Knapsack/Blanket Roll

Packing for the March

by David J. Murphy

One of the aspects of reenacting I enjoy is the campaign style event and march. It is a real challenge to decide what items to bring and which ones to leave behind. We are used to the comforts that are only found in semi-permanent camps. My rule for the campaign style event is "if you can't carry it, don't bring it."I have learned this lesson the hard way, last year on a 17 mile weekend march, just as the real soldiers did. In this article I'll explain how I pack for a campaign style march, documented from origial sources.

It is generally excepted that the eastern armies utilized the backpack to a greater extent than the western armies who favored the blanket roll. During warm weather I use the blanket roll and save the backpack for colder weather. Two blankets a tent half and gum blanket tend to be bulky when rolled in a blanket roll; it is easer and more comfortable to carry them in a backpack. In warm weather I wear a sack coat and frock coat when it's colder. Leave the overcoat at home, it's bulky to carry and overheats you if worn on the march, which probably explains why so many were thrown away by the troops.

Pvt. George W. Partridge of the 7th Wisconsin, in a letter to his sister wrote. "I will tell you the load I carry and I guess it is as much as any of them carries. I have in my knapsack a woolen blanket, a India rubber blanket, half of a tent, one shirt and one pair of socks. Then I have a haversack with two or three days rations of meat and crackers, then the cartridge box with 40 rounds of cartridges and a canteen full of water, that is load enough for any man to carry. I will never carry any more than that I believe, if I do I will not march far without resting and there is a good many others in the same fix."

He then went on to explain about being issured and carrying extra clothing, "...they want every man to carry an extra pair of pants and shoes and coat, some of the regiments got them before they left here and threw them away on the road; this regt. did not get any, if they had it would have been thrown away, we have enough load to carry that we need without carrying anything extra.


Pvt. Charles E. Benton of the 150th New York, in his book " As Seen From The Ranks", writes about his experiences on the march. "For the men in the ranks the arms and ammunition must go where the men go. Next in importance, the thing to stick by and die by if necessary is the canteen, for water is sometimes more inportant than food. Especially is this true in case of loss of blood from wounds, for the great necessity then is water to drink. After these articles comes the light woolen blanket, the half-tent, the haversack containing three days' rations, and possibly a rubber blanket to lie on at night. The articles which I have enumerated are about load enough to carry on such campaigns as our Civil War afforded, and he was the wisest who take but few additional things, such as soap, towel, etc. with the inevitable little hatchet, a few cooking utensils, and one or two extra pairs of stockings, for the feet which carried the loads so many miles must have the best of care. "But one must have a change of clothing in the course of the summer!" you exclaim. Do not attempt it. Wash your cloths at night when you can, drying them by the damp-fire. If you happen to do it by day and suddenly have orders to march, put them on wet; it will not hurt you. Draw new clothes as often as you can; they will be charged to your account and you will not mind the expense; but never , as you value your expectation s of seeing home again, attempt to carry extra clothing on a summer campaign.'

In his excellent Book "Hardtack and Coffee", John Billings describes the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac packing for a spring campaign. "...there was the overcoat and the woolen blanket which should be left? Perhaps he finally decided to try taking both along for a while. He will leave the dress-coat and wear the blouse. He has two changes of flannels. He will throw away those he has on, don a clean set and take a change with him... If he intends to take his effects in a knapsack, he will at the start have put by more to carry than if he simply takes his blankets (rubber and woollen) rolled and slung over his shoulder., Late in the war this latter was the most common plan, as the same weight could be borne with less fatigue in that manner than in a knapsack, slung on the back."

Another excellent book in "Corporal Si Klegg", written by Wilbur Hinman of the 56th Ohio. It details the life of an infantryman on the march and the process of his getting into "light marching order." "At every step his knapsack grew heavier. His heated, sweating back smarted under the pressure. Lower down his cartidge-box, with its leaden load, bobbed up and down with every footfall, chafing and grinding until that particular spot felt as if in contact with a red-hot iron. His canteen and haversack rubbed the skin off his hips; the bunches of cartridges in his pockets scraped his legs; and his musket lay like a section of railroad iron on his shoulder."

At the first halt the men lightened their load by discarding extra clothing and items considered expendable. Wilbur Hinman goes on to write, " The single hour's experience on the road had served to remove the scales from the eyes of a goodly number of the members of Company Q. They began to foresee the inevitable, and at the first halt they made a small beginning in the labor of getting themselves down to light marching order-a process of sacrifice which a year later had accomplished its perfect work, when each man took nothing in the way of baggage save what he could roll up in a blanket and toss over his shoulder."

