Welcome to my fourth post of the year! I am so excited to be bringing you another installment of my Soldier Life series…the sixth in this series I found out. So for those who are unfamiliar with this series, I am compiling information that I came across while researching for The Battle for Heritage Series. I am not an expert on the War Between the States, but I thought these posts might be helpful to other authors researching the same time era.
With that out of the way, let’s see what life in the army was like for a private, the lowest ranking member of the army.
Most of the army is made up of privates, even today. They are the boots on the ground, the common soldier you know and love from novels and movies. Back in the old days, the private did not have any insignia on his uniform. And another thing about these fellows that I suppose is common knowledge is that the private never gave orders. He’s not over anyone, he’s at the bottom of the totem pole. But what exactly was expected of him? Let’s take a look.
Drill. If you’ve read any book on soldiering in any time period, I’m sure you’ve read about the incessant amount of drilling they did. This wasn’t just a mundane task they had to complete. This was life and death training. It also helped to fill time in the day that otherwise would have left the men idle…and more prone to get into trouble.
KP. Ah, yes, Kitchen Patrol. While this is more of the WWII name for the job, soldiers did take turns helping the army cooks. Peeling potatoes (when they had them) was one of their jobs, as was washing dishes, stirring pots, serving food and dumping food waste., They would have to do anything food related when their turn came around.
Policing the Grounds. Just as today, this task had to do with keeping their living quarters neat and clean. Clearing debris away from the walking paths, organizing their gear, stacking the wood piles neatly, it all had to do with keeping things tidied up.
Horse Duty. Even if they didn’t serve in the Cavalry, their unit had horses for pulling supply wagons, riding dispatches, and transporting officers. So, the privates would feed the horses, clean up after them and if needed, make sure they had been exercised for the day. Grooming needed to be kept up as well to insure the horses’ health and appearance.
Guard Duty. There were two types of guard duty. The first was what you would expect from the name, guarding prisoners, both enemy and fellow soldiers who had disobeyed some military rule. The other was known as Picket Duty, which simply meant they were guarding the outskirts of the camp from intruders.
Camp Duties. This could be anything and everything. Chopping wood, digging latrines and trenches, delivering messages from the officers, hauling water, doing laundry, shooting game/butchering…you name it!
Drummers and buglers as a rule were privates as well, but I can’t say dogmatically that they all had this rank. I would have to look into that a little deeper.
Privates also helped in the hospitals. They often helped hold a soldier down during surgery, volunteered to help the doctors when there was a shortage of nurses and helped remove the wounded from the battlefield. (They weren’t the only ones to do this, but since there were more privates than the other ranks, they were the majority of the ones gathering the wounded.) They also served on burial detail.
Hope this was helpful! I’ll see you next week with a writerly post that I can’t wait to share with you!
Christian. American. Southern. Author.