The Shell Game
Picture someone firing a cannon. What do you picture coming out of the barrel? Probably a round ball, which would make sense because that is often how it’s portrayed. During the Civil War, the art of artillery, and of designing munitions entered a new age. The picture above is a collection of many of the different types of projectiles that were used during the war.
You had the solid round shot, which is what you were picturing. It was effective in knocking things down and were often heated in ovens until red-hot so that when the hit something, like a house, ship or fortification, it could set it on fire.
There was “canister” which turned your canon into a giant shotgun peppering the enemy with small round projectiles.
You had timed fuses for shells that could cause them to either burst in the air and rain shrapnel down on the enemy, or they could be set to detonate some time after hitting the ground effectively acting a type of land mine.
Then came the rifled projectiles (the ones that look like giant bullets). They could travel further and could be outfitted with fuses or set to explode on contact.
Every situation had a special shell that could be used. If you would like more information on each individual type of ammunition produced I would recommend this website, Civil War Artillery Projectiles. They break down the many different types well.
So the next time someone asks what a cannon fires, ask for more detail because there are many, many different options…
The Polls are Closed
The American Republic has always been a tenuous thing. In the Fall of 1864 is was undergoing one of its most dire tests as the Civil War raged on. The war had been going on for over three years and the outcome was far from decided.
President Lincoln had led the United States through the early defeats at the hands of the Confederacy and was only now begging to see the end of the conflict in sight. There was one more obstacle ahead of him that even he was not sure what the outcome would be. 1864 brought the next presidential election. An election that was going to happen in spite of the war.
Opposing President Lincoln would be General George B. McClellan, a man who Lincoln had put in charge of the army twice. McClellan ran as a Democrat on the platform that they would negotiate a peace and end the war. It was felt that the support he had with the army would give him enough votes to defeat Lincoln and end the war.
Besides the fact that the election was being held during wartime, this election would be the first time that soldiers in the field would be able to vote. The poll book in the picture is the method that this was carried out. Even in the throes of a civil war, the people would be heard from.
Against expectations, almost 70% of the army voted for Lincoln and in effect a continuation of the war. Lincoln won the election handily by over 400,000 popular votes, winning all but three states that participated.
Without that victory, the outcome of the war may have been completely different, and with it the fate of our country.
For more details on the 1864 election visit this site US History.Org
On the eve of the Civil War, the South found themselves in a curious predicament. The North was highly industrialized. They could produce arms, ammunition, and finished goods in a capacity that the South could not hope to match. Headed into the war they needed to either seriously ramp up the industrial base, or depend on the European powers to provide the goods and war material they needed.
At the peak of the war, the North had over 100,000 factories with over 1 million factory workers churning out products. The South managed to work up to approx 20,000 factories with just over 100,000 working in them.
To make up for the gap the Confederacy returned back to the roots of home-based manufacturing. The scene above is a depiction of a Southern woman at a work table in her home assembling cartridges. Doing such work, as well as making blankets, cooking for the troops, sewing for the troops and even watching over the family farms were their primary role during the war.
Interestingly enough, such home-based manufacturing was one of the primary roles of the women on the home front during the American Revolution. While then men went out to fight, the women provided them the means to carry one.
It was not enough. As the war progressed the power of the Northern industry was brought to bear. The South simply could not keep up. Many of the men of the Confederate army would have gladly continued fighting. They were simply running out of the means to do so.
A Well Dressed Johnny Reb (Confederate Infantry)
The photo above is a representation of what a regular Confederate Infantry Soldier would have looked like. Notice the nice clean uniform. The musket, canteen, nice hat, bayonet hanging from his belt. There is even a backpack to hold rations and personal belongings. Wow. Looking at this you would think that this fellow was part of a well supplied and outfitted army.
Of course everyone started off with a nice clean uniform. There were a number of regulations that attempted to standardize the type of shirt and pants, the color of the fabric and the hat that should be worn. Unfortunately the South had a difficult time with the mass fabrication of uniforms. There ended up being a lot of variety.
Once the Southern industrial base caught up to war effort the uniforms became more standardized and better supplied. Being able to access cloth imported from Britain also helped. Some of the CSA units at the end of the war were better uniformed than at the start.
The hat worn here is not the regulation Kepi, but a wide brimmed usually wool hat that provided much more protection from the weather. These hats were popular among the enlisted and officers and were almost always of civilian origin.
The grey color of the uniforms was chosen for a number of reasons. First, many of the state militias uniforms were of that color. Or at least a shade or two off. Secondly, is was a cheap color to dye the cloth. Third, even though not actually intentional, the grey provided a basic level of camouflage against the tree lines.
Uniforms that came out of the the Richmond facilities maintained their color. The grey uniforms that were made in the Western and Deep South facilities often faded to a brown or tan color. Sometimes homespun fabric was used that was a similar color. This “butternut” color became almost as iconic as the grey you see above.
The Weight of the World
A soldier during the Civil War. heck all wars, have to carry their entire world on them. Everything the need to live and fight needs to be within reach. Sure when times were good units would have supply wagons to take some of the burden, but when speed of march is an issue it would not be unusually for the men be a day or two ahead of the wagons. This diagram breaks down how much each piece of a soldiers kit weighed. A little hard to read, so I will break it down here.
Knapsack that contained a wool blanket, gum blanket, shelter half and personal items 16 lbs
Canteen with one quart of water 3 lbs
Haversack with 3 days marching rations 7 lbs
Cap pouch, Waist belt, Bayonet and Scabbard 3 lbs
Shoes and Clothes 5 lbs
Cartridge box and 40 rounds of ammunition 5 lbs
Extra Ammunition (In pockets) 2 lbs
Rifle-Musket 9 lbs
In total about 50 lbs of kit. A normal march would be between 6 and 8 miles a day (sometimes up to 20 or more). In the warm weather of campaign season wearing a wool uniform that does not make for a comfortable day. One thing that the Union troops found out early in the war was that all that equipment tended to make running away much more difficult, so they would ditch anything they could. A long trail of debris would mark the path of a retreating unit. Of course to the pursuing Confederate forces this was a windfall as they could pick up the leftovers and do pretty well.
