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IV. life in tents.

“Sir, he made a chimney in my father's house, and the bricks are alive at this day to testify it.” King Henry VI. In the last chapter I described quite fully the principal varieties of shelter that our troops used in the war. In this I wish to detail their daily life in those tents when they settled down in camp. Enter with me into a Sibley tent which is not stockaded. If it is cold weather, we shall find the cone-shaped stove, which I have already mentioned, setting in the centre. These stoves were useless for cooking purposes, and the men were likely to burn their blankets on them in the night, so that many of the troops utilized them by building a small brick or stone oven below, in which they did their cooking, setting the stove on top as a part of the flue. The length of pipe furnished by the government was not sufficient to reach the opening at the top, and the result was that unless the inmates bought more to piece it out, the upper part of such tents was as black and sooty as a chimney flue.

The dozen men occupying a Sibley tent slept with their feet towards the centre. The choice place to occupy was that portion opposite the door, as one was not then in the way of passers in and out, although he was himself more or less of a nuisance to others when he came in. The tent was most crowded at meal times, for, owing to its shape, there can be no standing or sitting erect except about the centre. [62] But while there was more or less growling at accidents by some, there was much forbearance by others, and, aside from the vexations arising from the constitutional blundering of the Jonahs and the Beats, whom I shall describe later, these little knots were quite family-like and sociable.

The manner in which the time was spent in these tentsand, for that matter, in all tents — varied with the disposition

Sibley tent.-inside view.

of the inmates. It was not always practicable for men of kindred tastes to band themselves under the same canvas, and so just as they differed in their avocations as citizens, they differed in their social life, and many kinds of pastimes went on simultaneously. Of course, all wrote letters more or less, but there were a few men who seemed to spend the most of their spare time in this occupation. Especially was [63] this so in the earlier part of a man's war experience. The side or end strip of a hardtack box, held on the knees, constituted the writing-desk on which this operation was performed. It is well remembered that in the early months of the war silver money disappeared, as it commanded a premium, so that, change being scarce, postage stamps were used instead. This was before scrip was issued by the government to take the place of silver; and although the use of stamps as change was national government, yet everybody took them, and the soldiers in particular just about to leave

Writing home.

for the war carried large quantities away with them not all in the best of condition. This could hardly be expected when they had been through so many hands. They were passed about in little envelopes, containing twenty-five and fifty cents in value.

Many an old soldier can recall his disgust on finding what a mess his stamps were in either from rain, perspiration, or compression, as he attempted, after a hot march, to get one for a letter. If he could split off one from a welded mass of perhaps a hundred or more, he counted himself fortunate. Of course they could be soaked out after a while, but he would need to dry them on a griddle afterwards, they were so sticky. It was later than this that the postmaster-general issued an order allowing soldiers to send letters without prepayment; but, if I recollect right, it was necessary to write [64] on the outside “Soldier's letter.” I recall in this connection a verse that was said to have appeared on a letter of this kind. It ran as follows:--

Soldier's letter, nary red,
Hardtack and no soft bread,
Postmaster, please put it through,
I've nary cent, but six months due.

There were a large number of fanciful envelopes got up during the war. I heard of a young man who had a collection of more than seven thousand such, all of different designs. I have several in my possession which I found among the numerous letters written home during war-time. One is bordered by thirty-four red stars-the number of States then in the Union--each star bearing the abbreviated name of a State. At the left end of the envelope hovers an eagle holding a shield and streamer, with this motto, “Love one another.” Another one bears a representation of the earth in space, with “United States” marked on it in large letters, and the American eagle above it. Enclosing all is the inscription, “What God has joined, let no man put asunder.” A third has a medallion portrait of Washington, under which is, “A Southern man with Union Principles.” A fourth displays a man sitting among money-bags, on horseback, and driving at headlong speed. Underneath is the inscription, “Floyd off for the South. All that the Seceding States ask is to be let alone.” Another has a negro standing grinning, a hoe in his hand. He is represented as saying, “Massa can't have dis chile, dat's what's de matter” ; and beneath is the title, “The latest contraband of war.” Then there are many bearing the portraits of early Union generals. On others Jeff Davis is represented as hanged; while the national colors appear in a hundred or more ways on a number-all of which, in a degree at least, expressed some phase of the sentiments popular at the North, The Christian Commission also furnished envelopes [65] gratuitously to the armies, bearing their stamp and “Soldier's letter” in one corner.

