Friday, March 23, 2012

Morning Routine

The sound that most often disrupts the deep sleep of an infantryman is "Reveille", played by the regimental bugler sometime between 4:00 and 5:00 AM.  This particular torture is only bested by the brutal sound of the human voice shouting "Roll call!"

The soldier rarely looked or felt his best when presenting for roll call.  Abandon every image of a well-groomed company of uniformly dressed volunteers forming a line and answering smartly as their name is called.  In fact, it was said that anyone who did this for a week was guaranteed corporal stripes.  The fact that so few satisfied  this requirement is testimony to the high value placed on sleep by the weary soldiers.  The men fell out for roll call representing every conceivable permutation of the state of undress, barely recognizing or acknowledging the sound of their own name.

After roll call, it was time to take care of the animals.  This was the one time when being in the infantry was a decided advantage.  Only after caring for the animals did the men dress for the day.  Anyone who has mucked-out a stall can appreciate the wisdom in this scheduling.

After the animals, the men were fed.  The staple of breakfast, and every other meal, for the Civil War soldier was a solid, dense cracker about 3x3x1/2" in size.  One of the great challenges during the war was finding a way to eat this "hardtack" in every possible situation in which they found themselves.  When times were hard, the cracker was simply soaked in water or coffee until the resulting mush could be eaten with a spoon. 

In camp, however, more creative methods were available.  Hardtack could be soaked in water, drained and fried in pork fat.  This was called "skillygallee".  Another popular method was to spear it with a stick and toast over an open fire.  This was preferred in the evening as the men gathered around the camp fires sharing stories and toasting their hardtack.  But for breakfast, the preferred dish was "Peas on a Trencher", where a serving of peas or beans topped the cracker and softened it with their juices.

After breakfast, the men were divided into work details. Those not needed for chopping wood, digging sanitary trenches, maintaining armaments or other duties were assigned to drill.

Editor's Note:  Taken from the Regimental History of the 17th Kentucky Infantry written by John Blackburn,  A Hundred Miles, A Hundred Heartbreaks, 1972. LOC 72-93774

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