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Battlefield Pickups

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  • Battlefield Pickups


    Many times while discussing uniforms and equipment with fellow pards, I have heard the excuse "A soldier would(or could) have picked one of these up on the battlefield," as an answer to traps not originally issued to that specific regiment. Now I am surely not denying the fact that soldiers were in contact with different bits of clothing and accoutraments, but I question the correctness of a soldier acctually picking up something while in the heat of battle. I draw my conclusion from this:

    First...I have never read an actual account of a soldier claiming to get a new canteen, jacket, etc. from a dead or dying soldier, nor have i ever heard of a soldier picking up a tossed uniform piece or accoutrament while persuing or retreating from an enemy. I have a hard time believing that most soldiers would have actually gone and torn a haversack, etc. from a dead body. I know that if i was there i would have wanted nothing to do with anything dead. I also question this because how often were soldiers actually exposed to the battlefield in which they just fought on.

    Now muskets are the exception. There is no doubt that muskets were battlefield pickups. A musket is something in which you life depends on. They are also very easily obtained, in that you don't have to tear it off someone's body.

    I feel that it is more credible to claim that a soldier would have traded articles, or bought new ones. But to claim that soldiers were randomly picking up pieces of clothing and acoutraments from a battlefield is a bit off from the truth. Now I'm not denying that it did take place, but i believe that it was rare. Just looking for some feedback on whether anyone agrees or disagrees(most likely) with my opinion.

    Just my humble opinion,
    Last edited by orngblsm; 01-25-2004, 07:57 PM.
    Ryan McIntyre
    124th New York State Volunteers
    Founder of the Squatting Bullfrog Mess & the "Leave your politics at home" Mess

    "the Doctor says that I have got the Knapsack complaint that is I cant carry a knapsack that is a disease of my own getting up for I can lift as much as eney[sic] of the boys"
    Joseph H. Johnston
    March 16th 1863
    Camp Convalescent

    "It takes twelve men and a corporal up there [brigade headquarters] to take care of a few trees and salute the officers as they pass these are all the orders we have, but it is military I suppose..."
    Henry M Howell
    March 8 1863
    In camp Near Falmouth

  • #2
    Re: Battlefield Pickups

    I believe there were some cases where attacks were made that carried through into Union camps, and the Confederates tended to stop and grab things, breaking up their organization and stalling the attack.

    There is also a story in which a federal would collect canteens, distribute them to his pards in exchange for a drink whenever he needed, and so was able to not carry one of his own, lightening his load. My suspicion is that he would have collected them from the field after battle.

    How often such occurred may be open to debate, but it did happen.
    Bernard Biederman
    30th OVI
    Co. B
    Member of Ewing's Foot Cavalry
    Outpost III


    • #3
      Re: Battlefield Pickups

      I would have to disagree. I have read a number of accounts to this happening. Im not at home so I dont have anything in front of me to quote properly .However I know alot of POW and dead photos show captured gear on confederates. This photo shows a captured canteen and cartridge box.
      Eric 'Woody" Woodward
      Attached Files
      Last edited by delawaric; 01-25-2004, 07:59 PM.
      Eric "Woody" Woodward


      • #4
        Re: Battlefield Pickups

        I do know that I have at least one reference that a western CS soldier from Kentucky took a "fine black sombrero" from a federal soldier "who no longer needed it." Also have references to soldiers trading foulded or busted muskets for a cleaner model on the battlefield. Also think the CS QM forces in the east would clean the useful items that could be reissued from the VA battlefields. CS soldiers also were know to take shoes from dead yanks. Trust me here, soldiers will take what they otherwise can't obtain.


        • #5
          Re: Battlefield Pickups

          This is from a letter Captain David Bard of the 104th OVI wrote on 16 August 1864 describing the aftermath of action at Utoy Creek, outside Atlanta..."One of the 100th Ohio men of our Brig. was shot through both thighs and lay within 20 ft. of the enemies lines. He says that after dark a rebel came out and prayed with him, went back to bring a physician, and while gone, another came out and stole his hat. He begged him to leave the old one he had to keep the flies off with. The Reb did so but had hardly gone when another Reb came and stole the old one. Before our men found him every article of clothing had been stolen. All of the dead and many of the wounded were thus robbed. Our men swear bitter vengeance on them for this cruelty."
          James Brenner


          • #6
            Re: Battlefield Pickups

            Hallo Kameraden!

            Putting aside the nastier side of bullet and shell impacts with bleeding, tissue, and sometimes loss of bowel and bladder....

            I do not have the book handy, but I recall the Texas Brigade reference where, I believe, it was a "Red Harris" had recieved a pair of trousers that were way, way too short.
            He was able to "liberate" a pair of leggings from a dead federal which bridged the gap quite nicely.

            Than again, when it comes to reminisences, it could have been just a soldier's embellishment...

