Discussion The World of the Soldier: Organization below the Company, Messes, Pards, and Cooking

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Zack

Corporal
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
I’ve been watching a bunch of Civil War Digital Digest videos about cooking and camping as well as reading generally and it’s been raising some questions for me.
  • What was the world of the soldier like at the lowest levels?
  • How were soldiers organized below the level of company?
  • How did platoons and squads work in practice and what officers (sergeants, corporals, lieutenants) would be at play?
  • I understand that each company was divided into platoons and the platoons into squads (sections?) but what did that look like at a practical level?

From there, how did that then organize into “messes” of soldiers/pards who pooled resources for cooking and camping purposes? Soldiers who shared shelter halves and pots and canteen half’s and cups and rations and frying pans and what not? How did they acquire these items like sewing kits, writing kits, poke sacks, forks and knives and cups and frying pans?

I hope that makes sense. In the most general sense, what I’m asking is:

How did soldiers organize below the level of a company? How did they acquire and carry the items necessary for living and cooking between them? What officers were at play in these smaller-than-company-sized units and how much control did they have?

I know the most typical answer is “it varied person to person” but I’m speaking in broad/generic terms.
 

Lubliner

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Beneath the Captain of a company was, generally a 1st and 2nd Lieutenant, a sergeant, up to 4 corporals, and the others as privates. General organization from higher up tried to keep the companies and regiments uniform to their State of enrollment. The lower ranking non-commissioned officers were sometimes chosen by the privates. This allowed a buddy system all the way back to the mustering in that remained strong. The chain of command within a unit was efficient to the point where a Captain would have knowledge of his men, and the Lieutenants knowledge of their personal well-being. Anything coming under regulation practice was tested by the men, and whatever happened freely was put to good use. Drill was necessary. Practice with the use of arms and accoutrements was necessary. The flow of command was taught and learned, as well as the supply line. Patterns of practice and formation led to the fluid organization of a company, and when the drill was through, (whistle blew), their falling out would be immediate. Mess mates would be generally the occupants of one tent or shack, maybe two, and the gear for cooking was stowed with the wagon, or its own separate tent.
Life of Billy Yank and Johnny Reb is a lively jaunt into the day to day activities.
Lubliner.
 

H. B. Woodruff

Private
Joined
May 10, 2019
I can not speak for the troops in the civil war or all reenactors, but when I go to a campaigner event there is a minimum of 3 people in our mess. I bring a hatchet and a small belt knife, my partner brings a boiler and a small frypan, and another guy brings a shovel. We then also have a plate, cup, and flatware each. Along with a shelter half and a blanket each to share as required. We try to do everything we can together to make the experience as good as you can make it.
 
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unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
I’ve been watching a bunch of Civil War Digital Digest videos about cooking and camping as well as reading generally and it’s been raising some questions for me.
  • What was the world of the soldier like at the lowest levels?
  • How were soldiers organized below the level of company?
  • How did platoons and squads work in practice and what officers (sergeants, corporals, lieutenants) would be at play?
  • I understand that each company was divided into platoons and the platoons into squads (sections?) but what did that look like at a practical level?

From there, how did that then organize into “messes” of soldiers/pards who pooled resources for cooking and camping purposes? Soldiers who shared shelter halves and pots and canteen half’s and cups and rations and frying pans and what not? How did they acquire these items like sewing kits, writing kits, poke sacks, forks and knives and cups and frying pans?

I hope that makes sense. In the most general sense, what I’m asking is:

How did soldiers organize below the level of a company? How did they acquire and carry the items necessary for living and cooking between them? What officers were at play in these smaller-than-company-sized units and how much control did they have?

I know the most typical answer is “it varied person to person” but I’m speaking in broad/generic terms.
I tried to base my reenactment impression of a typical soldier on some research material I had read.

Hard Marching Every Day, 1861-1865: The Civil War Letters of Private Wilber Fisk, edited by Emil & Ruth Rosenblatt.

No Soap, No Pay, Diarrhea, Dysentery & Desertion: A Composite Diary of the Last 16 Months of the Confederacy from 1864 to 1865
, Edited by Jeff Toalson.

The Civil War Infantryman: In Camp, on the March, and in Battle, by Gregory A. Coco.

Beyond The Battlefield: The Ordinary Life And Extraordinary Times Of The Civil War Soldier
, Edited by David Madden.

The Union Soldier In Battle: Enduring The Ordeal Of Combat
, by Earl J. Hess.

These helped with my impression. Maybe they might help with yours.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 
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