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blankets

1861 - 1865

5th Company

When the men of the Washington Artillery left New Orleans to go to the war, they took with them white wool blankets, it is noted in Washington Artillery memoirs.  We have reason to believe that the blankets they took with them were not pure white, and were of the type sold today by County Cloth / Charles R. Childs.  That is to say, they were white with blue end stripes.  To date, we have not located Quartermaster records that specify the blankets' construction, coloration, and any stenciling they may have had.  

What we do indeed have is the record of blankets used by US Army Regular soldiers.  State militia groups, by and large, followed the equipment guidelines of the US Regular Army, and we do have the record of the Washington Artillery having carried white wool blankets into the Civil War.  If they did follow the US Army's lead in this area, we know that in the era of the War of 1812, the US Army issued their troops a white wool blanket that had blue end stripes.  For the 1820s era, the US Army issued its soldiers a white wool blanket with blue end stripes - and the letters "US" stenciled on it, literally marking it as a government-issue item.  For the Mexican War era, the US Army issued its soldiers a white wool blanket with blue end stripes, and with the letters "US" stenciled on it.  

As we know, the Washington Artillery was a state militia unit from 1838 forward.  As we also know, they were renowned for their excellence in both Infantry and Artillery drill, but were not particularly known for their habit of self-deprivation.  When they bivouacked for field training and a marksmanship competition with other militia units on at least one occasion, they suffered the hardships of occupying one floor of a hotel in Pass Christian, Mississippi.  It would seem unlikely that their wool blankets would have suffered too terribly much from anything except moths, then, and we suspect that the blankets issued them at any point before the war would probably have had a pretty high survival rate, if field use was the great destroyer of blankets.

Other blankets undoubtedly were obtained later during the war, and certainly the distinctive red wool blankets with blue stripes, the official blanket of the Artillery, would have been used, as well as quilts that may have been brought from home or sent from home.

The blanket would have been rolled into a small, tight cylinder which fit atop the hard pack knapsack of the Washington Artillery, affixed to it by blanket straps of leather.  

The following article is courtesy of http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/8135/articles/bedroll.html:

A Civil War Bedroll
By Wayne Thompson

At the beginning of the Civil War, every volunteer and regular had, or tried to acquire, a knapsack.  In or on the knapsack went such necessities as a blanket or two, a clean shirt, socks, gloves, shaving kit, and the other items of civilization and home.  After the first grueling marches, though, many soldiers in both armies quickly did away with anything that was not absolutely necessary.  One of the early casualties, particularly among the citizen soldiers in the militia, was sometimes the knapsack, though many other soldiers held onto their knapsacks until they wore out and needed to be replaced.  Some knapsacks were replaced by newer knapsacks, but the bedroll came to take the place of the knapsack for others. 

While there were regulation (issue) blankets, many soldiers carried the blankets they brought from home or had sent to them once they were in the field.  Issue blankets were generally of fair quality wool, but some were made of "shoddy" (particularly from US contractors,) and did not last very long. Too, soldiers would have acquired extra blankets to use while in winter quarters.  Confederates often carried a blanket or quilt from home, particularly at the start of the war.  Blankets were made of wool, and quilts were commonly made of cotton or linen.  Note that reference will be made to quilts from time to time, but it is the wool blanket that was most commonly owned by soldiers in the field.

The bedroll basically consisted of one blanket, tightly rolled up into a cylindrical shape, which was then doubled over, bound together at the ends, and worn over the shoulder.  In some cases, a tin cup or mucket would be tied to the end of the bedroll.


Confederate Prisoners At Gettysburg
With Their Bedrolls
1863

The photo above shows three captured Confederate soldiers after the battle of Gettysburg. Each soldier has a bedroll, which had been commonly adopted among the Confederate forces by mid-1863.  The blankets appear to be of heavy wool, to judge by the size of the rolls.

Again, looking closely at the photo, it is apparent that there were at least two variations in the manner in which the blankets are secured.  The soldier on the right has his blanket tied off at the ends only, with the result that the middle of the blanket has unrolled slightly.  The other two soldiers appear to have more securely rolled blankets.

For the purposes of our discussion, the bedroll should consist of one blanket, rolled lengthwise.  The ends should be tied together with a length of string or leather lace, in order to create a "hoop", if you will.  The use of a third lace near the middle will help hold the roll together when being worn over the shoulder.  There is also the variant method of leaving a length of cord between the ends of the roll, to allow more freedom of movement.  This is particularly useful if your bedroll is shorter than the norm.  You can roll your gum blanket up with the blanket, or carry it separately, depending on the weather.  Yet another option is to drape the gum blanket over the uniform belt.

Personal items may have been, and most likely were, tucked away in the bedroll.  Food, however, probably was not.  Many, if not most, soldiers carried the forage bag, popularly called the haversack.  The purpose of this item was to carry rations for the soldier to eat in the field or on the march.  There would be no readily identifiable reason, then, to carry food in the bedroll. 

The cup could be attached to the belt, as suggested in some militia drill manuals, or to the buckle of the haversack, which seems to be the choice of most reenactors.  However, the cup could also be attached to the bedroll end, should one be so inclined.

Another consideration is that the more carried inside the bedroll, the bigger the bedroll becomes.  Bigger is not always better when a soldier is trying to keep his place in line, or shoulder or fire a musket.  The desire to keep the diameter of the bedroll as small as possible becomes more obviously desirable when these factors are considered.

Another school of thought recommends that the bedroll be tied loosely, allowing it to flatten out across the shoulder.  The blanket roll may then be draped across the right shoulder, and the blanket becomes a sort of shooting pad, absorbing the recoil of firing.

Off which shoulder to drape the roll is a matter of personal choice.  Some prefer to hang it from the left shoulder, which leaves the right shoulder clear for firing, as well as for many of the positions of the manual of arms.  Many using that method also place the cartridge box through the hoop of the bedroll, so that the cartridge box rests outside the bedroll, rather than being trapped under the bedroll.  That makes it easier to retrieve the next round while firing, for blanket will not then be forcing the cartridge box flap closed while the soldier fumbles about looking for a cartridge.  Please note that there has been no photographic evidence located to date by the author showing soldiers of the day wearing their cartridge boxes in such a manner; so the method just described is not borne out by the historical record.

Should you elect to carry a bedroll of this sort (Note: one which was not historically, demonstrably used by the Washington Artillery), the recommendation would be as follow: take one wool blanket, with a pair of clean socks and a clean shirt rolled up inside, and perhaps a writing kit, too.  Do not pack any food inside your bedroll - only in your haversack.  Tie the roll off at both ends and near the middle, and drape it over your left shoulder, with the tied end behind the cartridge box.  Take your poncho / gum blanket (if you have one, which is also recommended) and fold it up so you drape it over your belt, around back, out of the way.  If needs be, tie your cup to the bedroll, or loop your belt through the cup handle, and slide the cup beside the poncho, out of the way.  Your greatcoat might also be rolled up with your blanket, assuming you foresee no need to wear the greatcoat during the day; but bear in mind that the bedroll will get much larger and heavier if you do.

Notes:
1.  The blanket roll became popular after the first year of the war, although many soldiers carried the knapsack for some time after.  Knapsacks were more commonly worn by green troops.
2.  Many veteran troops dispensed with the greatcoat while on campaign, preferring to drape the blanket over the head and shoulders, and securing it in place with the uniform belt and shoulder sling.  Greatcoats were welcomed in winter quarters, however, as either an extra blanket or as an ersatz pillow for a tired soldier's head.

 

 

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