Extracts from Johnny Reb & Billy Yank
by Alexander hunter of the 17th Virginia Inf. First published 1904.
Saturday night, August sixteenth, the brigade camped at Orange Court House. On Sunday the drum beat the long roll and the men fell into line. The troops were all in light marching order; a blanket or oilcloth, a single shirt, a pair of drawers and a pair of socks rolled tightly therein was swung on the right shoulder while the haversack hung on the left. These, with a cartridge-box suspended from the belt, and a musket carried at will, made up Johnny Reb's entire equipment. As for uniforms, there were not two men clothed alike in the whole regiment, brigade or division; some had caps, some wore hats of every imaginable shape and in every stage of dilapidation, varied in tint by the different shades of hair which protruded through the holes and stuck out like quills upon the fretful porcupine; the jackets were also of different shades, ranging from light gray with gilt buttons, to black with wooden ones; the pants were for the most part of that nondescript hue which time and all weathers give to ruins, or if with the eye of an artist you still sought to name the color, you would be apt to find it, with a strange fatality, like that of the soil; white shirts there were none, shirts of darker shade were scarce, owing to the stringency of the market; some of the men wore boots, others the army brogans; but many were bare-footed; all were dusty and dirty, for no clothes had been issued since the commencement of the early spring campaign. This accounted for the rags and tatters, though the cones and pins of white pine must be held responsible for some of the holes. Human looks did not count for much in this crowd, with whom, though everything else were dull, eyes and gun-barrels yet flashed brightly; neither had the hopes which loomed in their breasts become dimmed, and all else was subservient.
That is a good description of the Confederate fighting man during one of the phases when most Rebels were ragged.
In marching, the troops had learned how to get over the ground without raising such clouds of dust and choking themselves with the flying particles. The ranks of fours would split, one-half to the right and the other to the left, and then choosing untrod ground they would proceed with infinitely less trouble and annoyance than in the old way of marching in solid column. Of course the ubiquitous camp darky, with cooking utensils piled high on his back, brought up the rear of each company.
It might be worth trying at a re-enactment. Walking at the side of the road WWII style instead of marching down the middle raising dust.
The above article appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, October 2000