Besides letter-writing the various games of cards were freely engaged in. Many men played for money. Cribbage and euchre were favorite games. Reading was a pastime quite generally indulged in, and there was no novel so dull, trashy, or sensational as not to find some one so bored with nothing to do that he would wade through it. I, certainly, never read so many such before or since. The mind was hungry for something, and took husks when it could get nothing better. A great deal of good might have been done by the Christian Commission or some other organization planned to furnish the soldiers with good literature, for in that way many might have acquired a taste for the works of the best authors who would not have been likely to acquire it except under just such a condition as they were then in, viz.: a want of some entertaining pastime. There would then have been much less gambling and sleeping away of daylight than there was. Religious tracts were scattered among the soldiers by thousands, it is true, and probably did some good. I heard a Massachusetts soldier say, not long ago, that when his regiment arrived in New York en route for the seat of war, the men were presented with “a plate of thin soup and a Testament.” This remark to me was very suggestive. It reminded me of the vast amount of mistaken or misguided philanthropy that was expended upon the army by good Christian men and women, who, with the best of motives urging them forward no doubt, often labored under the delusion that the army was composed entirely of men thoroughly bad, and governed their actions accordingly. That there were bad men in the army is too well known to be denied if one cared to deny it; and, while I may forgive, I cannot forget a war governor who granted pardon to several criminals that were serving out sentences in prison, if they would enlist. But the morally bad soldiers were in the minority. The good men should [66] have received some consideration, and the tolerably good even more. Men are only children of an older growth; they like to be appreciated at their worth at least, and the nature of many of the tracts was such that they defeated the object aimed at in their distribution.

Chequers was a popular game among the soldiers, backgammon less so, and it was only rarely that the statelier and

Stockaded A tents.

less familiar game of chess was to be observed on the board. There were some soldiers who rarely joined in any games. In this class were to be found the illiterate members of a company. Of course they did not read or write, and they rarely played cards. They were usually satisfied to lie on their blankets, and talk with one another, or watch the playing. Yes, they did have one pastime-the proverbial soldier's pastime of smoking. A pipe was their omnipresent companion, and seemed to make up to them in [67] sociability for whatsoever they lacked of entertainment in other directions.

Then there were a few men in every organization, who engaged in no pastimes and joined in no social intercourse. These men were irreproachable as soldiers, it may have been, doing without grumbling everything that was expected of them in the line of military or fatigue duty, but they seemed shut up within an impenetrable shell, and would lie on their blankets silent while all others joined in the social round; or, perhaps, would get up and go out of the tent as if its lively social atmosphere was uncongenial, and walk up and down the parade or company street alone. Should you address them, they would answer pleasantly, but in monosyllables; and if the conversation was continued, it must be done in the same way. They could not be drawn out. They would cook by themselves, eat by themselves, camp by themselves on the march,--in fact, keep by themselves at all times as much as possible. Guard duty was the one occupation which seemed most suited to their natures, for it provided them with the exclusiveness and comparative solitude that their peculiar mental condition craved. But these men were the exceptions. They were few in number, and the more noticeable on that account. They only served to emphasize the fact that the average soldier was a sociable being.

One branch of business which was carried on quite extensively was the making of pipes and rings as mementos of a camp or battle-field. The pipes were made from the root of the mountain laurel when it could be had, and often ornamented with the badges of the various corps, either in relief or inlaid. The rings were made sometimes of dried horn or hoof, very often of bone, and some were fashioned out of large gutta-percha buttons which were sent from home.

The evenings in camp were less occupied in game-playing, I should say, than the hours off duty in the daytime; partly, [68] perhaps, because the tents were rather dimly lighted, and partly because of a surfeit of such recreations by daylight. But, whatever the cause, I think old soldiers will generally agree in the statement that the evenings were the time of sociability and reminiscence. It was then quite a visiting time among soldiers of the same organization. It was then that men from the same town or neighborhood got together


and exchanged home gossip. Each one would produce recent letters giving interesting information about mutual friends or acquaintances, telling that such a girl or old schoolmate was married; that such a man had enlisted in such a regiment; that another was wounded and at home on furlough; that such another had been exempted from the forthcoming draft, because he had lost teeth; that yet another had suddenly gone to Canada on important business — which was a favorite refuge for all those who were afraid of being forced into the service. [69]

And when the draft finally was ordered, such chucklings as these old schoolmates or fellow-townsmen would exchange as they again compared notes; first, to think that they themselves had voluntarily responded to their country's appeal, and, second, to hope that some of the croakers they left at home might be drafted and sent to the front at the point of the bayonet, interchanging sentiments of the following character: “There's A--, he was always urging others to go, and declaring he would himself make one of the next quota.” . . . “Iwant to see him out here with a government suit on.” . .. “Yes, and there's B , who has lots of money. If he's drafted, he'll send a substitute. The government ought not to allow any able-bodied man, even if he has got money, to send a substitute.” . . . “Then there's C-- , who declared he'd die on his doorstep rather than be forced into the service. I only hope that his courage will be put to the test.” --Such are fair samples of the remarks these fellow-soldiers would exchange with one another during an evening visitation.

