Friday, June 21, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Huts and History

We know much about what life was like for Civil War soldiers in their semi-permanent (most often winter-season) shelters due to the many references they made about them in their letters, journals, diaries, and memoirs. However, we have gained additional knowledge about them because of the work of archaeologists.

In Huts and History: The Historical Archaeology of Military Encampment During the American Civil War, edited by Clarence R. Geier, David G. Orr, and Matthew B. Reeves, ten impressive essays explore a number of different facets of extended-duration Civil War military camps. Like several of the books that I've purchased in the last six months or so, I came across this title in the bibliography of Peter Carmichael's The War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought, and Survived in Civil War Armies. Working at a historic site that not only contains extensive winter camps, but also interprets them, I was happy to learn more from these essays.

Huts and History is divided into five parts. The first part offers two insightful essays that offer an "Introduction and Background" into military camps. Of particular interest was "Blueprint for Nineteenth-Century Camps: Castramentation, 1778-1865." This article explains Von Steuben's legacy on camp layout, which in many ways carried over into the Civil War.

Part II, "Survey and Management of Civil War Encampments has two essays, too. "Finding Civil War Sites: What Relic Hunters Know, What Archaeologists Should and Need to Know" is an intriguing appeal for archaeologists to learn from those who seek the soldiers' material culture through metal detecting. While the relationship between the two groups has largely been antagonistic due to their often competing end goals, the authors submit that archaeologists can learn a lot from relic hunters, particularly in how to locate encampment sties. Both groups also share a common ground of limiting development and destruction of the sites of encampments.

One of Part III's, "Encampment Plan and Layout," articles is "Civil War Housing Insights from Camp Nelson, Kentucky," authored by site experts Stephen and Kim McBride. Camp Nelson's grounds have offered up amazing evidence of the evolution of this location from that of largely a quartermaster depot to that of a USCT recruiting and training station and refugee location.

Part IV, "Encampment Architecture and Material Culture," gives us four essays, most of which cover archaeological locations in Virginia. "Right Nice Little House(s)" by Dean E. Nelson, in my opinion, could have been included earlier in the book in that it is so informative on the subject of various types of winter quarters that soldiers constructed. One that also piqued my interest in this part was an examination of Confederate General Samuel McGowan's brigade winter quarters in Orange County, Virginia in the winter of 1863-64. McGowan's brigade made winter quarters the following winter where Pamplin Historical Park is today, so I was naturally interested in it. Another is a historical look at Gen. Grant's headquarters cabin at City Point (Hopewell), Virginia.

Part V gives a conclusion that suggests collaboration between academics, public historians, and amateur historians to continue to make gains in understanding the lives of Civil War soldiers.

Like many books I read, I wish I had come across this one much earlier. It turned out being helpful to my work and provided me with a much better appreciation for what we can learn from the underground remnants of Civil War soldier encampments. I highly recommend it.

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