            But yes, wasn't it a duty of the Quartermaster and Ordnance folks to comb the battlefields for reuseable items- particularly shoes and weapons....

            Curt-Heinrich Schmidt
            Curt Schmidt
            In gleichem Schritt und Tritt, Curt Schmidt

            -Hard and sharp as flint...secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.
            -Haplogroup R1b M343 (Subclade R1b1a2 M269)
            -Pointless Folksy Wisdom Mess, Oblio Lodge #1
            -Vastly Ignorant
            -Often incorrect, technically, historically, factually.


            • #7
              Re: Battlefield Pickups

              FYI. The following two accounts pertain to securing discarded shelter from the enemy by members of the Stonewall Brigade.

              Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, in a letter dated May 8, 1863, Capt. Jacob Golladay, Jr. of the 33rd Virginia Infantry wrote:

              "We captured an immence [sic] quantity of gun shrouds which we use in place of tents. They are a very good substitute by splicing them together."

              In his memoir of the Battles of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, Lieut. Thomas S. Doyle of the 33rd Virginia Infantry wrote:

              "At sunrise on the 7th [of May] skirmishers were sent forward and the enemy's works found vacant. The ground was strewn with plunder of all kinds in great abundance, & such of the Confederates as needed them supplied themselves with tent-flies, oil-cloths, blankets, canteens, guns, &c."

              Writing of the evening of May 11-12, 1864, prior to the morning attack on the Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania Court House, Doyle remembered:

              "About 12 P.M. it commenced to rain and continued all night making the trenches a most uncomfortable place, but thanks to the excellent tent-flies so abundantly supplied by the 6th Federal Corps in the Wilderness, the men were able to keep tolerably dry."

              The provenance of the Golladay letter is uncertain, as I only have typescript, but it has been posted on-line somewhere. The Doyle memoir is at the Library of Congress.

              Eric J. Mink
              Co. A, 4th Va Inf
              Stonewall Brigade

              Help Preserve the Slaughter Pen Farm - Fredericksburg, Va.


              • #8
                Re: Battlefield Pickups

                Hi, Ryan,

                My husband's great-great uncles served with the 21st OVI, Company A. December 31, 1862, Absolom and Tilden Kleckner were fighting at Stones River, Tennessee. At 9 A.M., Absolom was shot over the left eye and instantly killed. His younger brother, 17 at the time, saw from behind what had happened. The Confederates were advancing toward them. Having heard the stories of what had happened during Absolom's previous stint as a prisoner of war in an Alabama prison, Tilden asked a pard closer to Absolom to retrieve his wallet from Absolom's pocket. They left Absolom's fully clothed body in the cold where he fell. After the battle, Tilden and his brother-in-law John Leonard, returned to his brother's body. Missing were his "striped shirt from home," jacket, trousers, socks that his new bride Elizabeth had knit for him, and his shoes. No mention was made of leather gear or weapon.

                taken from 37 letters written between Elizabeth (Leonard) Kleckner, Absolom Kleckner, Tilden Kleckner, and John Leonard (Brother-in-Law to Absolom and brother to Elizabeth, also serving in the 21st)


                • #9
                  Re: Battlefield Pickups


                  With all due respect, you are proceeding from the assumption that men behave "rationally" in combat. The answer to that is, "It depends on the man." There was official policy and then there was...reality. In a war that saw hungry troops wander off and pick blackberries in the midst of battles, anything was possible.

                  Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga, &c., &c. All, to my knowledge, saw cases of looting and "recycling" during the engagement. There was plenty of opportunity, means, and motive. Grabbing a canteen was ridiculously easy and only took a few seconds. I recently transcribed a letter written by a man in the 72nd Indiana who took part in the action at Castalian Springs TN in December 1862. He stumbled across a very dead, but still warm, Confederate and grabbed the man's full canteen because his was empty.

                  Federal troops ordered to drop knapsacks were frequently loath to do so and with good reason: Even if they won the battle, they sometimes returned only to find their gear had been looted by either Confederates who had overrun their "drop zone" at one point or, sorry to say, by their OWN people!


                  Mark Jaeger
                  Last edited by markj; 01-25-2004, 09:15 PM.

                  Mark Jaeger


                  • #10
                    Re: Battlefield Pickups


                    well for "documented" battlefield-pickups look e.g. in

                    Frank M. Mixson of Jenkin’s brigade of Longstreet’s corps wrote in his diary:

                    “The enemy fell back as we advanced. We had not gone more than a couple of hundred yards before we ran over some dead Yankees. Here was my opportunity, and I embraced it. The first one I got to I stopped, pulled off his pants, shoes and stockings, got right into them, there and then. The shoes were new and fit perfectly; the stockings were good wool and came up to my knees, and the pants were all right, except a little too long, but I rolled them up about as they are worn these days and they too were a fit. I felt grand.”

