First Virginia Cavalry

Personal Items

The 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 1862.

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.

 Mess Gear

The 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 covered boiler.)

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.


You'll need 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 purpose.



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

 Spectacles ( 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.

The most 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.

The typical 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 as well.

Sliding 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 War.

Avoid the 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.

One very 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 war.  

Keeping 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 watch.

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 generally visible.

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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