Thursday, December 1, 2011

Knapsack Weight, Rations and Camps

Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 25, Part 2, Chapter XXXVII, p. 487-492

Before March 7th, 1863, the average Union soldier carried:

Each man carried in his knapsack and on his person eight days' marching ration.........16 lbs
60 rounds of ammunition......................................................................................6 lbs
1 blanket, 1 overcoat (or rubber blanket), one-half shelter-tent, 1 shirt, 1 pair drawers, 1 pair socks, 1 knapsack, and 1 haversack................................................................11 lbs
Gun and accouterments........................................................................................11 lbs
Total weight carried by each man...........................................................................44 lbs


Camp near Falmouth, Va., March 7, 1863.

II. A board, to consist of the following-named officers, is hereby appointed to meet at the headquarters of Brigadier-General Pratt, at 10 a.m. on Monday the 9th day of March, 1863, or as soon thereafter as practicable, for the purpose of taking into consideration the practicability and means of carrying an increased amount of rations by the troops over the three days' usually carried.

The board will consider and experiment upon the best method, and report in detail their proceedings and views. They will have in view the marching of troops without incumbrance of extra clothing or shelter-tents, the use of desiccated vegetables or flour, and the carrying of fresh beef on the hoof, and the omission, in consequence, of beef or pork from the ration.

Detail for the board.- Brigadier General C. E. Pratt, volunteer service; Colonel T. S. Allen, Fifth Wisconsin Volunteers; Captain O. O. Potter, Thirty-first New York Volunteer; Captain Horace Walker, Fifth Wisconsin Volunteers; First Lieutenant Joseph G. Roberts, Sixth Maine Volunteers.

By command of Major-General Hooker

In pursuance of Special Orders, Numbers 65, from headquarters Army of the Potomac, the board therein detailed assembled, and proceeded to make the experiment required and arrived at the conclusion herein-after stated. In order to ascertain the amount of weight usually carried by soldiers in this army, average knapsacks were weighed, with the contents therein and blanket rolled on top, and the men weight was found to be 15 1/2 pounds.

We then took out the contents of the knapsack, and packed inside ten days' rations of hard bread, to with:

100 biscuits and ten days' sugar and coffee, and it then weighed, with blanket..................................................................17 lbs.

Without blanket.......................................................11 3/4 lbs.

With a change of clothing-shirt, drawers, and socks.......18 1/2 lbs.

With coffee, sugar, and desiccated vegetables..............20 1/2 lbs.

Three days' rations of biscuit, bacon, and small-stores were put into a haversacks, and it weighed........................................5 3/4 lbs.

The average weight of blanket....................................5 1/4 lbs.

The average weight of overcoat..................................5 1/4 lbs.

The average weight of half shelter-tent........................1 3/4 lbs.

The average weight of change of clothing......................2 lbs.

It was found what knapsacks would easily contain one hundred crackers, and that it was better to place at least as much as one shirt in the part of the knapsacks next to the soldier's back, in order that the biscuit might not chafe the skin, and that so long as a knapsack is carried neither the weight of the extra clothing nor the space occupied by it was sufficient to justify dispensing with the same; in fact, it can be carried better than not.

It is also to be observed that ten biscuits, although called a day's ration are not sufficient upon the march, when no other articles, such as beans, rice, and desiccated vegetables are issued.

The board further placed five days' rations of bacon in a haversack, with ten days' coffee and sugar, and that amount was tried upon a soldier and worn without difficulty. But it should be here stated that the haversacks is found, when loaded to its capacity, to fatigue, the men in moderate or cold weather more than a knapsack with 15 pounds inside.

The board, after numerous experiments, and from their previous experience with troops in the field, agreed upon the following conclusion: As a maximum the men, by dispensing with extra clothing, except one extra shirt, drawers, and socks, can carry in their knapsacks one hundred biscuits and eight days' small-stores and, in the haversacks two days' cooked rations, which, with eight days' fresh beef upon the hoof, will make ten days' full rations Two days' only are put in the haversack for the reason that the weight is more easily carried upon the back.

The board also thought that if two pack-mules with pack-saddles were furnished to each regiment, a sufficient number of camp-kettles might be carried, with rations of rice, beans, and desiccated vegetables sufficient to cook the fresh beef properly, and furnish the necessary quantity of soup upon all occasions, and make the one hundred biscuits last ten days if instead of eight, as before stated.

The question creating most embarrassment in the minds of the board was how to provide for line officers who have no knapsacks, but it is considered that all difficulties can be obviated upon ordinary marches if each line officer is required to employ the servant for which he is paid. The officer himself can carry his blanket and two days' rations, and the servant the balance; it being understood that his necessary baggage and mess-chest should be carried in a reserve column of transportation.

The foregoing is stated to show what can be carried under the most favorable circumstances, but considering the climate, the state of the roads, and the fact that three days' [rations] has heretofore been the maximum amount, the board recommend as follows:

1. That all extra clothing, except a change of underclothing, be stored.

2. That five days' rations of bread and small-stores be placed in the knapsack.

3. Three days' cooked rations in the haversack, and five days' fresh beef upon the hoof.

4. Two mules per regiment to carry camp-kettles, rice, beans, &c.

Each soldier will carry

Haversack - 5 3/4 lbs
Knapsack - 6 lbs
Blanket - 5 1/4 lbs
Clothing - 2 lbs
Total - 19 lbs
Making 13 pounds in the knapsacks, being 2 pounds less than the weight usually carried by soldiers in this army in their knapsacks.

QUARTERMASTER-GENERAL'S OFFICE, Washington City, January 2, 1862[3].

The following paper is translated from a sketch of the organization of a light movable column of troops by Mr. Alexis Godillot, an extensive manufacturer of clothing and equipments for the French army.

