First Virginia Cavalry

Camp Life

While most folks think of Civil War reenactments in terms of cannons roaring and troops running around the battlefield, in fact most battles last only for about an hour.  The rest of the time, we are enjoying life in our camp, visiting neighboring camps, or paying a visit to a sutler's tent.  Thus, camp life occupies about 95% of our time. 

 Unless one is "hard core", and prefers to sleep out under the stars, "campaign style" on a bed of straw or just on the ground, the rest of us prefer to be tucked into our 19th Century canvas reproduction tents of various types.

Reenactor tentage generally comes in 3 varieties (although there were other styles, such as the tall, teepee-like Sibley tent).  In the photo above, the center, open-front tent is the cheapest and simplest, commonly known as a dog-tent.  It actually is in 2 halves - buttoned together at the top.  Usually one soldier carried a half, and shared the tent with another.  If you look closely, you'll see the front pole of the dog tent is actually a rifle-musket, stuck into the ground with it's bayonet attached, and the ridge pole sitting on the back of the lock.  Hard-core, indeed.  Dog tents are cramped sleeping, and offer little in rain protection, but they're certainly the lightest and most economical.

The ones surrounding it are called A-frames.  These are considerably taller (6-1/2 - 7 ft.) and hold two quite comfortably - even with cots, which are highly prized by the older folks.  They have a closed back and a closable front, and will actually keep you quite dry in a passing shower.  They'll hold all of your gear, as well.  This is the most common.

In the distance, you can see a wall-tent - unfortunately usually restricted to higher-ranking officers.  Even junior officers must be content with an A-frame at most events.

Let's pause for an authenticity note:  The regular soldier "on campaign" and ready to fight at the drop of a hat didn't normally carry a tent of any kind.  His whole kit usually consisted of his rifle-musket, ammunition, blanket, canteen, and a small haversack which slung over his shoulder and held his worldly possessions and a few rations.  Whether marching or fighting, he didn't generally leave anything behind.. because his unit might never return to the same spot again.  Plus, the hot Virginia summer sun made trucking a lot of weight something no one wanted to do.  Neither did mounted cavalry, for even though a horse could carry more, the mounted trooper on extended scouting duty was much more likely to borrow his mount's blanket at night.  "Boots and Saddles" meant just that - pull on your boots and saddle your horse, and you're off.  No time to collect a lot of extra gear when those boys in Blue are bearing down on you.

Except for scouting and a few skirmishes, both sides retired to Winter Camp when cold weather set in, as armies of the 1860's were not equipped for winter survival in the open.  That's when the tents, often with short knee-walls and insulation around the edges came out for the duration - including a lot of temporary wood structures constructed from local materials and even more than a few small houses... not fancy, but quite warm and cozy.  Men were often joined by their families, particularly if the Yanks had recently burned the family farm.

Thus, our reenactment camps are a mélange of sorts.  Yes, we fight each day, but retire to a "summer encampment" with many of the amenities of a winter camp... tables, chairs, cots, musical instruments, plenty of cookware, and such.  It's a decent, and dare we say, more comfortable compromise.  There are hard-core campaigners who disagree, of course, and lay their blankets out in a multi-pointed star, heads toward the fire pit, ready to move at a minutes' notice.  But our 1st Virginia Cavalry group generally treasures our pleasantries.    

Not far from the military camps, you'll usually find a Living History section.  Members of this branch of the hobby are interpreters of various Civil War characters and activities.  Reenactors stroll the street in their leisure time, perhaps visiting with famous generals or viewing interesting exhibits which might include a blacksmith, undertaker, medical tent, photographer, leather craftsman, or carpenter.

While we southern folks might like to take a pot shot at old Abe, left, his bodyguard with the double barreled shotgun makes discretion the better part of valor.

Many reenactors also serve as Living History interpreters back home, giving talks to schools and organizations which are well received by the public.

The possibilities are endless.

Meanwhile, back in camp, there's always plenty of things to keep us busy.

Cleaning weapons after the battle, reloading pistols, making cartridges, and of course, discussing our weapons and other gear with the visiting public keep us well-occupied.

One didn't just walk over to the kitchen faucet in a camp during the civil war.  There was always wood to haul and chop, water to fetch, and horses to feed.

This young lady is the beneficiary of some strong young lad who hauled a full barrel of fresh spring water across the field.

Every company has a fire pit, carefully made by digging sod pieces out and laying them upside-down beside the pit.  When we leave, we return the sod, none the less the wear, to whence it came, and a couple of weeks later, you'll never know we were there.

We cook using typical 19th century pots and pans, and eat out of tin plates while sipping our lemonade out of period correct tin or ceramic cups.

No one ever goes hungry!

Sometimes the Ladies like to put on their better dresses and stroll the camp, as visiting ladies from nearby towns might have done.

You may learn a lot more about different ladies' wear by visiting our Civilians section of this site.

Although a contemporary hot air balloon is not period correct, we are sometimes treated to a spectacular view at the end of a perfect day.

Hydrogen-filled balloons were utilized during the Civil War for observation, generating the first recorded anti-aircraft fire, as well, when ground infantry would open up at them if they thought they might be in range.

If a fiddle, guitar, mandolin, or banjo happens to come out of a tent, the camp is quickly on the spot, for live acoustic music was all we had back in the 1860's, and everyone loves music in the evenings.
Dancing breaks out quickly thereafter, as no Cavalryman is ever too tired after a hard day of fighting to cut a jig with a pretty young lady.

Sometimes, just before taps, the Artillery will treat us to a little night firing of their pieces.

Note the flame shooting directly upward from the touchhole, reason enough to stand well away from the gun!

There's never a dull minute in Camp!

Introduction History of the 1st
Virginia Cavalry
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