The Iowa History Project



The Iowa Journal of History and Politics


January 1918




Baggage Trains


            Despite the fact that equipment in general was scarce and difficult to obtain, the baggage wagons of some of the companies in the early days of the war would have rivaled the impedimenta trains which always accompanied the armies of Caesar. Before the war was over, however, the Iowa troops learned that heavy equipments were a hindrance rather than an aid. The size of the equipment trains is suggested by the fact that at one time the Confederate forces captured thirty-five baggage wagons of the Twenty-first Iowa Regiment. Each company of the Eighth Regiment “was allowed two six-mule teams with three for regimental headquarters… Tents, axes, hatchets and the knapsacks of the weak were piled into these wagons till they could hold no more.” The Twelfth Regiment was outfitted with “a full supply of camp and garrison equipage, including Sibley tents, heavy mess chests, axes, spades, picks, with kettles and pans innumerable, and an immense wagon train consisting of twelve wagons, each drawn by six mules; two ambulances, each drawn by four horses.” In fact, the regiment set out “With more baggage and a larger train than would have been allowed three years later for the whole 16th Army Corps”. Without any doubt, “very little, if any, of the heavy camp and garrison equipage first set up by the regiment at Smithland survived the first summer campaign, if, indeed, any of it survived the battle of Shiloh.”83

            These immense trains of baggage were necessitated in part by the fact that such things as tents and mess chests, later furnished in individual sizes and carried by the men, were, at first, in a form which the men could not carry. Instead of individual mess kits there were company mess kits, containing tin plates, cups, spoons, knives, and forks for each man. Each chest contained the mess kits of sixteen men. But “the contents of the mess chest was soon divided up, each man carrying his own plate, cup, knife and spoon in his haversack with his rations”.84 The first tents, too, were of the Sibley pattern, invented by General Sibley and modeled after the Indian tepee. They were cone-shaped, about sixteen feet across at the base and supported by a pole in the center which had an iron tripod foot. The top of the pole supported an iron ring about one foot in diameter, to which the cloth of the tent was attached, thus leaving an opening one foot across at the apex of the tent for ventilation. Each tent accommodated sixteen men, who slept with their heads toward the outer edge of the tent. There was room in the center for a fire. But these tents were too heavy and unwieldy for active service, and soon gave place to the small wedge tent, which in turn was supplanted by the “shelter”, or “pup” tent, just large enough for two men, and so arranged that each man could carry half a tent. When these tents were used it was not necessary to await the wagons before camp could be made.85


82 Des Moines Valley Whig (Keokuk), July 15, 1861; The Dubuque Herald, June 2, 18, 1861, July 30, 1862; Byers’s Iowa in War Times, pp. 71, 72, 498, 522, 524, 592; The Dubuque Weekly Times, January 23, 1862; The Weekly Gate City (Keokuk), December 16, 1861.


83 Dubuque Democratic Herald, December 3, 1862; Byers’s Iowa in War Times, p. 296; Reed’s Campaigns and Battles of the Twelfth Regiment, pp. 11, 13.


84 Reed’s Campaigns and Battles of the Twelfth Regiment, pp. 12, 13.


85 Reed’s Campaigns and Battles of the Twelfth Regiment, pp. 12, 13. The Third Cavalry was provided with Sibley tents,--Des Moines Valley Whig (Keokuk), October 14, 1861—but the Sixth Cavalry was supplied “a small, inferior tent”.—Dubuque Democratic Herald, March 25, 1863. Another style of tent was used by some of the regiments—the wedge tent.—Jones’s Reminiscences of the Thirty-second Iowa Volunteer Infantry, p. 10.

            The Sibley tents and the “pup” tents are the two most commonly used in army and militia camps at the present time.


