own darling, I have just arrived here…and though it is Sunday I have taken hold of
the work already, and hope before many days to be able to report very favorably on the
progress she has made, though the prospect is rather bleak, the steamer being hard
aground, and no prospect of having her afloat before the freshet comes down…

Compliant with his orders, Minor submitted a report to Secretary Mallory on February 16, that read in part:
As you are aware the steamer has two layers of iron on the forward end of her shield,
but none on either broadside, or on the after part. The carpenters are now bolting the
longitudinal pieces on the hull and if the iron could be delivered more rapidly or in small
quantities with more degree of regularity the work would progress in a much more
satisfactory manner. The boiler was today lowered into the vessel and when in place, the
main deck will be laid, in readiness for her armament of two 6.4” double-banded rifles.
The river I am told is unprecedentedly low for the season of the year, and the steamer is
now aground, with no prospect of being well afloat before a freshet…It is very apparent
that to be useful she must be equipped in time to take advantage of the first river rise, and in the event of there being none or even a slight one I have advised and since directed the construction of four camels to be used in or on the ship on her way down the river…I have advised and since directed the construction of a covered lighter of sufficient capacity to carry ten days coal and twenty days provisions for the steamer…If the material is delivered here as I hope it will be from the arrangements just completed to expedite it, I believe the steamer will be ready for service by the 18th of next month.”

Several changes occurred in mid-February. The number of men employed in completing
the ship increased from fifteen in mid-January, to over 230 in mid-March. 116 men from Hoke’s brigade were employed on February 26 to augment the labor force. A change of command occurred as well. Lieutenant Benjamin Loyall, a close friend of Minor, assumed command of the Neuse on February 17. His predecessor, Lt. Sharp was assigned to become the ordnance officer at the Charleston, South Carolina Naval Station. The period between mid-February and early March of 1864 was one of considerable activity in Kinston. On February 16, the boiler was lowered into place, and on March 7, the guns were put aboard. In the intervening three weeks the deck was completed and engineering work would have been going on to complete setting up the machinery. Amid such rapid work, Minor took time to write his wife.

If I was to tell you (he wrote) all I have done, how agents have been sent out, money
spent, and work pushed, as it should be when people are in a hurry, you would open your eyes wide with astonishment…

Any administrative abilities that Lt. Loyall may have had were certainly tested during
early 1864. He was responsible for completing the ship, which meant coordinating with the civilian workforce and their superintendents. He had a good working relationship with General Hoke whose brigade supplied much-needed manpower for the project (including men from the 21st Georgia Infantry Regiment). At the same time, Loyall had to organize a crew. The crew began joining the ship in January and continued up through early April. Many of these men were inexperienced, and the ship’s first payroll, covering the first half of 1864 reflects this, as it shows numerous promotions, demotions, and changes in duties among crew members.

Beginning in March 1864 letters written by Lt. Loyall and Master Richard Bacot, a South
Carolinian who joined the crew on March 1, 1864, tell the story very well. Pessimism dominates the early letters but by mid-April one can sense a growing eagerness to take the new ship into combat.

On March 9, 1864, Loyall wrote;
My dear Minor, your kind note with enclosures reached me yesterday. Tift has been
very energetic in the discharge of his duties, and I believe that all has been done with
dispatch for these days as far as he is concerned. The stop is at Wilmington, where there
are several car loads of iron awaiting transportation. We have been working slowly for
the past few days for want of iron, and I don’t know if it can be helped…The enemy have
been undisturbed in their work, and I fear, have done it well. Cuthbert was near as half-
mile to the enemy’s boats. About four miles above the town (New Bern) there are two
channels down the river- the “Neuse Channel” and the “Linkfield Channel.” In the
former they have sunk five vessels loaded with stone in line ahead, which prevents their
being washed out by the current. The other channel is very crooked and stumpy- here
they have sunk vessels loaded with stone across the channel, where it is very torturous.
Besides this they are at work with pile drivers. You know that freshets do not raise the
water below Swift Creek- this I am told by all who pretend to know anything of the river.
Altogether I am in pickle. Perhaps there may be a way to surmount these obstacles yet.
The Neuse floats not- the first course of iron is complete- the second is fairly begun- the
guns are in and mounted and I think will work well. But the ignorance and greenness of
my conscripts would make an old tar swear his head off. Now and then a stray shad
comes into our hands but black-hearted biscuit and fat bacon still form the basis of our
daily bounties. Dispeptic symptoms are beginning to appear.”

