Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cold Weather and Period Camping

Our cannons at Lewiston this weekend.

I got a taste of cold weather camping this past weekend at Lewiston, New York (see previous article). Our camp stood on a plateau above the town, exposed to fierce winds. We got some cold rain as well, and the temperature went down to the twenties on Friday. However, there wasn't any frost on the ground on Saturday morning, so I shouldn't complain.

Actually, I can't complain at all about living arrangements at modern historical reenactments. Sharing a wedge tent with one other person (these were usually meant for 5-7 men but you tend to lie across the width of the tent this way with your head and feet against wet canvas, a sure recipe for freezing), I used a tarp to cover the ground, an inflatable cell-sleeping pad, a 30 degree sleeping bag and a 3.5 pound wool blanket with a chemical foot warmer tossed in the foot. I further covered my head with a woolen great coat, a spare wool blanket over the bag, and folded the ground tarp over the whole to ward off the dew. It worked, and I slept pretty well.

I was mindful, though, of the actual sleeping arrangements 1812 soldiers would have used. I've tried it before, and it isn't fun. Take everything I mentioned above away except for the 3.5 pound wool blanket--even the great coat, beloved of modern reenactors but not issued to individual soldiers --and you have the cold weather camp gear of 1812. How did soldiers cope? Here's one Ohio militia officer's account of life at Fort McArthur in 1813:

We had no idea how long we would remain there. We at first lived in tents; but when the weather began to get cold we built log huts, covered with clapboards, some had chimneys and some had open fronts, with tent cloths hung up in front at night and in cold weather. Our hut was tolerably comfortable; we had a chimney and door, we also chinked and daubed it, and laid a puncheon floor, so that we lived in style, there was but three of us, Captain, myself and our cook. The ensign was discharged by reason of his having fits. Our bed was, to lay down one blanket and cover with the two; we had to lay spoon fashion and if one wished to turn over we had to make a frolic of it and all turn at once. (italics added). We had easy, and tolerably comfortable times; plenty to eat, not much to do, only provide wood, cook our rations, wash our clothes and occasionally go on fatigue or guard.
--from "We Lay There Doing Nothing": John Jackson's Recollection of the War of 1812. Jeff L. Patrick, ed. Indiana Magazine of History 88, 2 (June 1992), pp. 111-131.