By Dwayne Seale
Many reenactors portraying the confederate soldier equip themselves for campaign based on the description from Carlton McCarthy's book, Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life in the Army of Northern Virginia 1861-1865. In his oft quoted book , McCarthy said: "Reduced to a minimum, the private soldier consisted of one man, one hat, one jacket, one shirt, one pair of pants, one pair of drawers, one pair of shoes, and one pair of socks. His baggage was one blanket, one rubber blanket, and one haversack." In the reenactor world, this "baggage" became the ubiquitous blanket roll used by a majority of the Rebs and many of the Yanks with a western theater impression. The question I would like to pose is this: " Is the lack of knapsacks among reenactors the perpetuation of a myth?"
If you use McCarthy's rememberances as a basis for your impression, you need to be aware of one important fact - Mr. McCarthy was an artilleryman. It could be that he used his own experience within an Army of Northern Virginia artillery unit to develop that description. It may be that neither he nor or his comrades had a need for knapsacks as the wagons and horses in the artillery provided all of the conveyance required to move their possessions. In fact, McCarthy makes reference to an incident on page 164 of his book that reads: " He was originally an infantryman, recently transferred to artillery, and therefore wore a small knapsack, as infantrymen did". The infantryman in the Army of Tennessee (AoT) would fall in the same category. On occasion he and or his possessions might be moved by train or wagon but most of the time he would carry all of his issued equipment, rations, extra clothing, and personal effects. In contrast to Carlton McCarthy's recollections, let's look at some AoT accounts.
Sam R. Watkins, Private C.S.A., and member of the First Tennessee Regiment, Army of Tennessee, makes numerous references to the knapsack in his book, "CO. AYTCH" A Side Show of the Big Show. References appear on pages 97, 104, 116, and 208 to the use of knapsacks by Pvt. Watkins and his comrades from enlistment through surrender of the unit in North Carolina in 1865.
In the They Bore Every Burden, History of the 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment, Sergeant Ambrose Doss, wrote in a January 18 1863 letter to his wife: "...Sarah i was from the time that we left camps we was some 20 days tell we got back to whear i cold (could) get my knapsack...".
Private Abram M. Glazener, Co I, 18th Alabama Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Clayton's Brigade, Stewart's Division, Army of Tennessee, wrote on 7 July 1863: " I thought the enemy might get me (but) I would do all I could to make my escape. I left my knapsack for to be carried up on the cars. I have just got it today, I have lost onething (nothing or everything) but my blanket one pair of socks". Pvt. Glazener was 38 years old when he enlisted on 10 February 1863 and was killed at Chickamauga on 19 September 1863. His letters are available on the internet at http://www.mindspring.com/~spbarber429/glazener.htm.
Inspection reports from the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion indicate that in September 1864, the 5th Kentucky Infantry of the "Orphan" Brigade was short only 5 knapsacks for the entire regiment. This was after hard marching and fighting during the Atlanta campaign.
In addition to the above references, Mr. Jim Ogden, Historian for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, recommends in his Living History Guidelines, The Confederate Impression, that as many as two-thirds of the Confederate reenactors in a unit carry knapsacks.
Based on soldier accounts and research by professional historians, I think a strong case could be made for the inclusion of more knapsacks in our personal and unit impressions. In addition to the historical perspective, I've found that the knapsack is also a useful piece of gear to have in a campaign or garrison environment. On campaign it is much easier to retrieve needed items from a knapsack than from a blanket roll. It also protects the contents better and makes a passable pillow at night. With some getting used to, you may even find that its more comfortable to wear than the blanket roll. At a garrison event it's handy for carrying in all of the extra items that reenactors carry in the heavier wooden camp box.
If you decide to
give the knapsack a try, I recommend you pack light for your Confederate or
Union impression. A wool blanket, shelter half, rubber blanket, extra
clothing, small frying pan, housewife, towel, rations that won't fit in
the haversack, and other small articles are all you should carry. When
campaigning "less is better".