As reenactors, we scrutinize fabric dyes, stitch length, diligently study manuals, and pay top dollar to the best makers, but the everyday items of camp life often get overlooked. Campaigners pride themselves on living out of their knapsacks as if a solider never used a tent, carried items for a mess, or longed for the comforts of home. Mainstreamers content themselves with "close enough" items from thrift stores and yard sales to everyone else's cries of "you're ruining my immersion!" What if "hardcore" camp items were not only easily accessible, but easy to make with limited tools?
Most Civil War woodworking items sold are made with modern machinery to keep costs down. Most are good quality and the construction methods are undetectable. I know in my shop, the more hand tools I use the more the cost goes up. I think many reenactors are missing out by not extending their passion for a quality immersion into the realm of camp life. Whenever soldiers had an opportunity, they tried to make camp and their tents as comfortable and "homey" as conditions allowed. As the war continued, Union soldiers gave up any remaining respect for secesh property they might have had and freely took advantage of whatever the South had to offer. I recently read in Wilbur Fisk's writings that in a camp, a month after Gettysburg, the soldiers hunted down and re-appropriated boards and fence rails anywhere they could. This meant tearing down barns, sheds, and other structures. Soldiers had to carry what they could and officer's used horses and wagons for the same purposes. Don't even get Capt. Whitehall started about all the stuff the Sharpshooters stole during the war. Items like the tent stakes above, found in Hammler's CW Woodworking, are inspired by what many soldiers would have done.
What I've done differently from Hammler, and what I encourage you to try, is to use only hand tools available at the time. No special skills are really needed and the minimal investment required in tools can be used in many future projects. As reenactors, we love a hand sewn button hole. Why not try hand made camp items?
My "hardcore" field-made stakes featured in one of our earliest videos required only an axe or a draw knife and a shave horse or a chopping block. With a few simple hand tools, you can share the experience of turning stolen clapboards into tent stakes. For this project, I used red oak I purchased from a big box store for less than $10. The tools I used included:
- Crosscut saw
- Rip Saw
- 3/4" chisel
- Combination square
- Spoke shave -- though you could use a pocket knife
- Marking knife
I hope this article helps to inspire you to extend your passion for detail into the creative world of soldier-made camp items made in a period-correct way.