A Question About Blanket Rolls

Zack

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#1
I was watching the wonderful Civil War Digest videos on blanket rolls and haversacks and had a few follow up questions.

Since the haversack can really only fit rations and utensils, how did soldiers carry the rest of their stuff (imagining that the soldier is not using a knapsack)? The video suggested pockets and the blanket roll for things like writing kit, deck of cards, tobacco, pipe, matches, etc.

I understand pockets are always an option, although I imagine in combat they’d want to keep their pockets available for extra rounds of ammunition (40 in the box, 20 in the pockets). Stories about a deck of cards or book stopping a bullet suggest they were carried somewhere on the chest. Do most sack coats have inner or outer pockets or could this be the blanket roll?

Is it feasible to roll up a writing kit, book, etc in a blanket roll if the soldier has elected not to carry a knapsack? Has anyone tried it? Any period accounts about it?

Furthermore, when a soldier undid his blanket roll at night, where did all his loose items wind up? The extra shirt and socks and, depending on the answer to the above, writing kit?
 

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#2
I was watching the wonderful Civil War Digest videos on blanket rolls and haversacks and had a few follow up questions.

Since the haversack can really only fit rations and utensils, how did soldiers carry the rest of their stuff (imagining that the soldier is not using a knapsack)? The video suggested pockets and the blanket roll for things like writing kit, deck of cards, tobacco, pipe, matches, etc.

I understand pockets are always an option, although I imagine in combat they’d want to keep their pockets available for extra rounds of ammunition (40 in the box, 20 in the pockets). Stories about a deck of cards or book stopping a bullet suggest they were carried somewhere on the chest. Do most sack coats have inner or outer pockets or could this be the blanket roll?

Is it feasible to roll up a writing kit, book, etc in a blanket roll if the soldier has elected not to carry a knapsack? Has anyone tried it? Any period accounts about it?

Furthermore, when a soldier undid his blanket roll at night, where did all his loose items wind up? The extra shirt and socks and, depending on the answer to the above, writing kit?
This is some info I have collected over time on the subject...
Blanket Roll vs Knapsack


The Story of the Common Soldier, Leander Stillwell says, "So we would fold in our blanket an extra shirt, along with a few other light articles. Roll the blanket tight, double it over, and tie the ends together, and then throw the blanket over one shoulder, with the ends tied under the opposite arm.

John Worsham, in his Confederate memoir, One of Jackson's Foot Cavalry, gave another view: "I had a very good oilcloth haversack to carry my rations in, a tin cup, a splendid rubber cloth, and blanket, a pair of jeans drawers [!], and a pair of woolen socks; ...The socks and the drawers were placed on the blanket, the blanket was rolled up with the rubber cloth on the outside, the ends drawn together and fastened with a short strap. To carry this, we put it over our head and let it hang from the shoulder."

Diary of Pvt Pierce, 16th Texas Dismounted Cav the morning after Mansfield:
April 9th:
”At day light some of us began to prowl about some--the Federals having left during the night--I went forward towards the peach orchard on a little knoll on side of hill at edge of the orchard. I found quite a number of dead Yankees; one that had had his brains shot out facing the Confederates. He had a bright new outfit--Endfield rifle and aquarterments and I proceeded to take his and throw mine down. He had only used a few cartridges out of his box and I also took his knapsack it being a good one. His pockets had been turned wrong side out before I found him. Passing on farther and to the right I found in a fence corner next to the road a young man who seemed to be dressed in better material than most private soldiers. He was wounded through the hips and someone had stretched a blanket over him to keep off the sun which was by this time up. When I went up to him he commenced to beg me not to kill him which vexed me to think that he had such a foolish idea about Texans; and replied, "You fool! What would I want to kill you for? Don’t you know any better than that?" About this time I heard the order to fall in and hastened to the company and was just in time to take my place in ranks to start on the march to Pleasant Hill to catch the Yankees.”

