HOME | ORGANIZATION | ENLIST | NEWS | FEATURES | HISTORY | LINKS
DEAR BARLEY...SIGNED LOST IN WALL TENT
by (Bvt. Sgt.) Pvt. Mike Palada
Fellow shirkers and scallywags, this installment of the Campaigners' Corner will serve to elucidate several queries and conundrums that your humble correspondent has been approached with during the past idle weeks of the latest winter encampment. Surely, this format is nothing newfangled. Those familiar with such helpful hints and advice columns as Hints from Heloise and Dear Abby will instantly recognize that while the subject matter herein is solely unique to the readers' peculiar lifestyles of this esteemed publication, the format that it is presented in is unashamedly stolen. Ergo, let us now delve into Dear Barley, however it should be mentioned that all names connected to the following solicitations for help and advice are withheld to protect the innocent. Moreover, all responses are sincere and Barleycorn Boy tested and approved. So, sit back, pour a cup of Rio, pass around the bowl and let Dear Barley answer all the questions you were afraid to ask.
"Dear Barley, I enjoy the warmth and coziness of a good fire after a long hard day of burning some powder. But I seem to have trouble getting one going in damp or drizzling conditions. I don't want to farb-out and use store bought fire starter blocks. What can I do to get a good fire going in wet conditions?" -signed Lost in Wall Tent
Lost, there are several things you can do to better your situation without farbing-out. To be sure, getting a good camp fire going after a heavy rain or during a light drizzle is often a challenge and a frustration for many. I would suggest the following hints to try the next time you find yourself in this situation. First, you are going to need a lot of kindling, much-much more that you would normally need if it were dry. Avoid picking fallen branches on the ground, they have probably been soaked through. Try instead to break the tips off of branches still hanging from trees. Although these may be somewhat damp, by still hanging in the air they continuously drip-dry, unlike the tinder on the ground that just lies in moisture. Use your jack knife to skin off the bark and they should do nicely. If you cannot locate any dry grass or leaves, whittle as many slivers as you can or try a few pages from a reproduction newspaper, just remember to save some for use at the sinks later. Lastly, have a good pard continuously fan or blow any embers while you feed in more tinder and kindling. It is also a good idea to remove your hats or caps while doing this. Nothing so much frustrates like a torrent of water rushing down one's brim, dousing any hope of a fire. Good luck!
"Dear Barley, Would it be O.K. to carry a pillow in my knapsack? I know its probably not authentic but I have a hard time sleeping at night without a pillow. I just now got use to not having my teddy bear. Thanks for any help!" -signed Sleepless in Gen. Sherman's Army
Sleepless, by the time you tried to fit a pillow in your knapsack, you wouldn't have room for anything else. Believe it or not you are already carrying several "pillows" with you that are authentic as well. The next time you drop down in your bivouac, try the following suggestions. You may just end up sleeping like the dead. If you have a knapsack then you are covered. Fill one of the empty bags with hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, etc. An extra shirt or pair of drawers works wonders. No knapsack? No problem. I have often found that a cartridge box makes a great pillow. Other handy items on your person that can also substitute for a pillow include your haversack and shoes (line them up and use the toe portion). While it may not be the Hilton, you may be surprised at how well they work, not to mention that everyone of these examples are authentic to the original boys in blue.
"Dear Barley, I always forget to bring a candle to an event, and you know that it's a good idea to have one when you are trying to make your way to the sinks at 2 am. I would also like to use a better candle that is more authentic that the cheap paraffin wax ones sold at the skinners row. Any thoughts?" -signed In the Dark
Well Dark, you may want to consider the following. Try your local Catholic supply store for a truer version of a period candle. While not a true replica, their altar candles are a very close approximation to period candles. You may also want to make your own candle that is currently under represented in the hobby, as did many soldiers both blue and gray. The candle in question is called a slush candle. For this you will need an empty sardine can with the lid still partially attached, a piece of cotton cloth or yarn for a wick, and all the bacon or salt pork grease you can beg, borrow, or steal for use as the fuel. Throughout the day as you and your mates are frying up your pork rations, simple pour off the excess grease into your empty sardine can. When the can is full and the grease cools and congeals (hence the name slush candle) thoroughly soak the wick and insert it in the can, closing the lid back down. That's all you need for a cheap, reliable and totally authentic candle for the common soldier. Just don't forget the matches to light it up.
"Dear Barley, I've always read accounts and diaries about troops polishing and brightening their brass and guns in the field for inspections and the like. I too would like to make this part of my ritual, but it doesn't seem right haul out a Wal-Mart bag full of modern polishing compounds and cleaners. What did they use back then that I can use now?" -signed Paper Collar
Great question, Collar. At the time, troops in the field were issued powdered emery and rotten stone for polishing their brass and arms. However, troopers also came up with many on-the-spot ways of cleaning their kit as well, as you have alluded to. Other ways you can achieve the same results which are documented and authentic is by using wood ash or coals from the fire (cool the coals off with water before using them), a handful of hay or straw does wonders on the rust on a musket barrel, and if you are near a corn field then a shucked cob will come in handy. If you want to use that cob in its more popular use then you will have to soak them in water first. But that is another answer for another question for another time!
Questions, comments, concerns? Fan-mail, hate-mail, something you want to see in a future article? Share a bowl over it with me around the fire or email it to me at TheBarleycornBoys@military.com. Bully!
This article was originally published in the March-April 2003 issue of The Shrapnel, the newsletter of the Turner Brigade. For information about The Shrapnel, contact Capt. Randy Baehr, Editor.