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The Unnamed Soldier: 1864

August 1864. "Petersburg, Virginia. Federal soldier's quarters." A glimpse of camp life. Wet plate glass negative by Timothy H. O'Sullivan. View full size.

August 1864. "Petersburg, Virginia. Federal soldier's quarters." A glimpse of camp life. Wet plate glass negative by Timothy H. O'Sullivan. View full size.


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Shady characters

An almost identical illustration is included in a classic Civil War book on soldiering, "Hardtack & Coffee" by John D. Billings, published in 1887. He even mentions that in the summer the tents would be raised (like this one) to provide headroom and space for cots, and allowing air to circulate.


Arbors of all sorts were used for protection from the sun in the camps of both sides--particularly in headquarters areas. The soldier were issued shelter tent halves and if the found materials for shebangs used the tents for a roof. This looks like some sort of headquarters. The infantry camps would be less permanent looking due to constant shifting of positions.

Soldier did purchase ID disks--about the size of a half dollar. The light spot on the placket of his shirt may just be that. The ID disk would likely be under his shirt. I see a big button on his coat.

To the far left of the soldier is the framework for another shelter with the canvas off. A half-wall has been fashioned out of a hardtack box and you can see the bed frame with a blanket.

The cast iron tea pot and sheet tin frying pan are now very collectible. I see two cloth-covered canteen on the tree, but I do not know what the object hanging on the tent ridge pole is. A sponge or another canteen?

War coverage

The siege of Petersburg ran from June of ’64 to March of ’65. Plenty of time to continue to build, add to, and modify a soldier’s bivouac. I wonder if at some point that “superstructure” was covered with tarps to provide a larger sheltered area, especially in the winter. Later the tarps came down and the pup tents came up? Just a theory.

Looks pretty comfy!

That is, as long as the weather was nice. This obviously wasn't what their camps looked like anywhere near the front lines, though. Still, it is nice to know that they were at least comfortable part of the time.

I don't get it

Can someone explain the purpose of the superstructure? He's not going to be there long enough to train grapevines or wisteria. It seems a bit much for hanging laundry to dry.

Its purpose is probably obvious to former boy scouts, but not to me.

[The shady shelter is called a brush arbor. - Dave]


This man appears to be wearing a dog tag, a new thing at that time. The Army did not issue dog tags until 1913, but soldiers could and did purchase them from private suppliers.

The camp furniture reminds me of the things we used to build as Boy Scouts. By then, you couldn't cut down trees for the purpose, so we would practice building them, re-using the same old poles. We never actually took the stuff camping.

Nice Bed!

Made a bed just like that long time ago in Boy Scouts! I remember it wasn't too bad to sleep in once you stuffed enough pine needles into it. Nice looking camp given the time and place.

Great Looking Campsite

He would have won the million dollars on "Survivor" with no problem.

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