Book: "Red Dirt and Isinglass, A War Time Biography of a Confederate Soldier" by Henry Vaughan McCrea.
Ferguson Hospital
Lynchburg VA
July 6th 1863

"They gave our boys in the Reg. just before the last march a choice to have their their tents hauled or or a portion of their kanpsacks Of course, they all preferred the knapsacks. They carried one knapsack for every five men. I put a pair of pants and some other tricks in one and sent them on."

Brigham Buswell, a member of Berdan's Sharpshooters, tells in his memoirs how very little he carried in the retreat on the Penninsula in June 1862:

"Our remaining worldly possessions were now reduced to a minimum. They were carried in a small black rubber blanket rolled up and thrown over the shoulder and tied on the other side below the arm. They consisted of one heavy woolen shirt, one pair of socks, a spool of thread, a few buttons and needles, a diary in which I tried as well as I could to record the incidents each day and a testament that my mother gave me when she bade me farewell. Not thinking as we had orders to change camp in a hurry I forgot everything but the shirt, the smaller articles remaining on the ground where they fell."

ANV Louisianians suggest blanket rolls were the prime item in 62 to facilitate their speedy marches so I doubt they would switch to knapsacks later.

April 18, 1862... "Now prepared for the certainty of swift marching, each man carried only his gun and ammunition, an extra outfit of clothing and shoes, and one blanket. Tents gave way to the necessity of using whatever shelter the countryside afforded. All (General Richard) Taylor required for himself, including a small fly tent and a single change of underwear, he carried on his horse. A Confederate lieutenant described Taylor as wearing a black hat and black overcoat, and like other officers, he tended to keep the overcoat on, even during warm weather to protect against a sudden chill or rain. Tom Strother, his servant, rode alongside, equally Spartan in his accoutrements. 'My people grumbled no little at being stripped,' Taylor recalled, 'but soon admitted that they were better for it,' despite the shock of several more violent storms."
Source: page 148-149, "Richard Taylor: Soldier Prince of Dixie" by T. Michael Parrish - University of North Carolina Press: 1992

Article, dated April 14, 1864, in The Mobile Daily Register and Advertise:

"Knapsacks have fallen into general discredit and disuse in the Confederate armies, and in division [sic? derision] of them the soldiers call them "hand organs." Whenever a company or regiment is seen marching with "knapsacks slung" the taunt is sure to follow: "I say, you've got your organs; where's your monkey? You left them behind, expecting to find bigger and better monkeys down here," &c.
A blanket and oilcloth twisted into the shape of a boa constrictor, and slung about the shoulders of the soldier, is the light equipment for heavy, rapid marching now.
"
===============================================================
Some reenactor info passed around on the subject...
It must not be assumed that full knapsacks were always necessary every time soldiers set out on a march. Naturally, if an army was moving from one place to another, it was necessary. But, if some elements of the army were marching out and back again on a patrol or a scouting mission, or if the army was making a limited march into enemy territory where resistance (a battle) was expected, but leaving its main camp intact, only a limited amount of supplies were needed This is an ideal scenario for most battle reenactments, because, in fact, the camp remains intact.

In such cases, men were issued extra food, which they carried in their haversacks, and extra ammunition, which they carried in their pockets or knapsacks in wet weather. The men would only carry enough equipment for field camping (an extra shirt, extra underwear and socks, toiletries, cleaning equipment, shelter halves, and maybe gum blankets, depending on the expected duration of the march and expected weather based on time of the year. As soldiers became veterans, they often went without shelter halves and gum blankets, and even the extra clothing, preferring to sleep rolled up only in their blankets Many times they were too tired to care about even those amenities and slept anywhere, under any conditions, along the sides of the road in bivouac.

A means of carrying these few necessities for short duration is as old as armies themselves - roll everything up in a blanket and sling it over the shoulder.

Most attempts of reenactors to depict this practice result in either of two extremes. On the one hand, the blanket is obviously empty and worn merely for decoration. On the other hand, it results in a bundle of so many items that the blanket roll is absurd in its bulk and impossible to wear A reenactor's primary concern is usually the problem of how to fire his musket with this monster coiled around him. The main concern of a real veteran is the comfort and convenience of being able to carry his load over a long march.

