The infantryman is a self contained fighting unit and therefore must carry everything he needs to sustain life and fight in the field.
To sustain life, a man needs food, water and shelter. The Confederate infantryman's food was carried in a haversack, essentially a sack suspended from a shoulder strap over the right shoulder to the left hip. Usually it was made of cotton duck, and buttoned at the flap. Occasionally there was a separate food bag buttoned inside the outer sack.
Since cotton duck wouldn't keep provisions dry, a waterproof bag was more desirable than the average issue haversack. Depending on what was available. The well made and waterproof US army haversacks were always in great demand. The 1st Carolina infantry veteran Berry Benson, after the fighting at the seven days wrote that "the whole Confederate army refitted itself with blankets, rubber clothes (i.e., groundsheets, talmas and ponchos), tent flies, haversack and canteens, so that in the middle of the war and later, to see equipment of southern make was somewhat of a curiosity."
A canteen was also slung from the right shoulder to the left hip by a cotton or leather strap, and rested on top of the haversack. Everyone agreed that the Union army canteens, covered with a woollen cloth to keep the contents cool, were better than the plain tin and wood drum style of canteen issued to the Confederate army, but relic seekers and archaeologists working late-war sites found that parts of the Southern-made canteen are among the most common of all discoveries.
The last piece of life-sustaining equipment was the knapsack or blanket roll. "The knapsack vanished early in the struggle," wrote artilleryman Carlton McCarthy. "It was inconvenient to 'change' the underwear too often, and the disposition not to change grew, as the knapsack was found to gall the back and shoulders, and weary the man before half the march was accomplished. The better way was to dress out and out, and wear that outfit until the enemy's knapsacks, or the folks at home supplied a change."
McCarthy was exaggerating slightly for effect. Certainly, a great many Confederate infantrymen abandoned the overstuffed knapsacks with which they had left their first camps. "In our knapsacks were carried a fatigue jacket, several pairs of white gloves, several pairs of drawers, several white shirts, undershirts, linen collars, neckties, white vests, socks, etc. - filling our knapsacks to overflowing. Strapped on the outside were one or two blankets, an oilcloth, and extra shoes. Most of the knapsacks weighed between thirty and forty pounds, but some were so full that they weighed fifty pounds!" In such cases, obviously the wearer would abandon something, and would probably have been the knapsack, possible laid aside in favour of a Union bag. Some 11,500 Union knapsacks were picked up from the field at Chancellorsville alone.
If the knapsack were abandoned, and it was the most common thing to go, the remaining extra clothing such as a spare shirt or pair of drawers, was rolled into a blanket which was worn bandolier-fashion over the left shoulder, the ends tied together at the right hip. The blanket was either an issued one or, often as not, privately purchased or sent from home or "found" in a civilian house.
But many infantrymen clung to their knapsack throughout the war, especially if it were waterproof and fitted square to the back by means of leather straps that passed over and under the shoulders. Some had wooden frames to keep them neat; others were little more than large cloth bags. British army issue knapsacks were manufactured by a London firm, S Isaac, Campbell & Co, and imported by the Confederacy.
The Confederate infantryman carried forty rounds of longarm ammunition in a cartridge box. Many of those who received Enfield rifled muskets received copies of British army cartridge boxes. The rest received cartridge boxes that were copies of the Union army black box, which had straps on the back so that it could be carried either on a strap from the left shoulder to the right hip or on a waist belt at the centre of the back. The Union army model held forty of the paper-wrapped cartridges in two 20-round tin containers. The box had a small picket beneath the flap, which held musket tools and cleaning equipment. The outside of the flap was decorated with a brass oval plate bearing the letters "US". Many of those boxes were used by Confederate soldiers, who found 8,000 of them on the Chancellorsville battlefield.
Southern-made copies of this box usually simplified the design, the tin containers often being made in one piece; some boxes had a waist belt strap only, some only a shoulder strap. Some eliminated the tool pouch. Finials were often of lead or wood instead of brass. Southern-made cartridge-box flaps rarely had a brass badge, although some made in Richmond did have this bit of luxury; H M Richmond and Sons, for example, stamped the letters "CS" in an oval on the flap of their boxes.
Finally, because of the shortage of leather, the sling and even the outer flap of some boxes were of painted cloth. Plain cotton webbing box slings, and even rifle slings, were made. The cartridge box was carried either on the waistbelt or on the crossbelt tucked under the waistbelt. The waistbelt was supposed to be of black leather, although undied leather and even cotton webbing waistbelts are known to have been issued. Officially the Union army practice of having a brass beltplate was to be followed, and indeed, an oval beltplate, the brass more red than yellow owing to a high percentage of copper, bearing the seals of Georgia or Texas or the letters "NC" or "SC", were also worn if obtainable.
But photographs of Confederate soldiers in the field indicate that most of Lee's infantrymen wore a plain frame buckle of one sort or the other. The majority had a brass frame and were of the styles known as "wishbone", from the split-tongue design, and "Georgia", from its source. Iron buckles, often with roller buckles, were also common. The infantryman had two more accoutrements on his waistbelt; a thin iron pick used to clear a fouled musket nipple, and his cap box. The latter was a small leather pouch holding his copper percussion caps, and was worn on the front right hip, next to the belt buckle. The Union model was black leather with a sheepskin wrapper inside to prevent the caps from falling out when the flap was opened; a double flap gave extra security. Many of these Union cap boxes saw Confederate use 4,000 of them being found on the Chancellorsville battlefield alone.
Southern-made cap boxes tended to be of simpler construction, with only one strap instead of two at the rear, and lead or wood finials instead of brass. British made cap boxes were supplied; being copies of Confederate box and of the British army white buff box which was secured to the cartridge-box sling instead of the waistbelt. At times however, Confederate infantrymen wore this box on the waistbelt. Possibly because they lacked a cartridge-box sling, or possibly because the practice was alien to them.
Southern-made bayonet scabbards, worn on the left hip, beneath the haversack, were plainer than those of the North. The scabbards produced from the iron spike bayonets to be used with the Richmond copies of the M1855 rifled musket were black, the frog sewn rather than riveted. The tip was a small white metal finial instead of a large brass finial of the US army scabbard. British Enfields came complete with scabbard, these being copies of standard British army issue.
Extract from The Army of Robert E Lee, by Philip Katcher
The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, April, 1999