On March 19 th , 1864, Richard Bacot wrote;
Dear sis, I find it exceedingly dull here as the town is completely deserted by all its living inhabitants & I know now of those living in the country round about. We (the officers of the Neuse…) live in a small house on the street, which is the terminus of Col.
Washington’s Avenue, about a quarter mile from our future home the “Neus’ance.” I am
afraid that name will prove but too appropriate. Her “iron fixin’s” are not done, her
engines are not ready, her quarters and storerooms are not rear ready, & “last but not least” the river is falling about 12” a day we will have to trust Providence for another rise when the vessel is finished; finally to make matters worse we have a crew of long,
lank “Tar Heels” (N.C.’s from the piney woods). Our two guns are mounted and we drill
the crew every morning at 9:00 & every evening at 5:30 o’clock. We have one or two
good men for a “Neucleus” but I’m afraid the rest will never learn anything about a
gunboat. You ought to see them in the boats! It is too ridiculous. They are all legs & 
arms & while working the guns their legs get tangled in the tackles, they are always in the wrong place & in each other’s way. We are having “camels” built too, with which to lighten the vessel over the shoals etc. in the river. Also two large covered lighters for
carrying coal etc. I suppose we will be ready by the first of May, I hope so at least, for
the Yankees obstructed the river once & the freshet washed them away & of course if
they have time will do it in a more effectual manner…The vessel herself will be very
close and warm this summer, but we will be richly repaid for all inconveniences if we are permitted to succeed in capturing New Bern & Roanoke Island. Our paymaster has just arrived & will leave again tomorrow, he has no money & will not pay off. Wouldn’t spend it if he did (as there’s nothing to buy) so will wait.

Richard Bacot

Loyall wrote back on April 7;

“My dear Minor, There has been a flare up with the mechanics employed here & you may be able to throw some light on the disputed point…a few of them refused to work last night saying it was not fair play etc…I wish you would send a few of the things required by the gunner- especially the fuze wrenches…The Yankees have never stopped working on the obstructions. You have no idea of the delay in forwarding iron to this place. It may be unavoidable, but I don’t allow it. At one time twenty-one days passed without my receiving a piece. The fault was on the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. Every time I telegraph to Lynch he replies “Army monopolizing cars.” It is all exceedingly mystifying to me.”

Loyall wrote again on April 16;
Your statements about the wages of the mechanics has caused messrs. Fleming and
Howard to appeal to me to support them in their obligation to the men under their
charge…the energy of these men (the workers) has visibly slackened. Confound them
they should all be enrolled and made to work Gov’t. price with rations, or go in the army.
I think well of your improvement on Port Shutters, which I hope will be adopted, for a
more primitive contrivance than the present cannot be gotten up. I think a shutter can be made to close with more ease & more quickly than these. So far everything works well aboard the little Neuse. She will be the most crowed cramped affair you ever saw. There has been too much room taken up for coal, which will only bring her down in the water. The vessel will draw nearly 8 ft. of water when complete. Mark what I say- when a boat, built of green pine & covered with four inches of iron, get under the fire of heavy ordnance she will prove to be anything but bomb proof. The upper deck is 2 in. pine with light beams & is expected to hold a pilot house. I should not be surprised it said pilot house was knocked off. There is very little to hold it on. The movement going on in this dep’t. has nearly broken my up in work. My portion of the men transferred from the army was thirty. I got some very good men- only a few sailors, but soldiers inured to hard service…It has taken nine days to cut the iron for the pilot house for the ship. We have to cover the three after faces of the shield- very little iron on the flat of the decks. I can’t tell when she will be ready but she can be used in a week. You have no idea of the delay in getting articles to this place.”