The most convenient solution reenactors use to this problem is to wear the blanket over the left shoulder. Yes, it allows the weapon to be fired without obstruction, but it causes many more problems to the veteran: the ends of the blanket tied at the right hip obstruct access to the cartridge box and get in the way of the "prime" position; "shoulder arms" is difficult because the same bulk at the right hip make it difficult to hold the weapon in close to the body; and "support arms" is impossible because of the bulk on the left shoulder. Another consideration not taken into account by the reenactor whose cartridge box is full of blanks, is that a full cartridge box is very heavy and pulls on the left shoulder

To balance the overall weight of the soldier's load, as little else as possible should be carried on the left shoulder. Consider for a moment carrying the blanket roll on the right shoulder. If the bulk does not exist, the musket can still be fired, and, not only are all arms carries unobstructed, but the extra padding on the right shoulder making "right shoulder shift" a much more comfortable, even preferred, position for long periods of time Also, when at "support arms" the left hand can be placed on or under the blanket roll for support; access to the cartridge box is not obstructed; the weight of a full cartridge box is all the left shoulder need carry; and the canteen full of water and the haversack full of food is in the shadow of the ends of the blanket on the left hip where the sun cannot get at them, keeping both cooler. Doesn't this sound like a veteran who has been doing it for a long time and who has found the most sensible, comfortable and utilitarian way of carrying a blanket roll?

Now, how do you accomplish such a miracle of military science? You simply create what amounts to two "bags" out of your blanket. One bag hangs in the front, the other hangs in the back, and the center, which rests on your shoulder is only as thick as 5 or 6 layers of wool and becomes a very wide strap that can carry a heavy load without cutting into the shoulder. There is no great bulk at the shoulder to obstruct firing
1. Lay your blanket open on the ground.
2. Fold any clothing to be carried flat and lay them on the blanket, side by side, on one half of the blanket, between the end stripe and 5 or 6 inches from the center of the length of the blanket.
3. Place small items on the other half of the blanket near the end stripe, making a long, thin, evenly distributed pile with the largest, heaviest and bulkiest items nearer to the end stripe, and the smaller, lighter items toward the center. Remember that the ends of the blanket will be "down" and the center of the blanket will be "up", so any containers should have their tops facing the center of the blanket. Making little packages or draw-string bags to put things in will make this packing, as well as knapsack packing, a lot easier You will not have a large number of loose, small items falling about.
4. If the shelter half is to be carried, fold it so that it fits on the blanket between the end stripe and 5 or 6 inches from the center, and is as wide as the blanket. Place it down first with the clothing on top (some clothing may be put on the small-items side of the blanket to reduce the bulk of the shelter half/clothing side when the blanket is rolled up).
5. If the gum blanket is also to be carried, it can be placed on the small-items side folded in the same manner as the shelter half. If rain is a possibility, it can be rolled over the blanket AFTER the blanket is rolled up but not tied to or with the blanket. This makes it easy to take off and place over the shoulders as a rain coat if necessary At any rate, your blanket and its contents will stay dry. Don't spread the shelter half or gum blanket flat on the blanket and roll them with the blanket, because the bulk at the shoulder will be too much to handle.
6. The shelter half and gum blanket should not extend beyond the far edge of the blanket so when it is rolled up they will stick out.
7. Try to make the loads on both sides as even as possible, but it is not necessary. If the loads are of different sizes, the larger "bag" will be carried in back to keep it out of the way. It may even be more convenient for you to make one side larger than the other so the bag in front is not so bulky that it gets in your way Some experimentation may be necessary hat is more comfortable for you. It needs to be tried several times, learning new lessons from each experiment.
8. Roll up your blanket from the edge where the items are stored.
9. Fold the blanket in half bringing the two ends with the stripes together with the raw edge on the inside to keep it from fraying and snagging any movements.
10. Tie the ends together at the stripe. Tie one end tightly, then run the cord to the other end and tie it tightly also. The tie should be high enough and tight enough that it will not slip out when carried The two ends need not be held tightly together. The larger the loads within the blanket, or the greater the bulk the blanket has to get around, the more space you will have to leave between the ends. Your extra shoe laces are excellent for this job, and will not require obtaining anything more than you already have on hand.
11. Do not tie the center where the blanket will rest on your shoulder. It will cause a bulging at exactly the spot where it should be flat. Other ties may be made at the tops of each "bag" if desired, but remember that the more ties, the more difficult it will be to get inside
12. During rest stops, the blanket roll can be thrown against a tree or placed under the head as a pillow.
Remember that the more "veteran" a soldier became, the less he felt he needed to sustain himself in the field. Blanket rolls are meant to be convenient and should never to so bulky as to obstruct movement or be a burden.

