American Civil War for Kids - Camp Life
Very little of a Civil War soldier's time was spent fighting in battle. Most days were spent in camp, preparing for fights to come. Volunteers who survived the many diseases that swept through the camps in both the North and South, including dysentery, typhoid, and measles, soon became adjusted to camp life.
Daily duties in both the North and South were organized by the military. The men were alerted to various duties by bugle calls. The bugle call to wake up sounded at 5 am. Men hurried to stand in line for roll call. Then breakfast. Then off to drill or to do the specific duties assigned. Lunch was at noon, followed by more drill. Each day's duties wrapped with a very short dress parade that lasted about 2-3 minutes at 6 pm, followed by dinner. The troops were given leisure time between dinner and bedtime. Taps, or the bugle call for lights out, was typically signaled around 10 pm at night.
Since enlisted men were responsible for their own comfort, most volunteers learned to cook, clean their weapons, and wash and patch their own clothing.
One of the worst conditions in camp, in both the North and the South, was the presence of body lice. These small insects were in the men's clothing and bedding. Now and then, camps would have cleanups. During a camp cleanup, men boiled contaminated materials for hours, only to find their clothes and bedding filled with active lice again by nightfall. There was no time to boil anything while they were marching or fighting. It was horrible.
To help protect themselves from other discomforts, volunteers learned how to build a fire that would burn in any weather and how to build a shelter. Tents were usually provided for Union soldiers. In the Confederate army, men built shelters with whatever materials they could find. These Southern shelters were called "shebangs" as they were banged together using brush and oilcloths and poles. In the winter, in both the North and the South, troops constructed small log cabins with fireplaces and roofs of thatch, boards or canvas, which provided some protection from the weather.