by Robert Niepert
The Sibley tent, also called a bell tent was invented by Henry Sibley (C.S.A.). While in the Western U.S., Sibley noticed the advantages offered by the Indian teepee. He copied the basic design then made some modifications and patented his tent in 1858. He made an agreement with the U.S. Government War Dept. and they were to pay him $5 for every tent they made. When the Civil War broke out, Sibley sided with the Confederacy and was not paid the royalty. After his death, Sibley's family tried to collect the money due him but the Government refused to hear the claim or pay the royalty. The Federal Army used 43,958 Sibley tents.
The Sibley tent is 18 ft. in diameter and 12 ft. high. It is supported by a single pole which rests on a iron tripod by means of which the tent can be tightened or relaxed. At the top of the tent is a circular opening about a foot in diameter which serves the purpose of ventilation. A small piece of canvas called a cap is attached to two long guys and covers the top hole in bad weather. During the Civil War, these tents were shelter for up to 12 men; but in stockade use, as many as 20 men were made to share one tent. The large tents were too cumbersome for active operations and after 1862 were used only in semi-permanent camp areas.
The Wall Tent, also called an officers tent saw many uses during the war. This tent has four upright sides or "walls" hence its name. Some of the wall tents were equipped with a fly used in the front. Men could stand erect and move around inside these tents comfortably. The wall tent came in several different sizes. The smaller wall tents were issued to commissioned officers. Gen. McClellan had them issued (general order Aug. 10, 1862) to "general, field, and staff officers", while each line officer was allowed a single shelter tent.
Larger sizes were used as hospital tents. Several of these larger tents could be put end to end and used as hospital wards. The hospital wall tent was 14 ft 6in by 14 ft. and 11 ft. high with side walls 4ft. 6in. tall. Each one used in medical treatment was designed to accommodate eight patients. Army regulations assigned to each regiment three hospital tents.
Wall tents were initially the most popular tents but they proved too expensive to manufacture, too cumbersome to pitch and carry, and eventually found themselves inhabited only by those too weak or too exalted to do the work of erecting them - hospital patients and officers.
The Wedge Tent, also known as the "A" frame tent was one of the most commonly used tents. The canvas of this tent is stretched over a horizontal bar about six feet long. The bar is supported on each end by two upright posts about six feet high. Folding flaps at each end when open allowed ventilation in the summer but on cold nights even when closed offered little protection. This type of tent usually held four men but was often occupied by up to six. The wedge tent did offer speed of assembly but far less space. When set up the "A" frame tent covers about 50 square feet, or close to seven square feet per man.
The "A" frame tents were in general use by the armies of both sides in the first two years of the war but like the Sibley and wall tents they required too much precious space on the wagons to take along for use in the field. Accordingly, they were turned over to camps of instruction, rendezvous depots, and to troops permanently located in or near important military centers or stations.
Shelter Halves in the end were the most common and only protection offered to the fighting men. This tent also known as a dog tent only slightly protected two men. Each man would carry half of the tent with him. The shelter tent measured five foot two inches by four feet eight inches. The men would button their halves together, sling it over a center pole or length of rope strung between trees and within minutes had some protection.
Shelter tents were made of canvas and sometimes of oil cloth if any was available but they were no better than the poncho tents which were a smaller version. With both ends open to the elements, they were only useful in good weather. I have seen drawings and photographs where two muskets with fixed bayonets were stabbed into the ground and a rope ran between them and a tent made when canvas was draped over the rope. I can't imagine this was a common practice but it may have occurred at least a couple of times.
An excerpt from the diary of Col. John Beatty reflected the men's feelings towards their new quarters. "Shelter tents were issued to our division today. We are still using the larger tent but it is evidently the intention to leave these behind when we move. Last fall the shelter tents were used for a time by the Pioneer Brigade. They are so small that a man can not stand up in them. The boys were then very bitter in condemnation of them and called them dog tents and dog pens. Almost every one of these tents was marked in a way to indicate the unfavorable opinion which the boys entertained of them and in riding through the company quarters of the Pioneer Brigade, the eye would fall on inscriptions of this sort: Pups for sale -- Rat terriers -- Bull pups here -- Dog hole #1."
Poncho Tents were made from three rubber ponchos with a combined weight of only seven pounds. When the ponchos were assembled into a sleeping tent, three men could squeeze into it. Many men preferred the poncho tent to the rubber blanket. They were believed to be warmer than the shelter tent.
Shebang shelters were made of any available material. The Confederates had few tents, so they soon became proficient in the construction of their shebangs. Photos reveal that small trees, branches, rail fences or anything useable could be and was used for their "homes". The shebang was built when the army would be staying in the area for an extended period of time.
This article, its photos and all the
Designed by Dixie Myst Designs copyright ©2001