In his April 16 letter Loyall stated, very accurately, that the ship could be used in a week.
On April 22, it would be called upon. Days earlier the Neuse’s sister ship the CSS Albemarle had been instrumental in the recapture of Plymouth by Gen. Hoke. Following his success at Plymouth, Hoke hoped to take New Bern using the Neuse, and accordingly the ship was ordered downriver on the 22nd to take part in the operation. Her armor was still not quite complete, the crew was still not well organized, and it is unknown whether she could have gotten over the Federal obstructions in the river above New Bern. Moreover, the river was falling rapidly. In an ideal situation, the attack would have been pushed back a few weeks to allow for better preparation of both ship and crew and, hopefully, for the river to rise. But, in times of war, such an ideal situation rarely presents itself. Hoke’s brigade did not have time to wait; they were already under orders to travel to Virginia to meet expected Union offensives. The attack had to be pressed. On April 28th, Bacot wrote his sister to explain what happened.

Dear Sis, I have bad news to tell you this time. Even worse than I anticipated when I
wrote last. The C.S. Neuse is nearly “high and dry” on a sandbar just below Kinston.
The river had fallen about six feet when we got our orders to go down, and there was
scarcely enough water for us to cross the obstruction (placed by the Confederates); we
nevertheless started down last Friday and had proceeded about half mile when we
grounded on a sand-bar. We tried to get her off but her great weight and the strength of
the current were too much for us, besides, the river is falling at the rate of ¾ in’s per
hour. The stern of the vessel is afloat, but the bow is four feet out of the water. We will
have to wait for a freshet again and that will probably take place in July or August. I
assure you our disappointment was great when we found we could not get off; the troops
were here ready to join us in the attack on New Bern and we were all expecting to take
the city and sink the gunboats and have a fine time afterwards; we were destined to be
disappointed however and I suppose as “everything happens for the best,” we ought to
grumble too much, but it does seem hard to be so sorely disappointed after expecting so


Apparently, the camels that had been ordered weren’t successful in getting the vessel
over the sandbar. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard telegraphed Gen. Braxton Bragg on 24 April
requesting that an engineer be sent from Richmond to “Contrive some plan to get the gunboat afloat. I fear she will be materially injured if not floated soon. The water has fallen seven feet in the last four days, and is still falling.” One novel means of refloating the ship was tried also a man named Blanton wrote on May 15, 1864.

He was ‘staying in Kinston a working on a Dam across the nuse river to pond the water
to moove a gunboat that has run aground and I suppose that it will take some month or
two to get it Done and Donte care how long it takes to get it Done for i ruther Bee work
then not and I get $2.50 a day and will work all the time at that until the work stops if I
could get to Do So.’”

Confederate authorities reluctantly resigned themselves to the fact that the Neuse was
hopelessly aground until the river rose. Consequently, the Albemarle was ordered to make the long trip to New Bern to replace her stranded sister. The intended replacement met determined resistance form seven Union gunboats upon entering Albemarle Sound, and was forced back to Plymouth. Without naval support this third and final Confederate attempt on New Bern failed as the earlier ones had.

Fortunately for the crew and officers of the Neuse and for Confederate Naval authorities
the worst fears about the ship’s fate would not be realized. The new ship was not destroyed by grounding as two other Confederate ironclads would be. The best efforts to refloat the ship failed, but nearly a month after grounding the long hoped for river rise occurred.

Dear Sis,” Bacot wrote “when I wrote to Pa, about a week ago, we were still “in status
quo” on the sand bank, but we are now afloat again and in our old “Cat Hole” again. The
day after I wrote Pa, the river rose and we got off, and just in time too as the water fell
that evening. The workmen are again on board making music with their sledgehammers driving bolts in the iron overhead. All the troops have left here for Virginia and the place
is exceedingly dull.

The Neuse was returned to her mooring at the “Cat Hole,” the site of the modern day
King Street Bridge. Workers returned to put some finishing touches to the vessel and the ship’s crew would settle into a dull routine that would last until near the end of the war.
Thereafter, even at the times the river was high, there was never an opportunity to attack New Bern. Near the end of August 1864 Commander Joseph Price replaced Lieutenant Loyall as commanding officer of the Neuse. It would be Price’s unfortunate duty to order the destruction of his own ship. On March 12, 1865, after an intense fight with Union cavalry at the Battle of Wyse’s Fork, Price ordered the Neuse to be scuttled to prevent the vessel from falling into enemy hands. Neuse Gunner Eugene Williams wrote of the incident,

For forty minutes prior to abandoning her, we shelled the enemy on the opposite side of
the river vigorously. That booming was her funeral knell.” The crew of the ship, some of whom had been on board for over a year, now had to destroy her. Williams continued, “An instant after and dense columns of smoke were rolling from the ports of the ‘Neuse’. How greedily the red flames of fire licked her noble sides! How splendidly was she devoured!


