Wartime Accounts of Confederate Camps

black confederate campOne of the larger points that I am trying to make in the first chapter of my black Confederates book is that the war presented a number of challenges to the maintenance of the master-slave relationship. While the expectations and authority of slaveowners may have been well established back home, slaves took full advantage of the opportunities afforded by life in camp, on the march, and even on the battlefield. This new landscape stretched the master-slave dynamic. In some cases it was stretched to the breaking point as slaves chose to run away, but it mostly resulted in masters conceding a certain amount of ground to their camp slaves.

I am trying to provide as rich a description of camp life as possible to help frame this analysis. I have a few descriptions of what a Confederate camp looked like, including its layout, but I was hoping that some of you might be willing to share additional references. The account can be from any point during the war. In fact, it would help immensely if I had a sense of how, if at all, the layout of Confederate camps changed over time. Thanks for your help.

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  • I don’t want to toot my own horn but I wrote an entire book on Confederate camp life. It is titled “The Civil War in Spotsylvania: Campfires at the Crossroads.” In addition to my book on Fredericksburg’s Civil War Churches, it is carried by the NPS at the battlefield bookstores here in town. I would be happy to send you a PDF of the book for your reference. Email me at ma@pinstripepress.net and I can send it.

  • Hi Kevin:

    My MA thesis is about Confederate camp life. While I do not specifically address how the physical layout of a camp changed, I do address how soldiers’ perceptions toward military encampments changed over time (part of my argument addresses a change in the of nature soldiers’ interactions with each other). I am sure you are familiar with the horrible conditions of a Civil War camp, and my work posits several possible answers as to why soldiers were able to endure those conditions. I look at an encampment as a natural landscape, and I believe interactions with and within natural landscapes played a significant role in shaping the transition from citizen to soldier. If you are interested, I can send you a PDF of my thesis.

    I love the blog and keep up the good work!

    -Peter Thomas

    • Thanks, Peter. I send you an email and look forward to reading your thesis.

  • The leading expert in the field of Civil War camp life, as referenced through material culture and on-the-ground archaeology is Joseph Balicki. I believe he still works for Milner & Associates. He has done spectacular work for the National Park Service. His chapter, “Watch-Fires of a Hundred Circling Camps: Theoretical & Practical Approaches to Investigating Civil War Camp Sites” is part of a larger work called “The Historical Archaeology of Military Sites: Method & Topic.”

    I can tell you what Balicki has right, both sides followed, with interesting regularity, the “Revised United States Army Regulations of 1861.” Starting around page 72 the regulations give instruction on how a camp is established (in regimental terms) and where specific lodgings, such as the commander and lieutenants, are located. It should be easy to derive where slaves were kept from these drawings and descriptions. Below is the description of an infantry regiment camp.

    515. Each company has its tents in two files, facing on a street perpendicular to the color line. The width of the street depends on the front of the camp, but should not be less than 5 paces. The interval between the ranks of tents is 2, paces; between the files of tents of adjacent companies, 2 paces; between regiments, 22 paces.

    516. The color line is 10 paces in front of the front rank of tents. The kitchens are 20 paces behind the rear rank of company tents; the non-commissioned staff and sutler, 20 paces in rear of the kitchens; the company officers, 20 paces farther in rear; and the field and staff, 20 paces in rear of the company officers.

    517. The company officers are in rear of their respective companies; the Captains on the right.

    518. The Colonel and Lieutenant-Colonel are near the centre of the line of field and staff; the Adjutant, a Major and Surgeon, on the right; the Quartermaster, a Major and Assistant Surgeon, on the left.

    519. The police guard is at the centre of the line of the non-commissioned staff, the tents facing to the front, the stacks of arms on the left.

    520. The advanced post of the police guard is about 200 paces in front of the color line, and opposite the centre of the regiment, or on the best ground; the prisoners’ tent about 4 paces in rear. In a regiment of the second line, the advanced post of the police guard is 200 paces in rear of the line of its field and staff.

    521. The horses of the staff officers and of the baggage train are 25 paces in rear of the tents of the field and staff; the wagons are parked on the same line, and the men of the train camped near them.

    522. The sinks of the men are 150 paces in front of the color line those of the officers 100 paces in rear of the train. Both are concealed by bushes. When convenient, the sinks of the men may be placed in rear or on a flank. A portion of the earth dug out for sinks to be thrown back occasionally.

    523. The front of the camp of a regiment of 1000 men in two ranks will be 400 paces, or one fifth less paces than the number of files, if the camp is to have the same front as the troops in order of battle. But the front may be reduced to 190 paces by narrowing the company streets to 5 paces; and if it be desirable to reduce the front still more, the tents of companies may be pitched in single file – those of a division facing on the same street.

    In any case, contact Balicki, he might have some archaeological evidence to help you out. The last e-mail I had for him was: JBalicki@JohnMilnerAssociates.com

    • Hey Patrick,

      Thanks so much for sending this along.


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