There were two main types of knapsacks; rigid and non-rigid. Rigid knapsacks were particularly favoured by militia units in the early stages of the war and had a square wooden frame covered with waterproof cloth or canvas with two small straps on top to secure a blanket. These rigid knapsacks looked full whether anything was in them or not, adding to a regiment's neat appearance on the parade ground. In the Mexican War, American infantry had worn a rigid knapsack with a waterproofed cover. Though looking smart, rigid knapsacks could be uncomfortable to wear. In 1853 a non-rigid model knapsack was
Standing by a stack of arms and a typically ornate drum, the sergeant major is fully clothed and equipped and carries a regulation sword. This image is one of a contemporary series of photographs made to demonstrate the dress of the various Union services. Few soldiers would have looked as ideal as this on campaign. David Scheinmann.
introduced, but it seems the majority of militia units were content to remain with the old rigid model. Knapsacks covered in animal hide which were favoured in Europe were quite rare in America. But they had been part of the consignment of Chasseur uniforms ordered by the United States government and Berdan's Sharpshooters were also issued with them.
'Soft' knapsacks of waterproofed cotton or canvas were the knapsacks most often carried by infantry soldiers in the Civil War. In 1857 army regulations ordered that all knapsacks should be painted black. Infantry knapsacks were to carry their owner's regimental number in the centre and officially this number was to be one and a half inches in length and painted in white paint. Knapsacks were also to be marked on the inside with the letter of the company the soldier belonged to.
Many soldiers dispensed with knapsacks or lost them on campaign. The 5th New York, whose original
14th Brooklyn re-enactors relaxing in camp display the type of stiff knapsacks that were a favourite with militia units in the early war years. The 14th kept their smart red blankets rolled on top and the regimental numerals are stencilled on the backs of their knapsacks, a common practice with many Civil War regiments. Robert C. Duffy.
knapsacks had been manufactured by the Gutta Percha Company of New York, lost many of theirs after the battle of Malvern Hill. No rules seem to have been enforced about knapsacks and for comfort, many soldiers particularly infantrymen in the Western campaigns, tossed their knapsacks aside, preferring instead to keep their belongings in a blanket roll tied around the shoulders. This romantic image of soldiers with their possessions bundled up in a blanket is usually associated with Confederates, but it was a common practice with Union soldiers as well. A knapsack crammed full of blankets and personal items could easily become unbearable on the march, especially with the sun heating up the waterproofed canvas. A blanket roll draped around the body was much easier to march with.
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