Salvage work would occur on her in late 1865, recovering the guns, engines, boilers,
armor plating, and anything else of value that could be sold. Her hull remained on the bottom of the river until the 1960’s when Neuse was raised and recovered. The State of North Carolina assumed control of her and her remains have since been moved to the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center in downtown Kinston, which opened officially on March 7, 2015.


Matthew Young is a historian, reenactor, and Director of the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center in Downtown Kinston, NC.

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If you are ever in Eastern NC, please be sure to visit the Interpretive Center located at 100 N. Queen Street, Kinston, NC 28501. Contact the center at (252) 522-2107 or Open Tuesday-Saturday 9am-5pm. Learn more at:



By Jake Smith

digitally restored original photo

The American War Between the States, commonly referred to as the Civil War, is well-known as the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history. This clash between North and South consumed the souls of over 700,000 soldiers and countless civilians. You have undoubtedly read accounts of the horrific combat and carnage perpetrated and endured by the brave men who fought on both sides, but what you probably haven’t heard much of is how these men lived their day to day lives throughout the war. Contrary to popular belief, a soldier’s life on campaign consisted mostly of activities other than fighting. Between long marches, dangerous picket duty, poor diet, camp diseases, exposure to the elements, and plain old homesickness, the boys in blue and gray faced much more adversity and hardship than we can even begin to understand.

Gettysburg reenactment

The old Napoleonic adage of “an army marches on its stomach” still rings true to this day. Today’s troops eat from pre-packaged and vacuum-sealed meals that they take in the field from which they can somewhat procure the nutrients and energy they need. This was not the case in the 1860’s. Canning was not yet in common practice and soldiers were supplied with enough rations to last for several days. To prevent food spoiling, rationed meat would be heavily preserved with salt, and armies would often be followed by long supply trains of wagons carrying food and supplies for the troops. The typical rations issued to a federal soldier consisted of mostly hardtack, coffee, and pork that was so heavily covered with salt that it had to first be scraped and boiled before it was even remotely palatable. Other supplementary items included sugar, salt, rice, vinegar, and sometimes fruit or vegetables that they would forage to break up the monotony of their diet. The Confederates were much less well-fed than their northern counterparts. There is no typical Confederate diet per-se as they ate what they could get, but most Southern soldiers’ diets consisted in large parts of cornmeal and bacon, rarely a vegetable, as well as tobacco and peanuts, as these items were plentiful in the Southern states.

112e20e35a07e6c3ca280bcd7dfee66b--camp-meals-civil-war-photosBecause of these differences in supplies, there are many documented cases of Confederate and Union soldiers trading southern tobacco for U.S. Army issued coffee. Soldiers on both sides often cooked their meals in small frying pans or improvised skillets made from damaged or surplus canteens. Troops would usually form into small groups of around five to seven men called “messes”. These messes of men were usually comprised of close friends who cooked and ate together, and sometimes combined their rations into larger pots to make meals such as stews. These larger pieces of cookware were somewhat cumbersome and were often left behind in the wake of a rapid advance or retreat. In many such occurrences, after a routed Union army had abandoned their camps, the famished Confederates would often give pause to eat their enemy’s meals and acquire whatever food and supplies they could.


This poor diet was a major contributor to diseases contracted by troops on both sides. Over the course of the war, disease would take the lives of over 388,500 fighting men, or approximately 55.5% of the estimated 700,000 deaths. This deadly scourge did not discriminate between Federal or Confederate, nor veteran from recruit. It was impartial in its selection and affected both armies immensely. Dysentery was perhaps the most common of these plagues and was brought about by contaminated drinking water and the overall filth in the camps. In comparison to modern medical knowledge, the people of the time had a significant lack of understanding of pathogens and the transmission thereof. Therefore, latrines would be placed near streams, contaminating the water and poisoning those who drank of it. Some men with severe diarrhea from dysentery or typhoid would not be able to reach the latrines in time and would inadvertently turn the camps into an absolute cesspool of germs and bacteria. It was in this putrid combination of mud and excrement from men and animals alike that the soldiers slept, cooked, and drilled every day for long periods of time.