Transportation of Troops


            Very different from the present-day mobilization of troops in the great concentration camps were the methods employed in transporting troops to, and caring for them in, the rendezvous camp of 1861 and 1862. It is true that the railways of the day offered to carry free all volunteer companies of troops whose services were accepted by the Governor, but the mileage of Iowa railroads in 1861 was very small, and most of the troops were compelled to march overland, or travel by stage at least a part of the way. Some companies, of course, were carried down the Mississippi River by boats. Regiments were raised by squads and companies over the entire State, and those which marched to rendezvous, especially, underwent many hardships.86 Scantily clothed, often without tents, and many of them barefooted, they tramped through mud and mire, stumbled over frozen clods, and slept without covering in the rain and sleet. A Des Moines company traveled overland to Council Bluffs in coaches of the Western Stagecoach Company at the price of $4.00 a passenger.87

            Those who were transported down the Mississippi River at time fared little better. Herded on to open barges, with snow falling, the wind sweeping down the river, and the temperature hovering about the freezing mark, the troops were chilled to the bone. On commander refused such transportation and marched his men back to camp until something better could be arranged. And yet Adjutant General Baker was very attentive to the care given Iowa troops. Even the smallest details were watched. A Mississippi River steamboat company carrying soldiers under contract wished also to take on freight. “Yes,” telegraphed Baker, “take the freight on if you wish to, but if you do, you take no Iowa soldiers.” Some of the hardships endured on these mobilization marches and in the camps were almost as great as those suffered later in the field.88



86 The Dubuque Weekly Times, April 25, 1861; Byers’s Iowa in War Times, p. 43; War of the Rebellion: Official Records, Ser. III, Vol. II, p. 171.


87 Council Bluffs Nonpareil, July 20, 1861. At the very outset of the war, three companies of United States troops which had been ordered east from Fort Randall had to be transported across Iowa, via Des Moines and Davenport, “Owing to the fact that the management of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, at the dictation of the people along the line of the road, refuses to transport them across Missouri”.—Council Bluffs Nonpareil, May 4, 1861.


88 Reed’s Campaigns and Battles of the Twelfth Regiment, p. 9; Byers’s Iowa in War Times, p. 58.


Tents and Barracks


            Tents were an absolute necessity to troops which were raised in all parts of the State. And yet many of the companies did not have them. In the first months of the war tents could not be secured from Washington, but orders were given to get them wherever they could be found. As late as June 23, 1862, Adjutant General Baker wrote to Secretary Stanton that “tents are indispensable… Let me have the tents [for the Eighteenth Regiment] immediately. Are they on the way?”89

            Even upon arrival at the place of rendezvous the first few regiments were supplied only with tents. Indeed, they could not go into camp upon arrival, but were housed in empty halls, store buildings, and the like until tents were secured. The Governor’s Greys of Dubuque upon their arrival in Keokuk were located in “the U. S. Court House”, and the other companies were given quarters in a large brick building in the center of the town. The bunks were filled with clan straw and the quarters were very satisfactory; in fact more comfortable than those provided later in camp. For then seven men were squeezed into a small tent and no straw or hay was allowed the men to lie on.90

            Barracks were provided fro later companies, although they wee always very rough structures and not always snugly built. The lumber was furnished by the government; and the actual work of construction was often done by the troops themselves. Some of the barracks were constructed of pine lumber, others of logs, plastered in the interstices; some were shingled, while others were not; and some were heated, although most of them were not. The ordinary barrack was twenty by fifty feet in dimensions, and housed one company. There were some double barracks for two companies. They were built “without floors, windows or chimnies”, and “with two platforms, one above the other, each about twenty feet wide, extending the whole length of the building, each platform intended to give sleeping accommodations for fifty men, twenty-five on each side, heads together in the middle.” Of the barracks for one regiment it was estimated that the expense of building was about two dollars per man.91 There is evidence that later barracks were more comfortable. It was said that those erected for the Eighth Cavalry Regiment would “be superior to any that have heretofore been erected in this State. They will be built in the most substantial manner, and fitted with all the improvements for comfort and cleanliness which experience has suggested during the war.” The barracks erected in 1863 at Camp McClellan for the conscripts were “made of brand new lumber, with excellent ventilation and comfortable bunks.” The tables were put up in the open, and “consisted of a plank about a foot wide, and sixteen feet long, with stakes driven in the ground for legs”.92