John Billings, relates a similar experience, "Look at the ground which that brigade has just vacated after its brief halt for a rest. It is strewn with blankets, overcoats, dress-coats, pantaloons, shirts-in fact, everything from the outfit of the common soldier who had been through the mill would not wait for a general halt before parting with a portion of his load, if it oppressed him; but a recruit would hang to his until be bent over at an angle of 45 degrees from the vertical, with his eves staring, his lower jaw hanging, and his face dripping with moisture, If you were to follow the column after, say, the first two mile, you would find various articles scattered along at intervals by the roadside, where a soldier quietly stepped out of the ranks, sat down , unslung his knapsack or his blanket-roll, took out what he had decided to again disequipt himself, and thus relieved, hastened on to overtake the regiment, It did not take an army long to get into light marching order after it was once fairly on the road.'

Wilbur Hinman described the route of the armies march, "People who lived along the line of march followed the moving army for miles, gathering up the things that the new soldiers threw away. Men, women and children loaded themselves with quilts, clothing and articles of every description. The shrinkage of the knapsack was the first symptom of the transfomation that changed the raw recruit into an effectve solier, ready at any moment for a fight or footrace."

Pvt. Charles A. Willison, of the 76th Ohio, tells of his experiences on the march. "Everything had to be learned-mostly through dearly bought and disasterous experience, Among the first essentials was the getting rid of all impediments not absolutely necessary... one has but to compare the soldier of the earlier period, fitted out with his comfortable tent (and) well filled knapsack... with the same individual of a year or two later, to realize what an effective transformation had been brought about. Resulting in the careless, tough seasoned veteran, happy , content to possess a change of clothing,a blanket or rubber poncho, a meal of bacon and hard-tack in his haversack and bed of leaves or fence rails. Thus always in light marching order, ready for a quick move or sudden dash.'

A nothern newspaperman who saw both the Federal and Confederate infantry on the march stated the following about the northern solier, "In speaking of our soldiers (in May 1863)...each man had eight days' rations to carry, besides sixty rounds of ammunition, musket, woolen blanket, rubber blanket, overcoat, extra shirt, drawers, socks, and shelter-tent, amounting in all to sixty pounds. Think of men, (and boys too) staggering along under such a load, at the rate of fifteen to twenty miles a day."

When packing for a warm weather campaign style event I carry the blanket roll, first I lay the shelter-tent half on the ground, then place the wool blanket on top of it, I palace an extra pair of socks, gun cleaning equippment, small towel, small bar of soap and folded 10’ length of 1/4" thick rope on the blanket and roll this all up as tight as possible, I next lay the gum blanket or poncho on the ground and roll it around the rolled blanket and tent, tieing the ends together with rope. I also tie the blanket roll, about half way up, in the front and back with rope, this keeps the blanket roll together and tight. The 10’ length of rope is used to set the shelter tent up by tieing it between two trees and stretching the tent over it. I have found this an easy and quick method of setting up my tent.

Besides the normal equipment carried by an infantryman, I also carry in my haversack two candles, a pack of matches in a tin container, a small jack knife, knife, fork and spoon, tin plate, an extra shoe lace and a housewife for clothing repairs. In my breast pocket is a small New Testament and a neckerchief. I carry my "coffee boiler" strapped to the buckle of my haversack. Our company has a small hand ax and frying pan which rotates daily between who carries it. when it falls to my lot to carry one or the other I place then in the backpack if I'm using one. If I'm using a blanket roll I run the ax handle through the bottom ties of the blanket roll, ax head towards the rear with a leather cover. The frying pan is tied thru the hole in it's handle to the bottom of the blanket roll, with the bottom facing out, this way it will lay flat and stay out of the way on the march.

When carrying the blackpack I fold one blanket and place it in the inside envelope of the pack, which will rest against my back. The folded shelter half is placed in the outside envelope along with my a wool scarf, wool hat and gloves, gun cleaning equipment, my 10' length of rope, towel and soap. The second blanket is rolled up inside my poncho and strapped to the top of the backpack with the blanket straps. I have learned through experience that the rolled blanket, on top of the pack, hangs towards the rear, making it uncomfortable to carry. To remedy this awkward situation and make the pack easier to carry Ido the following: run a rope or extra blanket strap under the two blanket roll straps then turn it under the two shoulder straps, tie the rope or buckle the strap (makeing sure it is tight). This expedient will pull the blanket roll forward when you put the backpack on, making it comfortable to carry.

