Confederate-style Camping

Confederate-style Camping

September 1st, 2013 by Andy Johns in Getout Camping

Ok, so going out to Savage Gulf with your buddies or taking your family to Chilhowee is nothing like a group of 70,000 men crisscrossing Virginia and Tennessee trying to shoot at another group of 70,000 men.

But the gear used by Civil War soldiers 150 years ago and the type of equipment recreational campers take out to the woods every weekend isn't all that different. "It was guys on a camping trip, except it's a very serious camping trip with lots of guns," says Louis Varnell, a Chickamauga reenactor and owner of the History Company and the Southeast Veterans Museum.

Like modern backpackers, Union and Confederate soldiers needed gear that was built to last and was light enough to carry for long distances. After taking a look at the gear, it's not likely that anyone will be trading their Patagonia for anything standard-issue Confederate.

Tent: When Civil War soldiers had shelter, it was a heavy canvas pup tent. Men were usually only issued half of a tent and they had to find a camping partner to build the full structure-if they wanted one at all. "Most of the time, when the army was on the move, the men slept under the stars," says Ken Padgett, of Resaca, Ga., who is the commander of the Georgia Reenactors Association. Winner: Modern Tents. Lighter, more options and you don't have to share.

Cooking gear: Some soldiers carried iron skillets but most improvised with flattened tin canteen halves and bailing wire for pans. Some carried only two tin cups: one for drinking and one for eating. Winner: The two-cup system is admirable, but modern gear wins with one word: Jetboil.

Food: After a day of trying to shoot each other, soldiers could at least look forward to a dinner of beans, salt pork and moldy hard crackers called hard tack. "If you could get a biscuit on the run, you were lucky," Padgett says. Winner: Modern camping food. Bags of trail mix might have changed the war completely.

Sleeping bag: Rebels and Yankees relied on rubberized bottom blankets and wool top sheets. "There weren't any synthetic fabrics back then," Varnell says. "You had wool and you had cotton." The armies issued wool blankets because they were more durable than cotton and provided better insulation when wet. Winner: Modern sleeping bags. Let's take the snug down mummy bag, please.

Camp life: Somehow, the troops found room to bring banjos and fiddles with them. "Civil War soldiers sang a lot," Varnell says. "If a guy could play an instrument he would play it around the campfire and the other guys would sing." There are even accounts of Confederate and Union troops singing back and forth for the other to hear across battle lines. Winner: Civil War camp life. Sure disease ran rampant, but it's tough to beat a bearded band of musical merry men. Think ZZ Top meets Mumford and Sons.