Between The Battles

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The men North and South who went for soldiers in the hectic spring of 1861 tended to think of war as being all marching and fighting. But it soon became clear to these recruits that for every day on the firing line, they could expect to spend fifty in camp. Perhaps the ultimate mark of the true veteran was a canny ability to make himself comfortable in the harshest surroundings. The best camps were those that offered the most amenities of the towns the soldiers had left, and some did very well indeed; the small wooden shed at the bottom far left, for instance, houses the 13th Massachusetts’ lending library, and no village common would be disgraced by the trim church directly left, put up by the 50th New York Engineers before Petersburg. The less formal aspects of worship for the 69th New York above are compensated for by Father Thomas H. Mooney’s full vestments. Home ties were kept fresh by the postal service—which fielded mobile post offices like the one at top left—and were profited on by the news vendors who regularly made the rounds of camp and hospital. These photographs, and the others in this portfolio, have been selected from The Guns of ’62 , the second volume of the “Image of War” series. Edited by William C. Davis, the book will be published in February by Doubleday & Company.

 
 
 

If their letters are any indication, the soldiers thought most about food; as a subject, it crowded out even the perpetual reports on the state of the weather. Theirs was a meager enough diet to support such exegesis—at the beginning of the war both sides received a daily allowance of twelve ounces of pork or twenty ounces of beef and twenty-two ounces of soft bread or sixteen ounces of hard bread. This last came packed in boxes stamped “B.C.,” which may have stood for “Brigade Commissary,” but which the men who ate it said had to be the date of manufacture. Of a regional counterpart, a Louisianan wrote, “If any person offers me cornbread after this war comes to a close I shall probably tell him to—go to hell.”

 
 

Men of the quartermaster’s department stand ready at left to dole out the requisite amount of meat and, since this is the army, to make careful note of who took it and how much they took. The meat itself, long in cask, was no more appetizing than it looks here. But the monotonous diet of army life could be supplemented by foraging—the standard military euphemism for stealing. Both sides were good at it, but Billy Crump (below), orderly to Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, must be credited with some sort of preeminence in the art. In February of 1863 he took Hayes’s horse and pistol and struck out from camp near Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. Two days later he came back carrying fifty chickens, two turkeys, a goose, perhaps three hundred eggs, and upwards of twenty-five pounds of butter.