Mr. Godillot's great experience (being, it is understood, the principal

contractor for clothing and equipping the army of France) gives his opinion value.

I have thought his ideas of sufficient interest to endeavor to make them known to some of our intelligent officers. They may bear fruit.

The use of hand-mills for grinding corn would enable a column of men to dispose with flour or wheat bread during a march of some extent. They could be carried on the pack mules or horses.




Flying column.
2,000 infantry (officers on foot).
400 cavalry.
2 pieces of artillery.
50 led horses (conducted by men on foot) carrying litters, cacolets, and officers' tents.

For each man, empty entirely the knapsack, and refill it with small linen bags containing coffee, tea, sugar, rice, salt, pepper, and Cholet's desiccated and compressed vegetables. Take plenty of lard or suet in the small gamelle or mess-pan with which each man is furnished.

Plenty of cartridges-60 in the knapsack, 40 in the cartridge-box. Each man must have, besides, 7 pounds sea-buscuit, inclosed in a wrapper and placed in the knapsacks under the cover, in the place where the folded coat is usually carried (see the drawings in the album of the packed knapsack, and the instruction which has been to every sergeant and corporal of the regiments which have received French equipments.)

Tell of them men into squads of 8 each, and give, besides the regular equipment of each of them, to one a marmite (or covered kettle), to another a large gamelle, to another an ax, to another a pick, to another a shovel. (These articles are to be fastened under the large strap of the knapsack). One man in each company should carry the hospital knapsack, and it is well understood that each man ought to carry, folded, a blanket and his share of the shelter-tent.

The cavalry should be furnished as the infantry but carry, in addition, pickets and grain for their horses.

Thus do away with all wagons.

To make a fire, it is sufficient to make a trench in the ground narrower than the bottom of the kettle, arrange the marmites or large kettles of a whole company side by side, and slip the wood under them. The kettles have covers, serving as stew-pans. The men ought, without cooks, to make a soup and another mess of some kind or other in fifteen minutes.

Everything being arranged, put the column in motion. Encamp the first night, and see that you have everything in order. After this, march forward overthrow the enemy, take his works, and establish yourself.

This done, while some intrench, others prepare the food, others pitch the tents, &c.

On the following day, from the depot, the wagons are sent forward, accompanied by detachments, to revictual the column. Go on thus, advancing always. Alarm the enemy, break up his camps, and keep always advancing. These are the tactics which the French army employs with success.


The shelter-tent is of much use to the soldiers.

1. It serves, buttoned up, as a bag, in which the man sleeps, under the large tent, or anywhere.

2. It serves as a bag to collect provisional and forage.

3. The men, buttoning them together, make of them tents or galleries, under which they are protected from the cold and rain. The more men unite, the better the tent, but eight men together can make an excellent tent.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Camp near Falmouth, Va., May 12, 1863.

GENERAL: In the selection of camping-ground, that should be selected which has not heretofore been occupied by troops, but new ground, and that which has natural drainage. All low-lying and bottom lands, and lands in the vicinity of stagnant water, should be avoided. Every camp should be thoroughly ditched by main ditches 18 inches deep, and the ground around the tents drained by ditches leading into the main ditches of the camp. Camps should, whenever possible, be pitched in the vicinity of running streams or of living springs, and the use of surface water, or that from holes dug 2 or 3 feet in the ground, should by all means be avoided. Camps should not be formed in the woods but upon the open ground, where a full and free exposure to the sun and air can be obtained and the tents should be pitched upon the ground, and in no case should men be permitted to excavate the earth underneath them; nor should the distance between the tents be less than that required by the regulations. The tents should be struck twice a week and the ground over which they have been pitched exposed to the direct rays of the sun and to the winds, and, if possible, they should be placed upon new ground, if only a few feet distant, once a week. The troops should be required to procure the small boughs from the pine tree and spread them thickly upon the ground covered by the tents, and should renew them every week. These will keep them from sleeping on the ground, which they should not be permitted to do.

The cooking, especially when in camp, should be done by companies and not by individuals or by squads, and for this purpose two men should be detailed from each company as cooks, one relieved every month, thus allowing each one detailed to be on this duty for two months.

The importance of police, general and personal, cannot be too highly regarded. The blankets and bedding of the men, should be removed from the tents and exposed to the sun and air daily when the weather will permit. Every tent and the grounds in and about and between the camps should be thoroughly policed daily, and all refuse matter or fifth of whatever kind be buried at least 3 feet under ground. All dead animals, all offal and blood from slaughtered animals, should be at once buried at least 4 feet beneath, the surface and the refuse matter from stables and wagon-yards should be buried 2 feet under ground or burned. In every camp sinks should be dug and used, and the men on no consideration allowed to commit any nuisance anywhere within the limits of the army. The sinks should be 8 feet deep, if the ground will permit, and have earth to the depth of 6 inches thrown in every evening, and, when filled within 3 feet of the surface, be entirely filled up with earth and new ones dug. No one thing produces a more deleterious effect upon the health than emanations from the human body, especially when in process of decay; and this one item of police should receive special attention.

Holes should be dug near each company kitchen, in which should be cast all the refuse matters from it, and, when filled to within 2 feet of the surface, should be filled with earth, and new ones dug.

The men should be required to wear their hair cut short, bathe twice a week, and put on clean underclothing at least once a week. The troops should have their breakfast as soon as they rise.

Spasmodic efforts in a matter of such paramount importance as police can be of no service, and I recommend that regimental and other commanders be required to see that these suggestions, if they meet the approval of the commanding general, be fully and continuously carried into effect.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

ONATHAN LETTERMAN, Medical Director.

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