89 Des Moines Valley Whig (Keokuk), May 20, 1861; War of the Rebellion: Official Records, Ser. III, Vol. II, p. 171.


90 Wilkie’s The Iowa First: Letters from the War, p. 16; Des Moines Valley Whig (Keokuk), May 27, 1861.


91 Sperry’s History of the 33d Iowa Infantry, p. 2; Lothrop’s A History of the First Regiment Iowa Cavalry, p. 34; Reed’s Campaigns and Battles of the Twelfth Regiment, pp. 3, 4; The Dubuque Weekly Times, December 19, 1861.


92 Dubuque Semi-Weekly Times, July 31, December 8, 1863; Smith’s History of the Seventh Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry, pp. 5, 6.



Rations and Food Supplies


            The situation with regard to the rations dealt out to the Iowa troops was no different than that with respect to the other things furnished. Undoubtedly many of the companies received proper and sufficient food over considerable periods of time, but there were others who did not, and these latter instances, of course, have been emphasized. As a matter of fact, the army rations were fixed by law. “Twenty-two ounces of bread or flour, or one pound of hard bread…fresh beef shall be issued…when practicable, in place of salt meat; beans and rice or hominy…and one pound of potatoes per man shall be issued at least three times a week, if practicable; and when these articles cannot be issued in these proportions, an equivalent in value shall be substituted for a ration of coffee”.93 In the Eighth Iowa Regiment the first issue of hard tack “nearly created insurrection.” Later the men came to thank their stars that they had even hard tack and its companion ration—“sow bosom”—to eat. Many were the days when whole companies went without a bite to eat. “Nothing but beans one meal and a small piece of side-meat for the next” is a representative entry in the journals of many of the soldiers.

            The first companies, while in rendezvous camps, were regaled with every kind of gustatory luxury in addition to substantial eatables. But in spite of this fact at times there was a scarcity of food, especially potatoes. Eggs were plenty and sold at six dozen for a quarter.94 In 1862 and 1863 individuals and Soldiers’ Aid Societies were kept busy supplying vegetables and other food supplies to the troops in the field and to the sick in the hospitals. The name of Mrs. Annie Wittenmyer stands at the head of th elist of those active in this work. Early in 1863 she sent out an appeal for “potatoes, onions, corn-meal, dried fruit, eggs, butter, cheese, krout, cranberries, dried rusks, beer, ale, horseradish, pepper, spice, dried berries, pickles, ginger snaps, soda crackers, codfish, anything that will afford nutrition, or variety”.95

            Of one thing there seems to have been no lack among the early regiments: beer and other liquors were supplied by friendly citizens in great quantities. “The friends of all the companies are extremely liberal in one particular respect…and that is in sending in supplies of liquors”, wrote Franc B. Wilkie in an account of the First Iowa Regiment. “Every express that comes in—every company that arrives, bring…a big supply of drinking materials. Half or more of the carts in Keokuk are constantly engaged in hauling these supplies into camp. They come in the shape of a ten gallon keg of whiskey—a ‘choice bottle of old brandy’ and a ‘nice bottle of cocktail’—a couple of kegs of lager—in short, in all shapes, from all parts of the State”.96

            The regimental and company flags were quite uniformly gifts of the home communities and very often were the handiwork of the women. Sometimes complimentary equipment and regimentals were also presented to the officers.97


93 War of the Rebellion: Official Records, Ser. III, Vol. I, p. 399.


94 Byers’s Iowa in War Times, p. 496; Des Moines Valley Whig (Keokuk), June 10, 17, July 1, 1861; Wilkie’s The Iowa First: Letters from the War, p. 38; Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye, June 4, 1861; The Dubuque Herald, May 14, 1861.


