Civil War tents came in many different shapes and sizes. At the start of the Civil War Union soldiers often used the Sibley tent. This tent was invented in 1857 by Henry Sibley a West Point graduate who explored out west. The design was inspired by Native American teepees. This was a very large conical shaped tent. It is eighteen feet in diameter, and twelve feet high with a support pole in the center that sits on a tripod.
The tripod was adjustable and could either tighten the tent or make it loose. These Civil War tents could also raise and lower from the ground to provide ventilation. The top of the tent had a round opening a foot wide. This opening allowed for ventilation and a stove chimney.
In inclement weather a flap could be pulled over the opening to protect the inside. When soldiers were not using a stove inside the tent they built campfires on the floor which were ventilated through the opening at the top. The Sibley tent slept twelve men.
The Sibley Civil War tents were retired in 1862. It was far too expensive, large, and cumbersome for an army to carry with them. Each tent required several wagons to carry.
Civil War A Tent or Wedge Tent
The A tent or Wedge tent was a canvas tent stretched across a six foot long horizontal bar with two vertical supporting bars in the front and back.
These Civil War tents could sleep up to six men. If five or six soldiers were sharing the tent they would have to spoon each other and turn over at the same time. It could fit four soldiers comfortably.
This was a rather large tent and not easy to transport when an army was on the march. They were used only for the first two years of the Civil War.
Civil War Hospital Tent or Wall Tent
The Civil War hospital tent also called a wall tent since it has four vertical walls, was a very large tent. These Civil War tents were used for hospitals and for officers. The wall tents came in different sizes. The largest tents were the hospital tents.
These were so large that men could walk around upright in them. They could hold up to twenty patients.
There would be a corridor down the center of the tent with cots on each side for the patients. When a larger tent was needed soldiers would join two of these tents together doubling its size.
Generals and officers were given a smaller version of the wall tent. The wall tent also had a flap called a fly, this helped protect against inclement weather.
Shelter Tent or Dog Tent
The shelter tent also called a dog tent was created in late 1861. This was the common soldier’s tent.
These were small tents made of canvas. They were large enough to sleep two men. Each soldier was issued a half-shelter, which was half of the tent, two halves would button together forming a single tent.
Each shelter half was only about five feet long and four and a half feet wide. It had buttons and button holes on three sides, with two holes on each corner for stakes. Soldiers paired up with each other combining both of their half-shelters to form a single two person tent.
The two half-shelters were supported by rifles with their bayonets attached. The rifles were stuck vertically into the ground, one in front and one in the back of the tent.
A wire or rope was tied around the trigger guard of each rifle and the half-shelters were slung over the wire. Soldiers also used branches to support the tent.
If it was good weather soldiers typically would not use their tents. Instead they would sleep out under the stars with just their blankets. The last thing a tired soldier wanted to do was take time to setup a tent if it really wasn’t necessary.
If the weather was bad, or it was going to get bad, they would set their tents up. Soldiers would dig a ditch around their tent to drain rainwater away.
New recruits would learn the hard way that if they didn’t bother to do this they would be lying in a puddle and all their equipment soaked when they woke up after a rain.
Civil War Tents during Winter Quarters
With the arrival of winter fighting typically stopped. Soldiers used their dog tents to take up a more permanent residence in camp. Walls made from logs were built between two and five feet high, the openings between the logs were packed with mud.
The ground beneath the shelter was sometimes dug out one to two feet. Wooden rafters were made to place on top of the walls and the tent halves were placed on top of the rafters. This formed a large and warm shelter.
Chimneys were constructed inside these shelters using brick, stone, or wood. Wooden chimneys were lined with mud to protect against fire. A fireplace would be built under the chimneys which kept the shelter warm and it gave the men a place to cook.
The winter months gave the men plenty of downtime. They were always looking for ways to entertain themselves and civil war games played a major role in helping soldiers fight the ever present companion of boredom that comes with daily camp life.
Civil War Bombproof Shelters
These shelters were solely used for protection against enemy artillery fire. Bombproofs were built inside fortifications using heavy logs packed with mud, they were covered by several feet of dirt and had a small door that faced away from the enemy.
They were built either on top of the ground or dug into the ground. Both the Union and Confederacy used bombproof shelters.
Troops would take cover in them whenever the enemy began shelling their position. They were cold and damp and soldiers did not sleep in them unless it was out of necessity.
Confederate soldiers never had it as good as Union soldiers. This is even true when it came to a simple thing like Civil War tents. Often Confederate soldiers used no tents, some lucky Confederates would sometimes capture Union tents and use those. More often than not they slept out in the open. Each soldier was issued a blanket and an oil-cloth, which is just a rubber blanket.
Two soldiers would sleep together. One rubber blanket would be placed on the ground they would cover themselves with the two regular blankets and on top of that they would place the other rubber blanket. In this way they slept very warmly and comfortably through any type of inclement including rain and snow.
Union soldiers typically put their camps in large open fields, with the exception of winter when they located them in wooded areas. Confederate soldiers usually setup their camps in the woods. In an open field Union camps were more orderly and better arranged but Confederate camps looked nicer in the woods.