Food and Shelter…Or Not

You may recall how the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut were ordered to drop all their gear—knapsacks, woolen blankets, rubber blankets, shelter tents, overcoats—so they wouldn”t be hindered by those things during the rigors of marching and fighting. They would be at Bolivar for six weeks and they needed that missing gear to protect them from the elements.

A Sibley tent could sleep up to a dozen men.
A Sibley tent could sleep up to a dozen men.

The men began to strengthen the Bolivar fortifications against possible Rebel attack. In their digging they discovered some Sibley tents that had been buried by the defenders of Harper’s Ferry to keep them from falling into the hands of the Rebels. Each Sibley tent could hold about a dozen men, and with a fire burning brightly in the center of the tent, it could be quite cozy. The tents were a great find to be sure, but there were not enough of them to go around. Sgt. Ben Hirst and some of his friends in Company D were among the fortunate ones and enjoyed the benefits of being warm and dry at night, while many others were forced to live entirely exposed to the elements.

Food was lousy, and their water was often unclean. Hirst wrote to his wife, Sarah, on October 1, that “all the rations that we have received since we occupied this place has been our rations of hard bread (hardtack) and coffee, sugar, and pork (salt pork). We have had fresh meat once, rice once, and beans once.”

Under the pen-name Dunn Browne, Captain Samuel Fiske wrote to the Springfield Republican on September 24, “Did you ever see a brigadier general riding along on his splendid charger, with a string of sweet corn ears hanging on his left arm, and onion tops peeping out of his saddle bags? I did, yesterday, and observed his look of triumph in the possession of the aforesaid articles, greater than if he had gained a battle.” Of course, the good and healthy food would be reserved for the officer’s own table.

The residents of Bolivar and Harper’s Ferry knew a good business opportunity when they saw it. Many sold loaves of bread and cakes to the soldiers. The men also wrote home for food to supplement their meager diets, and when such a parcel did arrive, they could all gladly echo Hirst’s words of thanks to Sarah, “I have just received the good things you sent me and it has put new life in me.”


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