Strike the Tents!

When A.P. Hoadley and his fellow recruits became soldiers, one of their first challenges was adjusting to a strange new life outdoors. Suddenly, they were required to cook their own meals over open fires and sleep in tents, month after month--spring, summer, and fall--sharing close quarters with complete strangers.

The Union and Confederate armies used a variety of tents throughout the War. At the beginning of the conflict, both sides preferred the Sibley tent , a tall canvas structure supported by a single pole and shaped like a wigwam. The Sibley was designed for twelve men, who slept with their feet at the center, arranged in a circle like the spokes of a wheel.

Gradually, the Sibley gave way to smaller, less expensive tents that were easier to transport and raise. At Camp Curtin A.P. Hoadley slept with four other men in a wedge tent , which was nothing more than a six-foot length of canvas draped over a horizontal pole and staked to the ground at both sides. With the tent flaps closed against the cold, sleeping was often a cramped and uncomfortable affair. Sometimes quarters were so tight that the men were forced to line up like spoons and when one soldier rolled over, the rest had no choice but to follow suit.

The dog tent was even smaller, used by soldiers when they were on the march. Each man carried a half-shelter and chose a tent-mate, who carried the other half. When troops halted for the evening, the half-shelters were buttoned together and strung between two muskets with bayonets, providing just enough room for the two men to crawl underneath. One Federal soldier wrote that the structure must have been called a dog tent because "it would only comfortably accommodate a dog, and a small one at that."

As the colder months approached and the lulls between battles grew longer, officers gave their men permission to "go into winter quarters." With axes over their shoulders, the soldiers fanned out across the countryside in search of wood. Those who could find enough logs built crude cabins. They chinked the cracks with mud and made roofs from oilcloths, pine boughs, or whatever building materials they could scavenge from local farmers.

Most men were happy to fill restless hours designing furniture for their new homes. Ammunition chests and stumps became tables and chairs. Pine needles and leaves were used for stuffing mattresses. Old food barrels made excellent chimneys, funneling smoke from the rough stone fireplaces below. And for the final touch, many soldiers christened their new homes with entertaining names like "Buzzard's Roost," "Swine Hotel," and "Devil's Inn."

Dear Sister Emma | A Principle of Duty | Sickness and Suffering | Please Write Soon
I hope some day to return | Take good care of it...

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Last updated:
October 14, 2003

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