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Winter Encampments were places soldiers of both sides merely endured

Manassas, Virginia -- 1862
Manassas, Virginia -- 1862
Library of Congress

In the winter, both armies remained mostly in camps resembling small towns. The roads were virtually rivers of mud and unusable, making marching not practical. Nevertheless, soldiers had to endure the same boredom and lack of palatable food as the rest of the year, only at this time combined with the elements of bone chilling cold, frozen ground and snow.

Both armies hunkered down with soldiers finding whatever supplies they could to build huts to sleep in. Some were fancier than others, depending on location and availability of lumber. Some even had stoves for cooking and heating the structure.

Lt. Charles Stewart of the 124th New York Volunteers wrote this about his camp experience in a letter dated December 17. “Last night was very strong – this morning no better. Our house leaks all over, and our chimney works badly, which makes things rather uncomfortable.”

In December 1864, Sam Watkins, Co. H. of the 1st Tennessee Regiment described winter camp by saying in a letter home, “The earth is crusted with snow and the wind from the northwest is piercing our bones.”

For those incarcerated in a Confederate or Union prison, the winter months were even less tolerable. At Johnson Island, OH, an island in Sandusky Bay on the coast of Lake Erie, the cold was so severe that the lake froze over. Some desperate Confederate prisoners (mostly officers were held there) even tried to escape by walking across the frozen water to the mainland.

Several prisons were known to have shortages of blankets or warm clothing. Prisoners at Elmira, NY are known to have frozen to death when the conditions became severe.

Soldiers who hated marching, were so bored after a long winter that tended to actually look forward to marching if and when Spring finally arrived.

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