95 Dubuque Semi-Weekly Times, September 8, 1863; Kirkwood Military Letter Book, No. 6, pp. 72, 73; The Weekly Gate City (Keokuk), March 4, 1862.


96 Wilkie’s The Iowa First: Letters from the War, pp. 39, 40.


97 Annals of Iowa (First Series), Vol. I, p. 135. Scott’s Story of the Thirty-Second Iowa Infantry Volunteers, p. 24; Barney’s Recollections of Field Service with the Twentieth Iowa Infantry Volunteers, p. 19; Lothrop’s A History of the First Regiment Iowa Cavalry, pp. 19, 21, 22; Pierce’s History of the Second Iowa Cavalry, p. 11; Dubuque Democratic Herald, January 7, 1863; Des Moines Valley Whig (Keokuk), June 10, 1861.


Equipment of Cavalry Regiments


            Some of the cavalry regiments were unusually well equipped. The horses, arms, and accoutrements of the First Iowa Cavalry Regiment were said to be of “quite remarkable excellence”. In December, 1861, the Third Iowa Cavalry was “the largest and best mounted body of men” at Benton Barracks. It contrasted very decidedly with the Third Michigan Cavalry. The latter was said to be “worse off in the matter of horses than Falstaff’s regiment was for shirts; there’s but one horse in the whole regiment, and that’s a mule!”98

            The big task was to secure horses that were acceptable. To some companies horses were furnished by the government; while to soldiers who owned their horses forty cents per day was paid for the use of their mounts. Cavalry horses were required to be fifteen hands and one inch high, and from five to nine years old. The Fourth Iowa Cavalry secured a full supply of remarkably good horses. They were purchased and examined under the personal supervision of Colonel Porter. He took especial pride in mounting his men. “He assigned the horses to the several companies in different colors. Many companies, of course, were mounted upon bays. The next highest number were on sorrels, and the next on browns. But Company A had grays, and Company K blacks…The regimental Band…all rode fine large roans. There was a continued effort made during the early part of the service of the regiment to maintain this arrangement of the colors, fresh horses being distributed, as far as possible, in accordance with it; but the difficulty of obtaining horses steadily increased, and the maintenance of the colors became impracticable.”99

            During the early months of the war the cavalrymen carried an immense amount of equipment, as is shown in the following description:

            Mounted upon his charger, in the midst of all the paraphernalia and adornments of war, a moving arsenal and military depot, he must have struck surprise, if not terror, into the minds of his enemies. Strapped and strung over his clothes, he carried a big sabre and metal scabbard four feet long, an Austrian rifle or a heavy revolver, a box of cartridges, a box of percussion caps, a tin canteen for water, a haversack containing rations, a tin coffee-cup, and such other devices and traps as were recommended to his fancy as useful or beautiful. The weight of all this clothing was heavy, and, with the overcoat, must have been twenty pounds. So this man, intended especially for light and active service, carried on his body, in the early part of his career, a weight of nearly fifty pounds. When he was on foot he moved with a great clapping and clanking of his arms and accoutrements, and so constrained by the many bands crossing his body that any rapid motion was absurdly impossible. When he was mounted, his surrounding equipments were doubled in number, and his appearance became more ridiculous. His horse carried, fastened to the saddle, a pair of thick leather holsters with pistols, a pair of saddle-bags filled with the rider’s extra clothing, toilet articles, and small belongings, a nose-bag, perhaps filled with corn, a heavy leather halter, an iron picket-pin with a long lariat or rope for tethering the horse, usually two horse-shoes with extra nails, a curry-comb and horse-brush, a set of gun-tools and materials for the care of arms, a rubber blanket or poncho, a pair of woolen blankets, a blouse, a cap or hat, and such other utensils and articles of clothing or decoration as the owner was pleased  to keep. This mass of furniture, with the saddle, would weigh in most cases seventy pounds. So, in the first marches, the unfortunate horse was compelled to carry a burden ranging from two hundred to two hundred and fifty pounds. When the rider was in the saddle, begirt with all his magazine, it was easy to imagine him protected from any ordinary assault. His properties rose before and behind him like fortifications, and those strung over his shoulders covered well his flanks. To the uninitiated it was mystery how the rider got into the saddle; how he could rise to a sufficient height and how then descend upon the seat was the problem. The irreverent infantry said it was done with the aid of a derrick, or by first climbing to the top of a high fence or the fork of a tree.

