Monday, April 13, 2020

Winter Quarters

When temperatures turned cooler during the Civil War, armies often looked to establish winter quarters to better shelter the men. Due largely to the terrible conditions of the roads during the winter months, the fighting forces more often than not remained static until the spring campaign season.

On New Year’s Day, 1865, Charles Hunter wrote a letter to his sister, Jane, in Philadelphia. Hunter had just recently returned to duty in the 88th Pennsylvania Infantry (V Corps) at Petersburg after receiving a grisly wound in the fighting on May 8 near Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, and after a lengthy recuperation at the Mansion House Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia.

Hunter, who probably got used to his warm and dry hospital environment while away from his regiment, devoted several lines in his letter describing the temporary winter accommodations: “We are near the Weldon Rail Road and have got very comfortable quarters. We have got log huts built about 5 feet high. Each hut has got 2 bunks in it. I sleep in the top bunk with Murray that man that lost his voice, and Richards & Wisham lay in the bottom bunk. Our bunk is about 4 feet from the ground so you see there is no chance of our behinds getting wet as long as we stay here. We have got a good fire place, and we keep the oak logs piled on thick. The only difficulty is that the chimney smokes a little once in a while.”

However, with the arrival of warmer weather, came movement and campaigning. Soldiers often expressed their frustration with leaving behind their winter quarters and returning to open-air sleeping, or in the best case canvas tents. Exposure to the elements only increased the chances of becoming ill, and prevented one's natural immunity to fight it off. 

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