It has always amazed me how much Civil War soldiers endured just trying to stay alive while not on the field of battle. Basic necessities that we take for granted, such as heat, light, clean and dry clothing, food sufficient to their needs, and a warm, dry place to sleep were a daily struggle. So while we are all snug in our beds, with visions of sugar plums dancing through our heads, let’s take a moment to consider how these heroes of old lived 150 years ago. The following is excerpted from a letter of Capt. Samuel Fiske (a.k.a. Dunn Browne):
Imagine your self carrying all that you have to eat, drink, wear and sleep under for five days on your back, and your weapons and your ammunition besides, and then march, not independently, or at your leisure, but in column, where you cannot dodge the ditches and puddles and other bad places, rapidly and through the warm portion of the day, say, at a moderate estimate, fifteen miles, till you are thoroughly saturated, as to all your clothes, with perspiration, as you surely will be even if the day be quite cold.
And then at dark or an hour after, as the cold night comes down around you, you turn out from the road, stumble across a field or meadow, thoroughly wet your feet and legs in crossing a slough or brook, spend fifteen or twenty shivering minutes in dressing the lines and stacking arms, and find yourself dismissed for the night. You know nothing where to seek for water for your coffee, or wood to cook your supper and dry your soaking feet, but you must go running round the country until you have supplied yourself in abundance, and that, too, when several thousand other soldiers are in competition with you at the same market.
Then you must kindle your fire, get out your little cup and make your coffee over a smoking, out-of-door fire, eat your hard crackers and pork, and dry off your clothes and persons as best you may by the fire, and exposed most likely to the chilling wind. Then you must select your place on the freezing ground, spread out your rubber blanket, and if you have a chum as every good soldier should, lay one of your woolen blankets under you and spread the other over the two of you, and the other rubber blanket above that and lie down, overcoats on, to the warmest sleep you can command.
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”