            It was perhaps due to the custom of carrying these complex incumbrances that the story became current among the rebels in the East, in the early part of the war, that the Yankee cavalrymen were strapped to their saddles to prevent their running away.

            Yet some of the men were not content with the regulation load. They added a set of plate-armor to it. Among the scores of articles for various uses which were peddled in the camps within the first year of the war, was an “armored vest.” It was a vest of blue cloth, cut in military style, with two plates of steel, formed to fit the body and fastened between the cloth and the lining, so as to cover the front of the wearer from the neck to the waist. Samples of the plates were exhibited in the camps, with deep marks upon them where bullets had failed to penetrate, a spectacle which, with the glib tongues of the dealers, induced a few of the officers and men to buy; and some of the horses, accordingly, had eight or ten pounds more to carry.

            Not for long, however, did any of the horses bear these dreadful loads. The evident bad effect upon the horses, the care of so many articles, the fact that some of them were not used often enough to justify the trouble of keeping them, and the invaluable lesson steadily taught by experience, that only a few things are really needed by the soldier, presented a succession of reasons for diminishing the inventory. The few “armored vests” disappeared on the first march. The lariat was of little use, it often entangled the feet of horses and burned them, and, with its big picket-pin, it was “lost”. The nose-bag was thrown away by many, and carried empty as much as possible by others. The rider’s clothing was reduced to the least possible—a mere change of underclothing in addition to the garments worn. The hat was stripped of its trimmings, or disappeared entirely in favor of the cap. The pair of blankets was reduced to a single one. Of the small articles for toilet and other uses, only those absolutely necessary were retained. One horseshoe and four nails only were carried, unless there was an express order to carry more. If a curry-comb or brush disappeared, no matter,--one man with a comb and another with a brush had enough for two. Even the supply remaining according to this description was further reduced by many of the men. It became a fine art how to lessen the burden of the horse; and the best soldiers were those whose horses were packed so lightly that the carbine was the biggest part of the load. If it is a wonder in the first campaign how a cavalryman could get on to or move his horse when equipped for the field, the wonder afterward came to be, how a man could live with so meager an equipment.100


98 The Dubuque Weekly Times, November 21, 1861; The Weekly Gate City (Keokuk), December 16, 1861.


99 Lothrop’s  A History of the First Regiment Iowa Cavalry, p. 31; The Dubuque Herald, July 21, August 6, 1861; Anamosa Eureka, October 31, 1862; Scott’s The Story of a Cavalry Regiment, p. 22.


100 Scott’s The Story of a Cavalry Regiment, pp. 26-29.





            The State of Iowa furnished its full quota of men for the northern armies during the Civil War. IF these men were at times not promptly and properly equipped, if they were forced to undergo unnecessary hardships and privations, it was not due to lack of interest and endeavor on the part of the State authorities to see that the troops received proper care. Nor was there any lack of patriotism, loyalty, and sacrifice on the part of the citizens of Iowa who remained at home. Money, supplies, and personal services were generously given in order that the soldiers might have every possible comfort. The untiring labors of Governor Kirkwood in outfitting and caring for the Iowa soldiers, the incessant toil of Adjutant General Nathaniel B. Baker in looking after the welfare of “his boys”, and the patriotism and loyalty of the men and women of the State make bright the pages of this period of Iowa history.


Cyril B. Upham

The State Historical Society of Iowa

Iowa City



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