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"WE HAVE DRANK FROM THE SAME CANTEEN..."
by (Bvt. Sgt.) Pvt. Mike Palada
...or have we? Welcome to the first installment of the Campaigners' Corner, presented by the Barleycorn Boys. While this column and its articles are dedicated to the discriminating, progressive/hardcore re-enactor, its contents are intended for the betterment of all.
When I first signed the muster rolls, some 6 years ago, I was informed by a sutler that, "...a canteen, is a canteen, is a canteen..." Well, I know better now, but unfortunately that same notion is still being kicked around, like a bad dog that just won't leave camp. The other problem for today's re-enactor is the belief by some of the "One Correct Answer." Fellow chums, let me say this, there is no one correct answer for anything pertaining to the Civil War. This includes the Federal canteen.
Let us delve into the two different styles of canteens issued to the National troops. First, and most prevalent, is the "m1858 oblate spheroid tinned sheet iron canteen," also known as the smoothside canteen. A number of depots issued these to the troops, each with slight variations. It must be noted however, that a depot was not limited in its distribution of goods within a geographic location or a theater. The following depots issued m1858's:
New York Depot-m1858 with spout of white metal (pewter)-not tin. Stoppers were secured with jack-chains, with holes punched into the strap holders (***Note*** Only the New York Depot smoothsides used a jack-chain!). Coverings consisted of mostly coarse, gray wool jean (the logwood dye quickly faded to brown in the sunlight, however). These came complete with leather canteen straps with tin buckles and protectors until the summer of 1862 when thereafter folded cotton or linen straps, machine-sewn at the edges were used.
Philadelphia Depot-m1858 with spout of white metal (pewter)-not tin. Stoppers were attached with cotton strings or cords, no hole punched in the strap holder. The depot used slings of leather with tin buckles and protectors until summer, 1862, thereafter cotton or linen straps. Coverings came in cheap kersey or satinet. The Philadelphia depot also resorted to using old blankets, worn-out overcoats, and even upholstery material to cover its canteens.
Cincinnati Depot-m1858 with spouts of white metal (pewter) and sometimes tin. Again, as the New York depot was the exclusive user of jack-chains, the Cincinnati canteens secured their stoppers with a string or cord. This depot used coarse, gray wool jean as coverings (the logwood dye quickly faded to brown). Cincinnati used only cloth or linen straps, no leather slings.
St. Louis Depot-m1858. St. Louis did not manufacture any canteens; rather, they received shipments of canteens from other depots. It is not known for certain if these canteens were shipped ready to issue or if St. Louis covered them and attached a cloth sling.
The other type of canteen that was issued was the m1862 corrugated canteen, more commonly identified as the "bullseye." This m1862 bullseye canteen came in varieties ranging from 5 or 7 rings to a limited number of 11 ring examples. Unlike its predecessor, the m1862 was contracted out by only one depot, the Philadelphia depot.
Philadelphia Depot-m1862. As this was the only depot to contract for and issue the bullseye, the stopper and attachment, coverings, and slings followed the lines of the Philadelphia m1858's.
1. Only the New York Depot m1858's used the jack-chain and had a hole punched in the strap holder.
2. The overwhelming majority of coverings were of coarse, gray wool jean cloth--not gray kersey--which quickly faded to brown from cheap and unstable dyes. Sky-blue kersey was very limitedly used. Dark blue is totally incorrect. It was far too expensive of a material and dye job (that is why trousers are sky blue instead of the regulation dark blue) to be used on a utilitarian item such as a canteen.
3. By mid-summer, 1862, all Federal canteens were being issued with cloth slings.
4. Stainless steel did not exist at that time. Avoid it like the plague!
5. A special thanks to Capt. Baehr for providing the top-rail article, "The Civil War Issue Canteens: Patterns of 1858 and 1862," by Mr. Earl J. Coates. [Military Collector & Historian, Vol. XLVII, No. 3, Fall 1995.] Also, Bully for Robert A. Braun of the 33rd Wisconsin for his article, "The Federal Canteen." Both articles were used in preparing this one.
6. www.familyheirloomweavers.com has first-rate canteen covers. Hint, save a few green backs by getting some pards together and ordering a yard of fabric. www.skilletlicker.com has correct leather slings. Fall Creek and most others' are incorrect!
Questions, comments, something you want to see in a future article in the Campaigners' Corner? Drop me a line, talk to me at an event, or email it to me at TheBarleycornBoys@military.com.
This article was originally published in the May-June 2001 issue of The Shrapnel, the newsletter of the Turner Brigade. For information about The Shrapnel, contact Capt. Randy Baehr, Editor.