by Pamela Chase Hain and Robert C. Plumb
This is the third installment in a series of posts about the Civil War experience from the perspective of two soldiers, George McClelland from the Union and Thomas Wragg from the Confederacy. Click here to read Part I and Part II.
What were their living conditions?
Blue - George McClelland
Much of George McClelland’s time while serving with the 155th Pennsylvania was spent on the march. Consequently, living conditions during those times of being mobile were difficult and, at times, unhealthy. Tents provided the shelter when available and sleep was taken on the bare ground with a blanket for cover. “[A]ll we want are tents of some kind to protect us from the weather.” (September 30, 1862)
“It commenced raining and has rained ever since. No shelter and it is enough to kill every man in the Regiment … Friday night it rained all night and I lay in it ‘til morning, soaking wet and a cold wind blowing.” (October 14, 1862)
The situation changed significantly when the Army of the Potomac went into winter encampment. “My present residence is composed of logs built up about four feet from the ground, two shelter tents on top. It is 11 feet long in the inside and six feet wide. Then in one end there is a three-cornered fireplace, while a bunk in the other end …. The winter is upon us. It is cold, bitter cold (that is outside.) It’s pretty comfortable where I’m sitting now.” (December 19, 1863)
When Grant took command as general in chief, snug, permanent winter encampments became a thing of the past. The Army of the Potomac was kept on the move and George McClelland was feeling the effects of temporary shelter as the weather turned cold. “We are now turned out of house and home in the dead of winter (and real winter it is), compelled to build huts again in our new position near Hatcher’s Run. My fingers are stiff with cold – I sigh in vain for my cozy little hut with the alcove that I shall see no more forever.” (February 15, 1865)
Gray - Thomas Wragg
During Thomas Wragg 's first summer in the Confederate Infantry, sleeping outside would not have been too unbearable. The northern Virginia climate in June through August would have been warm enough for a single blanket at night. As the weather turned colder, Wragg began to ask his family for an extra blanket, as the Confederate Army did not provide one. By 26 December 1861, however, he complained that the weather was turning cold and their thin tents left them very uncomfortable "although most of us have fireplaces built out of sod." At the time, it had snowed only a little, but he was expecting more. He told his father that the regiment had spent a little more than a week preparing to go into winter quarters by cutting down trees to build six "houses," or as he added, "in other words stables" as they only had a slant roof and no flooring. Each company would have six houses for 12 men each. Wragg feared that with so many men crowded together there would be a great deal of sickness. As it turned out, he was right, and he himself was a victim--not of upper respiratory infection but of dysentery. It landed Wragg in a hospital in Richmond in March, 1862. He had already been sick since December and would be granted a leave of absence until May. Again in November and December 1862 he was reported to be "absent, sick".
Instead of returning to the 8th Georgia Regiment in December, he joined the Confederate Navy--the Savannah Squadron. Since his home was Savannah, it is possible he lived at home during his training in ordnance and gunnery on the ironclad ship, the CSS Georgia. It was common practice for the men and officers assigned to ironclads to sleep outside the ship. An ironclad in the summer in the South would have been like an oven, and extremely unbearable at night.