Then, there were many men not so fortunate as to have enlisted with acquaintances, or to be near them in the army. These were wont to lie on their blankets, and join in the general conversation, or exchange ante-war experiences, and find much of interest in common; but, whatever the number or variety of the evening diversions, there is not the slightest doubt that home, its inmates, and surroundings were more thought of and talked of then than in all the rest of the twenty-four hours.

In some tents vocal or instrumental music was a feature of the evening. There was probably not a regiment in the service that did not boast at least one violinist, one banjoist, and a bone player in its ranks — not to mention other instruments generally found associated with these — and one or all of them could be heard in operation, either inside or in a company street, most any pleasant evening. However unskilful the artists, they were sure to be the centre [70] of an interested audience. The usual medley of comic songs and negro melodies comprised the greater part of the entertainment, and, if the space admitted, a jig or clog dance was stepped out on a hard-tack box or other crude platform. Sometimes a real negro was brought in to enliven the occasion by patting and dancing “Juba,” or singing his quaint music. There were always plenty of them in or near camp ready to fill any gap, for they asked nothing better than to be with

The camp Minstrels.

“Massa Linkum's Sojers.” But the men played tricks of all descriptions on them, descending at times to most shameful abuse until some one interfered. There were a few of the soldiers who were not satisfied to play a reasonable practical joke, but must bear down with all that the good-natured Ethiopians could stand, and, having the fullest confidence in the friendship of the soldiers, these poor fellows stood much more than human nature should be called to endure without a murmur. Of course they were on the lookout a second time. [71]

There was one song which the boys of the old Third Corps used to sing in the fall of 1863, to the tune of “When Johnny comes marching home,” which is an amusing jingle of historical facts. I have not heard it sung since that time, but it ran substantially as follows:--

We are the boys of Potomac's ranks,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
We are the boys of Potomac's ranks,
We ran with McDowell, retreated with Banks,
And we'll all drink stone blind--
Johnny, fill up the bowl.
We fought with McClellan, the Rebs, shakes and fever,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
Then we fought with McClellan, the Rebs, shakes and fever,
But Mac joined the navy on reaching James River,
And we'll all drink, etc.
Then they gave us John Pope, our patience to tax,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
Then they gave us John Pope our patience to tax,
Who said that out West he'd seen naught but Gray backs.1
He said his headquarters were in the saddle,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
He said his headquarters were in the saddle,
But Stonewall Jackson made him skedaddle.
Then Mac was recalled, but after Antietam,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
Then Mac was recalled, but after Antietam
Abe gave him a rest, he was too slow to beat 'em.
Oh, Burnside then he tried his luck,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
Oh, Burnside then he tried his luck,
But in the mud so fast got stuck.
Then Hooker was taken to fill the bill,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
Then Hooker was taken to fill the bill,
But he got a black eye at Chancellorsville. [72]
Next came General Meade, a slow old plug,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
Next came General Meade, a slow old plug,
For he let them away at Gettysburg.

I think that there were other verses, and some of the above may have got distorted with the lapse of time. But they are essentially correct.

Here is the revised prayer of the soldier while on the celebrated “Mud march” of Burnside:

Now I lay me down to sleep
In mud that's many fathoms deep;
If I'm not here when you awake,
Just hunt me up with an oyster rake.

It was rather interesting to walk through a company street of an evening, and listen to a few words of the conversation in progress in the tents — all lighted up, unless some one was saving or had consumed his allowance of candle. It would read much like a chapter from the telephone — noted down by a listener from one end of the line only. Then to peer into the tents, as one went along, just time enough to see what was going on, and excite the curiosity of the inmates as to the identity of the intruder, was a feature of such a walk.

While the description I have been giving applies in some particulars to life in Sibley tents, yet, so far as much of it is concerned, it describes equally well the life of the private soldier in any tent. But the tent of the army was the shelter or dog tent, and the life of the private soldier in log huts under these tents requires treatment by itself in many respects. I shall therefore leave it for consideration in another chapter.

1 An allusion to a statement in the address made by Pope, on taking command of the Army of Virginia, “I have come to you from the West where we have always seen the backs of our enemies.”

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