Soldier's Personal Kit
The Civil War soldier -
and particularly, the infantry - tended to travel
light. Tales of federally-issued rucksacks lining
the sides of the roads after a few miles of marching on
foot in a wool uniform in the scorching heat of a Virginia
summer are well documented. The typical foot soldier
carried no more than a blanket and a haversack with a few
personal items, and the mounted cavalryman didn't carry a
whole lot more.
Putting together a
"personal kit" is an almost a non-ending process
for many reenactors, for lots of original stuff is still
floating around flea markets and on Ebay, and excellent
reproductions of some of the more popular personal items
are widely available as well.
At minimum, you'll
probably want a mess kit consisting of a tin plate, tin
cup, and some eating utensils... and of course, a
haversack to tote it all in. Those of you who wear
glasses will need proper period eyewear, and if you want
to keep track of the time, you'll need a pocket watch and
maybe a chain to keep it from going astray. You may
want to spruce up your authenticity with such items as a
pig-bristle toothbrush or wooden comb, or straight
razor. Throw in a small bible, a daguerreotype of
your sweetheart back home, some writing paper, pencil, and
perhaps a personal pocket or side knife, and you'll be
pretty close to equipped as a soldier might have been in
This page will discuss
various personal items - what to look for, and what to
avoid. This is by no means a "must have"
list. Your choice of personal gear is strictly your
own, and you can eat with your fingers off of a wooden
plank if you so desire. Just don't go sticking your
hands into my cook pot....
This one was documented to
an Alabama soldier. The button is tin-backed with a
lead front. Tin, bone, or even wooden buttons will
work just as well.
There are so many
different sizes and types of haversacks documented in the
Civil War, covering even a small portion of them would be
untenable. Suffice it to say, the haversack, in one
form or another, has been the soldier's companion for
centuries. Stonewall Jackson had his own personal
haversack, and you will likely want one as well.
They can be small and
compact, or "large enough for 3 days rations"
and everywhere in between. They can be made out of
plain cotton, or pillow ticking, or carpet, or oil cloth,
or even leather. Basically, it's a big bag with a
shoulder strap and a cover flap. A simple sewing
project or available from any sutler.
Basic Tin Cup
After your canteen, the
tinware item you'll be using the most is probably going to
be your cup. The most authentic is always going to
be tin, but stainless steel is also popular and lasts much
longer. Cups come in all sizes and shapes, including
the popular "mucket" (which isn't actually a
mucket - which was larger - but is actually a small
Please note that all
tinware burns your lips quite nicely when filled with
fresh boiling hot coffee. Some folks prefer a
period-correct ceramic mug for just that reason.
something to hold your salt pork and corn pone while you
eat - typically a tin (or stainless) plate but half of a
canteen was also a popular substitute for a dinner plate.
So many of
these canteen halves have been dug from Confederate camp
sites, they are now being reproduced for just that
Well-made period correct
reproduction utensils are widely available, as are
originals on places like Ebay.
It appears that a
"private purchase" combination knife, fork, and
spoon was also quite popular, judging by the number that
have been found at camp sites. These are available
as reproductions at moderate cost, as well. The
contraption separated into two halves, one being the knife
and the other being the fork and spoon
( Eyeglasses )
Probably nothing can
spoil your carefully crafted Civil War impression more
than a pair of modern eyeglasses. Unless you wear
contacts, one of the first personal items you are going to
need is a proper pair of spectacles. If you need
glasses for distance viewing, then you're going to have to
go the more expensive route of having prescription lenses
put into period-correct frames. But if all you need
are reading glasses, then you're really in luck....
because lots of period-correct reading glasses are still
available from many sources, including Ebay.
popular style spectacle in use during the Civil War Era
had oval lenses and straight temples. These frames
were machine made and sold in general stores and by
traveling salesmen. Most cost $2.75 each but, some cheaper
versions were on the market. The wealthy bought gold and
silver frames from jewelry dealers. A few heavily engraved
solid gold examples show up from time to time. Eyeglasses
made from 1833 through the 1850's were also used during
the Civil War. Such frames usually have square or octagon
lenses and are made from brass, roman steel, and silver
instead of the hard steel commonly used in the 1860's.
case of the period was made out of pressed paper and many
have survived relatively intact. Careful shopping
can yield you a suitable set of spectacles and proper case
temple spectacles were usually made from 1820 to 1850 and
again after 1870. The later examples are usually finer
made of coin silver or gold. Turn-pin temple
spectacles were made during the entire 19th Century. Those
made prior to 1860 could have been used during the Civil
above styles, such as 18th century heavy double-folding
and the later "riding temple" (hooks around the
ear) styles still used today. Riding temples did not
appear until improvements in steel technology made thin
spring-steel temples practical. Colored lenses were
primarily worn for medical reasons, and
"sunglasses" as such did not appear until later
in the 19th century.
interesting set of period correct colored lens glasses you
will occasionally find listed as "sharpshooter
glasses" or "rifleman's glasses".
These were generally amber colored, and had frosted lenses
with a small clear circle in the center. Presumably,
they helped increase contrast and improved the rifleman's
concentration by blurring out everything except the target
area. They weren't likely used in general combat,
but may have been used by sharpshooters during the
up with the Times....
One sure way to destroy
your image is to pull back your sleeve and stare at your
Timex when someone asks you what time it is. The
common timepiece during the Civil War was the pocket
The nice 1865 Waltham
shown at the right was wound with a key which typically
was carried on the watch chain. You can spend $800
or more on an authentic period correct timepiece, or you
can drop twenty bucks (sometimes less) on your local
sutler and get an electronic equivalent that actually is
far more accurate and looks almost the same as an original
from the outside. Remember, the watch is hidden in
your vest pocket most of the time, and only the chain is
You're actually better
off to search for a reasonably authentic chain. Try
finding a long-link, T-bar type chain similar to the one
at the right and you'll be pretty close to period correct.
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