A Glimpse of Confederate Life at the End of March 1862
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

A Glimpse of Confederate Life at the End of March 1862

In A Scratch with the Rebels, a new recruit named Gus Smythe represents the Confederate experience. His father was the minister at the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston. The well-to-do family had shipped young Gus off to college in Columbia in hopes of keeping him out of the war, but when the Confederacy initiated a draft in March 1862, Gus and most of his friends decided to enlist rather than wait.  He had first enlisted in a company commanded by Captain Alex Taylor, the father of one of his college friends, but in obedience to his parents' wishes, he immediately requested a transfer to Company A, 24th South Carolina Volunteer Regiment, Hagood's Brigade so that his older brother could keep an eye on him.

 By 21 March 1862, he was a soldier in fact as well as in title, and was beginning to learn what soldiering was really like. Although he was camped just a few miles from home, he suffered from homesickness. His frequent letters to his mother give us a good idea of what camp life was like for a new recruit. The following examples appear in A Scratch with the Rebels, Chapter 5:

"Here we are, safe and sound, tho' a little jaded by traveling & the labor of fixing up. We got all our truck down safely, & are now in a measure fixed up, tho' of course we do not feel settled. We were quite hungry aboard of the boat and had to open our haversacks. We are now on Goat's Island, but had to land on Cole's Island with our baggage, and then walk ¾ of a mile to the camp . . . there are too many sand-fleas and mosquitoes here for comfort."

   Despite the fact that he had his own slave, Monday, with him to do the cooking and washing up, Gus found less and less to like about soldiering. His letters to his mother tell of snakes and alligators, flies and ticks, "green, slimy water that promises malaria," and sand that was "everywhere, in eatables as well as everything else."

Gus also complained of the short rations provided every three days for his mess, which included his brother Adger, his Uncle Joe, and Monday: hard tack, which the men called "floating batteries," along with 1 ½ oz. sugar, 6 gills of rice, some hominy and salt, and a fair amount of tough beef. Nearly every letter he wrote was filled with requests to send him things that would make his life more comfortable: mosquito "fixin's" [presumably some sort of repellent], fishhooks, "a little bunch of orange blossoms to perfume my tent, and a bundle of candy to sweeten my temper," along with warm socks and another uniform coat.

His most unsoldierly request was for "a piece of homespun, or old table-cloth, or sheet, or anything in that line, that will do us for a tablecloth. The table is a little less that 2 yards long and about 3 ½ feet wide. It is very dirty however and unpleasant to eat off the boards fresh from contact with Monday's hat and our boots, etc." Apparently, no one told him to keep his feet off the table.

Nevertheless, even such callow recruits were a welcome solution to the short-handed army. The Confederacy was entering a new phase of the war, when the harsh realities of warfare required all citizens, from dirt farmer to aristocrat, to relinquish their idealism and fight for their own survival. Under such circumstances, even very young soldiers grew up quickly.