Kevin Dally
 

Zack

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#3
@Tin cup
Wow thank you for the detailed answer! I had never thought of the bags idea of a blanket roll. Do you have any period accounts of soldiers discussing that? Or any photos of a reenactor doing it?

I particularly liked the Berdan account describing carrying a journal and testament in his blanket roll (only to leave it behind in the chaos of retreat).
 
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#4
@Tin cup
Wow thank you for the detailed answer! I had never thought of the bags idea of a blanket roll. Do you have any period accounts of soldiers discussing that? Or any photos of a reenactor doing it?

I particularly liked the Berdan account describing carrying a journal and testament in his blanket roll (only to leave it behind in the chaos of retreat).
Zack:

I've usually used a Blanket Roll, the weight centered over my body was just easier for me to march with, instead of a knapsack trying to pull on my back. Have had TWO knee replacements, several other knee operations, so I'm picky about how I carry stuff.
One lesson I learned was in case of bad weather, if I had the ground cloth inside, or covering OVER the blanket roll, then I couldn't access it. So, the picture with the ground cloth folded and wrapped around the bottom of the roll, I can unbuckle it, and wrap it around me, covering a lot of me from rain.

The picture of us marching into FT. MCKavett last year, shows both blanket rolls and knapsacks being used. I'm the second from the left.

The last photo is of me in my Confederate uniform/equipage at the Texas Monument at Vicksburg, there I have my ground cloth wrapped around my blanket roll.

I usually carry a "ditty" bag or two that carries my loose stuff cleaning kit items, patching material to clean my rifle bore, mirror, sewing kit. I may have rope and wood stakes for tenting purposes, those go into another ditty bag. I always have an extra shirt, a "huck" towel, and extra socks, shelter HALF, and a wool sleeping cap. I also have a small hatchet that placed in the blanket roll, takes up little room. I lay out the blanket with the shelter half placed on it length-ways, place the towel, shirt, cap, and hatchet so they lay flat, not bunched up about 1/3rd the way up from one end. Then from the opposite end I place the ditty bag, and any other loose items centered on the blanket. I fold the blanket up so the opposite edges meet, enclosing everything. I fold the edges to meet again, then usually give the whole length a twist, then bring the ends over to strap them together. The side that is the least bulky, I will place THAT in front, the bulkier side I fold and wrap my gum blanket around, that goes to my back.

I have used this so much, that at night I know how everything is situated, so if I don't get TOO scattered about, I can find stuff I need. If it's inclement weather, and I have extra arsenal packs, I have a peice of oil cloth I can wrap them in, but usually that is not a serious requirement, 40 in the box is usually enough.

Kevin Dally

blanket roll.jpg


Marching to FT. McKavett .jpg


Kevin at VNBP 2.jpg
 
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#5
I was watching the wonderful Civil War Digest videos on blanket rolls and haversacks and had a few follow up questions.
One other thing I have also done is fold up my ground cloth in such a way that I could place in back, draped over my belt. Two things though that made me not do this anymore, (but others still do) is it's a lot of xtra weight pulling against the belt, fear of stretching it, or tearing out a loop-hole, and/or breaking the hook on the belt-plate. A failure I'd hate to have out in the field!

Kevin Dally
 

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