Shotgun's Home of the American Civil War
Shoemaking and Tailoring in Civil War Winter Quarters

        Here is another account of the ingenuity of the American soldier. McHenry Howard, who gives us this fascinating insight into the domestic economy of a Southern army in winter quarters, was a Marylander who, at the outbreak of the war, hurried south and joined Johnstons army at Bull Run. Subsequently he fought through the whole war, serving as a staff officer to Jackson and Lee. He was taken by the Federals and held for a time on Johnsons Island in Lake Erie.

        A number of shoemakers in the different regiments, seventeen I think, were encouraged to send home--and in some instances were given leave to go--for their tools, and were put to work repairing shoes, being exempted from guard and other routine camp duty, but ready to fall in with their commands on any call to arms. The shoe-shops were a separate camp of tents, near brigade headquarters and under our immediate supervision, guarded by sentinels, and no person was allowed to visit them or to carry his shoes to be mended without a pass and order from his company and regimental commanders, approved by the adjutant or inspector general. A careful estimate and report of the saving of the issue of shoes to our brigade during the winter was made to the higher authorities at one time, but I am afraid to say from memory what the saving was confidently stated to have been, certainly several hundred pairs; besides, the mens feet were kept in better condition by the correction of ill fitting shoes. On the march back from Gettysburg in the summer before, the "barefooted" men of the division--not literally that except in the case of some, but those whose shoes were worn out or whose feet were sore from wearing bad shoes or other causes--were organized into a separate command, under officers, to pick their way on the grassy roadside and by easy stages on each days march. My recollection is that this barefooted and sorefooted command sometimes numbered a fourth of the division.
        Having taken a sort of census of the whole brigade, we knew exactly where to look at any time for skilled workmen in different occupations. The 37th Virginia, from the mountains of the south-western part of the State, we found to furnish a greater proportion of mechanics--or at least men who were used to doing jobs of handywork--the other regiments being more largely composed of men from the farming class or from sections where there were regular artizans and stores convenient. Wheelwrights were detailed to put the ambulances (this under the zealous charge of Surgeon Henkel of that regiment, senior surgeon or medical director), and transportation generally in good order. I think log shelters were made for the horses and they were carefully looked after. General Steuart had also detailed, or meditated detailing, tinners to mend canteens, cups and other tinwork. Drummers or tanners were given a few days leave to go to their homes or places not far distant on condition of bringing back dog skins for drum heads, and although the animals integument was tanned in a marvelously short time, it was found to answer very well.
        The General was especially desirous of establishing "tailor shops" to patch and mend clothing, on a like scale with the shoe shops, or greater, and sent up urgent applications for waste odds and ends of cloth and thread at the government factories, but had received no response when the opening of the Spring campaign put a check to these and many other schemes.
        In short, recognizing the straits that the Confederacy was now put to in the furnishing of supplies, we aimed to save and eke out issues in every possible way.
Source: "The Blue and The Gray" by Henry Steele Commanger, Article From McHenry Howard's "Recollections of a Maryland Con federate Soldier."

This Page last updated 01/17/04


Still can't find what you are looking for?
Part of the CivilWarTalk Network: - -
Copyright © 1997 - 2014,