The conditions of hospitals were not much better. The concepts of blood types and cross contamination had not yet been discovered, and the horrendous health of patients was a true testament to this lack of knowledge. Doctors would probe wounds with bloody fingers and use the same instruments on numerous men without washing them. This led to intense fevers suffered by the patients in the hospitals as well as a high death toll for amputees. Other common ailments of the time include, but are not limited to, malaria, tuberculosis, measles, and pneumonia, to which General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson notably succumbed after his mortal wounding at the battle of Chancellorsville. Once we look at the appalling conditions in which these men lived, we can begin to understand the reason that the death toll from sickness is so high, and why this supposedly glorious war wasn’t so glorious as it was cruel and horrific for the men who endured it.


In the modern military, there is a saying “Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain.” There is another, seemingly contradictory to the first, “Pack light, freeze at night.” These statements are both equally true. For the soldiers of the time, as well as for our modern soldiers and marines, a balance has to be struck between these two realities. When you live entirely out of the pack on your back, you have to sometimes make hard decisions on which items you bring for comfort and convenience in camp, and how much weight you want to carry, bringing you inherent bodily discomfort. This was especially true during the 1860’s when men would be in the field for years on end. From burning heat and stifling humidity, to freezing rain and snow, the elements played a large role in the misery of the men who endured them. To quote one soldier from the film Gods and Generals during a scene when two men are camping under a starry sky in the summer of 1861, “That’s fine for now. You’ll be humming a different tune when it’s raining, you’re all covered in frost, or you need me to dig you out of a snow drift.”

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In addition to mostly adverse climate conditions, soldiers had their daily responsibilities such as picket duty, fatigue duty digging trenches or latrines, as well as daily drill and often long marches. The men would be drilled in their units, often in excess of twelve hours daily. This included marching and maneuvering drills as well as weapons drills. All of these were essential to combat and crucial to the survival of the soldier. One famous example of the long and arduous forced marches carried out by the troops is of General Jackson’s very own Stonewall Brigade. Often referred to as “Jackson’s Foot Cavalry,” these men would often march in excess of 26 miles per day, and earned their nickname for their ability to move faster than all other infantry units. More often than not, the Stonewall Brigade would wake up before sunrise, march over 20 miles and go straight into battle without stopping for a meal until their night-time positions. This mobility was pivotal to many of Jackson’s victories in the Valley Campaign of 1862, but did not come without a cost. Due to moving at such brutal speed, many footsore men, either injured or just plain dead-tired, fell out of the ranks as stragglers. Because of this, Jackson went into combat many times without his full troop strength as well as having his regiments all beyond the point of exhaustion.


Photo Credit: Ramon Salas

Fast forward to modern-day times. I have been reenacting for a few years now, and have recently been getting into the campaigner aspect of the hobby. For those who are unaware, there are two main types of civil war reenacting. These are mainstream and campaigner, also known as progressive. On the campaigner side of reenacting, you are often issued rations, stand picket or fatigue duties, go on marches, and sleep on the ground. The only things you have are what you carry on your back, and overall it is a more immersive experience. Although I understand it is not for everyone, one of the main reasons I have been recently re-enacting in more of a campaigner style is so that I can more accurately experience what the soldiers went through. Although I don’t wish to contract diseases or be away from home for years on end, I am able to march the distances they marched, go hungry and sleep deprived, stay out in the cold or the rain, and sleep on the uncomfortable ground. Even if only for one weekend, I am able to understand a fraction of what these men endured on behalf of their nation and each other. When you briefly learn about the war in school, it is two dimensional: just names and years on a page. But when you reenact, the people and places jump out of the book and become real. Once you read the actual letters and correspondence of the men who were there, and you understand their thoughts and relationships, you realize that these were real people just like you and me. They loved, feared, had a sense of humor, and everything else that makes someone human. When you realize this, suddenly they’re not so far away in the past. When you put on the wool and literally walk a mile in their shoes, you can begin to understand their lives and the sacrifices that they made. It truly gives you an understanding of the era and the ability to look at it in the same way that you look at our own day and time: as a participant.



Exciting News

I have the blessing of being part of a community of historians with many different focuses around the War Between the States. It is amazing to learn from one another, and learn more and more of the true history behind the war.

So, I have the honor of announcing that several of these historians have graciously agreed to share their knowledge with us in their area of expertise! Keep an eye out for some guest articles in future months!