                    So it is authentic to wear union-accoutrement or uniformparts - if - well if
                    it is the "real stuff" not the still no problem to get union cr*p with wrong fabric, colour or cut or ....

                    Greetings from germany

                    5th Va Vol Inf Rgt.

                    Ingo, you need to sign all of your posts with your full given name - Mike Chapman
                    Last edited by dusty27; 01-26-2004, 08:57 AM. Reason: Signature


                    • #11
                      Re: Battlefield Pickups

                      Hey, Eric Mink!

                      I seem to recall a quote from Ted Barclay, 4th Virginia from one of the histories of Company I. He makes a reference to picking up a "Belgian musket". He seemed very pleased with it, refering to it as "a veritable cannon".

                      I cannot recall the specific reference to the quote and don't have easy access to the info right now. However, the quote seems to apply to the thread. Are you familiar with this quote & might you know the bibliographic reference??

                      John Wickett
                      Former Carpetbagger
                      Administrator (We got rules here! Be Nice - Sign Your Name - No Farbisms)


                      • #12
                        Re: Battlefield Pickups

                        There is the story of the man with the 5th Texas Infantry during the Seven Days Battle, stopping to pull a pair of shoes off a federal leaning against a tree. As he is unlacing the shoes and pulling them off, the man opens his eyes and stares him square in the eyes. The Texan stated he was so scared he picked his musket back up and advanced without the shoes.
                        How about the dead at Fredricksburg who were stripped naked in front of the confederate lines?
                        Even the Time Life Books "The Life of Billy Yank/Johnny Reb make refrence to stripping the dead and combing the battlefield on both sides for recovery of equipment.
                        Dusty Lind
                        Running Discharge Mess
                        Texas Rifles
                        BGR Survivor

                        Texans did this. Texans Can Do It Again. Gen J.B. Hood


                        • #13
                          Re: Battlefield Pickups

                          In the western theater, at least, the battlefield was seldom in C.S. possession after the battle. Members of Tyler's Brigade, Bate's Division were upset when they had to turn in to the quartermaster all items that were recovered from the Chickamauga battlefield to be redistributed on an as-needed basis.

                          IMHO there is no doubt that there was a large amount of battlfield pick-ups, but just as the original poster mentions, I believe this is all too often used as an excuse to economize when putting together an impression.
                          Marlin Teat
                          [I]“The initial or easy tendency in looking at history is to see it through hindsight. In doing that, we remove the fact that living historical actors at that time…didn’t yet know what was going to happen. We cannot understand the decisions they made unless we understand how they perceived the world they were living in and the choices they were facing.”[/I]-Christopher Browning


                          • #14
                            Re: Battlefield Pickups

                            Originally posted by orngblsm
                            First...I have never read an actual account of a soldier claiming to get a new canteen, jacket, etc. from a dead or dying soldier, nor have i ever heard of a soldier picking up a tossed uniform piece or accoutrament while persuing or retreating from an enemy.
                            References to such practices abound, such as the following:

                            From William A. Fletcher’s “Rebel Private: Front and Rear – Memoirs of a Confederate Soldier”

                            Battle of Frederickburg

                            “In the morning we were sent to the front to relieve the battle line that I had passed through during the night, and nearly all the dead Yankees who were in sight were naked…as the dead bodies were all nearly naked and lying mostly on their back.”

                            “I saw that our part of the line had stripped the dead the most. The unacquainted would think that this work was done by the line soldier, but was not, only in case of actual necessity. It was largely done near Richmond and by those who made a business of it, as the clothing, when washed, was good stock in second hand stores and its benefit was that it supplied the wanting soldier and poor citizen at a low price. I heard of no effort to stop the practice, and there was no harm in stripping the dead when the party stripped was a party to blockading our ports, which created the urgent necessity.”
                            Bob Clayton
                            [url=]Co. C, 2nd U.S. Infantry, "Sykes Regulars"[/url]
                            Honoring the proud history and traditions of the U.S. Army
                            [url=]Photo Gallery[/url]


                            • #15
                              Re: Battlefield Pickups


                              The reference is page 72 of Charles W. Turner, ed. Ted Barclay, Liberty Hall Volunteers: Letters from the Stonewall Brigade. (Natural Bridge Station, Va.: Rockbridge Publishing Company, 1992).

                              Writing on May 27, 1862 from Stephenson's Depot, Va:

                              "Our army was rigged out in full suits of Yankee clothes yesterday, but as several had been taken up for Yankees by our cavalry, Gen. Jackson ordered the clothes to be given up, so again we see our old Confederate gray, while yesterday everything was Yankee blue.
                              "I do not care to get any clothes, but I have one of their famous Belgian rifles and indeed it is an arm to fear, a perfect cannon."

                              Eric J. Mink
                              Co. A, 4th Va Inf
                              Stonewall Brigade

                              Help Preserve the Slaughter Pen Farm - Fredericksburg, Va.