A Post About A Post
When people start shooting at you it is generally a good idea to find some sort of cover. Tree, fence, big hole in the ground, whatever works. Early in the Civil War the armies matched up in the Old World Style, line up shoulder to shoulder, get as close as you can and shoot in the general direction of the enemy.
Today we look at the paintings and read the descriptions of such battles and wonder what the heck they were thinking doing that. It is however the only way it would work. See guns at the time, for most of the “black powder” era, were incredibly in accurate. Mainly because they were smooth bore. Basically every time you fired it there was no way to tell where the shot would go. So your only hope of hitting anything was to have a lot of people shooting at it.
As the accuracy progressed and the armies started seeing more rifles (grooved barrels) the idea of standing in lines, getting close and shooting started to be a losing proposition for all sides. As such more fighting started being done from cover, this would eventually evolve into the precursor of trench warfare that made WWI such a joy.
The pic above is a fence post that has become a bullet catcher. In battles all over the country trees and fences absorbed more lead than a five-year old eating paint chips. Think for a second what it would have been like to be on the other side of the fence. Hearing it whittled down more and more with each shot. I count seven bullets, how many do you see?
Surgeon of the Civil War
The topic of Civil War medicine is one that there have been many, many books and museums dedicated to. This is just a brief look into the kit of a typical surgeon of the time.
The first thing you notice above and a preponderance of saws alongside the knives. While a grisly thing, such tools became a necessity . Without a doubt the number one most practiced procedure during the war was amputation. The Minie ball that was in use by both sides during the war was slow-moving and soft lead. When it impacted with the body it caused terrible wounds. If it connected with a bone it would often shatter it spread a grisly form of shrapnel inside the body.
During the fighting arms and legs took the majority of the hits. Most of the time due to the limited knowledge of the day amputation was the only way to save the soldier’s life. While a good surgeon could perform an amputation in ten minutes, bad ones would take much longer.
More Tools of the Surgeon
Among the knives and saws there are a number of probes and forceps. The surgeon used these to pull bullets out of the bodies when time permitted. In the back of the kit you will see a bottle of chloroform, the closest thing to a general anesthetic at the time.
Now that we have taken a look at the tools, in another post we will look at what it took to become an army surgeon. That will be almost more shocking than looking in your doctors kit and finding a half-dozen different saws…
In April 1865 the Civil War ended and the time had come to try to rebuild the nation. For the victors in the North the times ahead would be difficult. In the South the struggles were to continue for many years. Reconstruction in many ways prolonged the conflict into the 1870’s. The story Reconstruction is long and difficult. Winners sought to punish and losers sought to protect some semblance of the life they had before. None can argue that what happened during that time would have been very different if President Lincoln had lived to see it through.
President Lincoln, in December 1863 set out the terms by which he expected the post war period to be. In his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction he laid out the future as he saw it, so sure was he at this pint of a victory, he began to plan the peace. Pictured above is a loyalty oath that each former Confederate soldier had to sign. They then had to to carry with them as proof that they were done fighting. See, under Lincolns plan, the men who fought were pardoned of treason and could be considered citizens again. To Lincoln the only way forward would be forgiveness.
Below is the text of the Loyalty Oath from his original proclamation:
“I, , do solemnly swear, in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Union of the States thereunder; and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all acts of congress passed during the existing rebellion with reference to slaves, so long and so far as not repealed, modified, or held void by congress, or by decision of the supreme court; and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all proclamations of the President made during the existing rebellion having reference to slaves, so long and so far as not modified or declared void by decision of the supreme court. So help me God.”
The Last Wagon
That wagon you see in the picture is special and the last of its kind. If the picture was a little better and a different angle you would see names carved into it. Names of cities and battlefields. Many names that even to this day when people see they will recognize and either smile or grimace. Actually seeing this wagon during the war meant different things to whoever viewed it. For the Union soldier it carried supplies or wounded and represented forward movement and that the war was one step closer to being over. For someone in the Confederacy, seeing that wagon meant one thing. That devil Sherman and his minions had arrived.
Yes, this wagon is the last of those that General Sherman used during his infamous March to the Sea.
After his successful campaign to capture Atlanta from May to September 1864, Sherman started planning his next move. He would send his army from Atlanta to Savannah carving a path of destruction and devastation along the way. The army would leave its supply base and live off the land, in effect it would be on its own behind enemy lines and taking what it needed to survive.
The idea would be to either capture or destroy any and all war materials along the way and to, honestly, terrorizes the civilians and undermine their will to fight. Was it harsh? Yes. Was it immoral and improper? Depends on what side you were on.
What no one can argue is that the march was one of the most famous military campaigns ever. And that wagon in the picture, it was there. Oh the stories I am sure it could tell…
During the Civil War, shelter was one of the main concerns for the troops. Rain, cold, heat, any of the elements were just as deadly to the army as the guns of the enemy. The most basic level of shelter for the soldiers was the cotton tent.
For ease of transport the standard issue tent came in two halves with poles so that each man would be responsible for his half of the tent. Designed to be connected at the top, either through grommets or snaps, they would come with other options such as A-frames and front and back pieces.
The half tent in the picture belonged to a union soldier who took the time to inscribe his half of the tent with the battles and campaigns that he had participated in. He saw a lot of action and took part in most of the major engagements of the Atlanta campaign and looks to have actually been used during Sherman’s March to the Sea.