Camp and field life

Winter put an end to active campaigning, and Confederate skirmishers built wood log huts and settled in to a routine. "We were awakened in the morning by the reveille, and at the tap of a drum we formed the ranks and went out to drill and dress parade, and the tattoo sang us to sleep," Benson recalled.

Major Dunlop described his sharpshooter battalion's camp inside the lines of Petersburg:

The standard infantryman's belt plates were worn by Confederate sharpshooters. Although the oval copper plate, backed with lead, on top is generally considered to be a western army style, this particular example was dug up in eastern Virginia. (Author's collection)

Our camp was laid off in the form of a square, three sides of which were occupied by the three companies of the battalion in comfortable shanties covered with tents, facing inward, the second or center company running parallel with the line of the brigade; the first and third companies in reverse order on the two sides of the gulch, running back their full length and facing each other across the square. The foundation for each shanty was made level by digging into the face of the hill and drawing the earth back on the lower side. Chimneys were cut into the wall on the deepest side of the excavation. The lower side was built up to a level with small timbers and a fly tent stretched over the whole. The openings or doors of entrance were all on the inside, which was our parade ground. We were soon as comfortable and happy as soldiers could be. with nothing to do but drill, drill, drill.

The battalion was mustered for roll call, inspection or drill several times during the day, and for roll call occasionally at uncertain hours during the night, that the men might always be ready for duty when called on. Between drills during the day, and after the duties of the day were ended, the men were allowed to ramble, forage or \isit their neighbors of other commands; only they must be on hand at emergency call, day or night. They were always on hand when needed.

Camp life was easy, then, for Confederate sharpshooters. John Young noted that they were "exempt from all regiment or camp duty. ... This freedom from the irksome and distasteful duties of the camp, which were always especially detested by the average Confederate soldier - unaccustomed as he was to do any menial service for himself-made a place in the ranks of the sharpshooters an honor much to be desired."

While most infantry had a chance to rest during the winter months when in regular camps, some skirmishers were still in the field. Dunlop wrote, "During the winter and intervals of rest their position was in front on the outposts and picket lines." This did allow some time for sharpshooters to forage to supplement their diets, which were not all that good in the Confederate Army, consisting largely of occasional meat and a constant supply of flour. Benson recalled in March 18(>4 that he "obtained permission to forage on the other side of the Rapidan [River, Virginia]. Crossing early in the morning, I went as far as the Robinson River. I returned with two cabbages given me by a lady, who gave me also a mug of milk and some bread and butter."

Once the bugle sounded to form up and move out of camp, life became less pleasant. Often the men sang on their march, Benson recalling even on the march from Petersburg to Appomattox how his little company of 17 men "marched in order, as neatly as on drill, keeping step to the song that Reuben Ruff sang in a clear, ringing voice, one of the best voices in our camp. The song was Jubilo,' a negro song first sting by the Yankees, later becoming a favorite amongst Confederates. Like schoolboys on a holiday, we joined in Ruffs chorus at the top of our lungs so that woods and hills along our march fairly rang with shouts of Jubilo.'"

The Confederate Army always traveled light, with little in the way of impedimenta. As sharpshooter John Long wrote:

They carried absolutely nothing, save their arms and haversacks. The last were but of little use. The sharpshooters found it much less burdensome to make a raid for supplies on the line of the enemy than to carry knapsacks. When rations were ordered for three days, they were generally cooked and eaten at the same time; not a difficult thing to do in the Confederate service, where the ration was scientifically calculated to the least that a man could live on. Sometimes blankets and Hv-tents were carried, but only when there was to be a long march, and no immediate prospect of a fight. In the face of the enemy these daring corps usually threw away everything but their arms, and relied for provision on the chance of war.

Confederate Winter Camp

Men in the 1861 Confederate camps carried large Bowie knives, which they expected to use in fierce hand-to-hand combat. Instead they saw more use in knife-throwing matches such as this one. (Harper's Weekly)

Indeed sharpshooters were often lucky in getting food. "One of our wagoners came in last night & brought me an old hen, so you ought to have seen me eat chicken & dumplings," Montgomery wrote home on October 24. "You may be sure they were good, a little tough though." Even officers ate badly. Dunlop recalled that in the fighting towards Petersburg in early 1864:

Our rations were scant and sometimes unsavory, but our appetites bold and aggressive. I devoured the hindquarter of a muskrat with vindictive relish, and looked with longing eyes upon our adjutant general's fat young pointer. One day, during these fights at Spottsylvania, when the Federals were making an assault on our lines and the onset was persistent and furious, while passing along the lines to encourage the men, I discovered in a little branch a turtle of the loggerhead variety. I stopped, threw him out of the water with my sword, turned him on his back, and when he poked out his head to recover his all fours I popped my sabre through his neck and pinned him to the ground, and went on. When the fight was over and the hour of relief came, I went and got him, and such a stew as I had that night!

Generally, according to Dunlop:

The sharpshooters, however, were not seriously affected by the scarcity or poor quality of grub furnished [by] the army; for, be it known, they were just as faithful foragers as they were furious

Men in the 1861 Confederate camps carried large Bowie knives, which they expected to use in fierce hand-to-hand combat. Instead they saw more use in knife-throwing matches such as this one. (Harper's Weekly)

fighters. A chicken, turkey, goose or pig, prowling about their camp or picket liens, night or day, or trespassing upon the territory over which they exercised jurisdiction, was in just as much danger as the full panoplied bluecoat who was so unfortunate as to fall within their clutches.

When Longstreet's Corps was detached from the Army of Northern Virginia to help the Army of Tennessee, Montgomery's sharpshooters went with them. "It has been raining for three days & the whole face of the earth is about shoe mouth deep in mud & water," Montgomery wrote home from near Chattanooga, Tennessee, on October 15, 1863. "I have not been drv since the rain commenced. We have but one tent to the company & I gave mine up to the sick, so I have no shelter only what I can make of my blanket which I assure you is very poor."

Not only were they exposed to the elements, and often badly fed, they were also in constant danger on campaign. According to Dunlop, "in the active campaigning of the summer they occupied the front in the advance, and the rear on a retreat, as skirmishers." Indeed, John Young wrote that, "They were also assigned to the right ol the column - the front in advance, the rear in retreat."

This meant that many of the ordinary niceties of life were ignored. For example, at one time in the 1864 campaign in Virginia, Major Dunlop recalled that the sharpshooters finally got a day off "to wash their shirts, which had not been off their backs for more than five weeks."

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