I hope that some of this information will be of benefit two those who are planning to go on a campaign march, or have learned some of the same lessons I have while on one. When packing for campaign style events keep in the the famous quote of Confederate General A.P. Hill, who said, "The road to glory is not encumbered by excess baggage."

Light Loads

Every member of the 2nd decides for himself what he will take into the field and there are many schools of thought as to what would be the most historically correct. Coupled with a dose of period behavior and a certain manner of speaking, we combine all this into what is known as a Civil War Reenactor.

This following is one man's list and observations
based on his experience.

"Carry as light a load as possible but be sure to have at least one blanket, one towel, one shirt, two pairs of socks, needle and thread and writing material in your knapsack. One or two small books will not come amiss. More fear is felt going into action than after you get in. Infantry are apt to fire high. Cavalry can do nothing with infantry if they stand firm. Infantry seldom cross bayonets - one side or the other will give way in case of a charge before the parties meet. Always have water in your canteen when you go into action. Wounded men must have water. Treat prisoners of war kindly. Pickets should not fire on one another. Always be ready for battle when you are near the enemy. It pays to fix up a comfortable bed. As a general thing, soldiers are very profane."

Most of you will agree that this list and code of conduct could, or should, describe your basic reenactor. In fact, this short essay was written by Patrick Henry Taylor, a sergeant in the 1st Minnesota Regiment of Volunteers. Little did he know by his diary entries that he was composing a mini-primer that would help future reenactors improve their impressions as to do honor to those who gave the last full measure of devotion.

These diaries, along with journals and newspaper articles have been brought together by Richard Moe in this new book "The Last Full Measure, the Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers". The book is the story of a fine western regiment, much like our own, that distinguished itself in the Eastern Theatre and does an excellent job of bringing to life the conditions of daily routine and the unbelievable carnage of battle.

So, if you get a chance, give it a read and take the advice of your sergeant.

James Zylka, Private
Company I, 2nd Wisconsin

August Weissert Blanket
by: Carlene Wojahn

The Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum has created a reproduction blanket based on one that my relative Sergeant Major Augustus G. Weissert brought home. His blanket was issued to him during his recovery from his wounds received in the 1864, Battle of Nashville, right before he was sent home, so it saw no field use. Since there was just a slight amount of exposure and this blanket kept a lot of it’s original finish. This made his blanket ideal for reproducing.

This blanket is medium brown with dark brown and end stripes. It was made of woolen yarns that had a lot-of red, blue and "other colored shoddy." This blanket measures six and a half feet long, four foot and nine inches wide. The stripes at the end of the blanket are two and a half inches wide, and there is little or no nap.

The U.S. is of the two lined serif variety letters, made with a running stitch - the letters being approximately six and a half inches in height; the S a little bit lower that the U. The crude execution and irregular alignment of the U.S. suggest ,that speed of the production was the primary concern. When Wisconsin Veterans Museum created this reproduction it was their intent to reproduce one that closely resembled the one that Auggie Weissert brought home. However, it must be emphasized that blankets were different and varied quite a bit from one to another. According to the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum the blankets obtained by the army were of various quality. "The blanket called for in the Army regulations, and desired by the Quartermaster’s department, was to be: woolen, gray, seven feet long, and five and a half feet wide, and to weigh five pounds." It was also noted that the surviving examples of army blankets rarely met these specifications. Although gray colored blankets did exist, they were not the only colored blankets that were made. There were some with a shade of brown. The possible causes for this may be due to: 1) The yarns used in these blankets were dyed with some agent, such as logwood, that first causes a gray color which gradually changes to brown over a long period of time. 2) The yarns used. 3) The blankets were dyed with something that produced the brown color or the blankets were manufactured using undyed wool or greige goods" that were brown in color. So far there has not been any scientific research conducted on the brown issue blankets to support any of these cause. One should not look at the detail of any one blanket to say this is how it was done, so this must be this way. The reasons for this being that while the U.S. Army relied on private manufacturers, the domestic blanket industry did not, nor could not, adequately supply the Army with blankets. It was due to this that the Quartermaster’s department was obliged to obtain blankets of foreign manufacture.

While Weissert’s blanket has been reproduced in detail, with scientific dye testing, if the museum would of been dissatisfied with any step of the manufacturing, it would have not been reproduced. One can get a reproduction of this blanket for $145 plus $6 shipping and handling. This should be sent to:

Auggie’s Blanket
Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum Gift Shop
30 West Mifflin Street
Madison, WI 53703