YOUNG CIVIL WAR RECRUITS HAD TO LEARN PROCESS OF SOLDIERING HARD WAY - ON LONG MARCHES
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
The American Civil War (1861-1865) was an atrocity that cannot be measured unless the dead were counted, over 620,000 total in a four year period. However, at this time we shall uncover the new recruit and his efforts during his every day's experiences.
In war time, the raw soldier was known to the veteran as a "tenderfoot." This term was not out of place when applied to a recruit, as was clearly shown before the end of his first day's march. There were few who indeed did not experience the untamed, frustrating pain from blisters on the feet before the "tenderfoot" became toughened to the roads of the day, with all their atrocious conditions. Of course, the "wonderfully" made army shoe took its toll on the new chap. This shoe was so hated that most called it the "gunboat."
A soldier was of little account as a factor in war unless he could march without becoming crippled, mostly referring to infantry as it made up most of the heavy fighting. In long campaigns they must move like the cattle, which accompanied them to supply them with fresh beef. The full measurement of capability was reached when the soldier could march twenty, thirty or even forty miles a day and be able to fight when he arrived at the battleground.
The long marches beneath a scorching sun, hampered with all the traps that made up a soldier's outfit, tend to make it all seem impossible unless their goal is completed. An ordinary man could possibly walk forty miles within 24 hours without severe distress, but load him down with a musket, cartridge box and accessories, sixty or eighty rounds of ball cartridges, a bulging knapsack containing food for at least three days, a canteen of water, blanket, overcoat and knapsack, and before the march is over he will be a used-up-man.
Words cannot describe one who has experienced the challenges of the total agony of every aching muscle, fiber and tendon of limb and body. Included in this suffering was the probing misery where belts and straps have ground the dust into the agonizing flesh, and shoes have worn the skin from tender feet. Not to mention the aching of shoulders and back and legs that have mustered the extreme bulkiness along the many exhaustive miles.
The young soldier boy would leave home with the hearts of mother and family quivering with a loving desire to fit him with everything possible in the way of home comforts. This young recruit started for the war with a wheel barrow load of clothing, a bed quilt or two, books, photograph albums, toilet articles and many other miscellaneous items.
Without the slightest knowledge of the act of war, the knapsack would be crammed full with everything one could imagine. It was an incredible chore for the soldier to march with this enormous load simply because at the end of the first day' march every pound seemed like a hundred.
With a critical lesson learned, the shrinkage of the knapsack was the beginning of the process that steadily transformed the recruit into the soldier. A greenhorn for the march would always receive taunts and gibes from the seasoned veterans, who had graduated from the hard knocks of soldiering. These veterans had also at one time tried to carry awkward knapsacks jam-packed with the gifts of loved ones.
The young observing recruit noticed that the veterans knapsacks were shrunken and trim, while half of them had nothing at all. With the visual attraction of the veteran's orderly knapsack, the recruit found it to be of the highest importance to learn how little he could get along with and be rather contented.
However, the conscript, seemingly ready for action, filled with loyal sentiment, had a lesson to learn. He thought he could measure his powers of stamina and had to find out for himself how incorrect he was.
At the sound of the military beats, the bugle or tap of drum, he contentedly shouldered his immense load of sixty or seventy pounds, and plodded bravely off at the command of "march."
Before the end of the first mile was accomplished his attitude changed dramatically. The bugle sounded for the first five minutes rest, after an hour's journey, and he seriously argued with himself whether to abandon part of his goods. During the break he took inventory of his knapsack and examined exactly what he was carrying. Should he or should he not dispose of many articles that he had no need for? The mementos and keepsakes had certainly registered on his mind, whereas he still had not gotten out of the state of sentimentality into the practical.
The few minutes of rest had restored him to his normal condition, and his eagerness to get used to his over-romantic burden transformed him into a patriotic soldier again, regardless of the circumstances.
Seemingly, he was urged at the conclusion of this inspection that there was nothing he could throw away to relieve the pain of the march. Still, he couldn't help but notice that the seasoned veterans, whose personal baggage consisted only of their blankets rolled like big sausages with the ends tied together and thrown over their shoulders, were quite content. In a display of valor the raw recruit would show them that he could carry his load and travel as fast and as far as they could. And so, in a fit of boldness at the call of "fall in," he would buckle up his knapsack and sling it cheerfully over his shoulders.
A cry of the second "fallout" was much more brutal than the first. The weight of the knapsack, blanket, haversack, musket and cartridge box, along with the headaches and constant pain, seemed to increase considerably. His personal feeling was to drop into a fence corner again before the column was half way to the next stopping place and take inventory. His holding out was one of stamina and stubbornness.
At last! The sound of the bugle! Nothing pleased his ears more than the shrill sound of the bugle! Sentiments would now take second place! Immediately he opened his knapsack and flung away articles that caring hands had prepared. No regrets! Only relief! At the next "halt" he would rid himself of other touching articles. Some small items that gripped his heart he held onto to.
Surely this was the system applied to many soldiers during the Civil War. With no formal directions the soldier was left to fend for himself. Time had not allowed for proper training, and so mistakes were possibly the most complimentary standard.
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