Private Carlton McCarthy of the Richmond Howitzers writes in detail what it was like to be a soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia.
The volunteer of 1861 made extensive preparations for the field. Boots, he though, were an absolute necessity, and the heavier the soles and longer the tops the better. His pants were stuffed inside the top of his boots, of course. A double-breasted coat, heavily wadded, with two rows of big brass buttons and a long skirt, was considered comfortable. A small stiff cap, with a narrow brim, took the place of the comfortable "felt," or the shining and towering tile worn in civil life.
Then over all was a huge overcoat, long and heavy, with a cape reaching nearly to the waist. on his back he strapped a knapsack containing a full stock of underwear, soap, towels, comb, brush, looking-glass, tooth-brush, paper and envelopes, pens, ink, pencils, blacking, pipes, twine string, and cotton strips for wounds and other emergencies, needles and thread, but tones, knife, fork, and spoon, and many other things as each man's idea of what he was to encounter varied. On the outside of the knapsack, solidly folded, were two great blankets and a rubber or oil-cloth. This knapsack, etc. weighed from 15 to 25 pounds, sometimes more. All seemed to think it was impossible to have on too heavy clothes, or to have too many conveniences, and each had an idea that to be a good soldier he must be provided against every emergency.
In addition to the knapsack, each man had a haversack, more or less costly, some of cloth and some of fine morocco, and stored with provisions always, as though he expected any moment to receive orders to march across the Great Desert, and supply his own wants on the way. A canteen was considered indispensable, and at the outset it was thought prudent to keep it full of water. Many, expecting terrific hand-to-hand encounters, carried revolvers, and even bowie knives. Merino shirts (and flannel) were thought to be the right thing, but experience demonstrated the contrary. Gloves were also thought to be very necessary and good things to have in winter time, the favorite style being buck gauntlets with long cuffs.
In addition to each man's private luggage, each mess, generally composed of from five to ten men, drawn together by similar tastes and associations, had its outfit, consisting of a large camp chest containing skillet, frying pan, coffee boiler, bucket for lard, coffee box, salt box, meal box, your box, knives, forks, spoons, plates, cups, etc., etc., These chests were so large that 8 to 10 filled up an army wagon, and were so heavy that two strong men had all they could do to get one of them into the wagon. In addition to the chest, each mess owned an axe, water bucket, and bread tray. Then the tents of each company, and little sheet iron stoves and stoves pipes, and the trucks and valises of the company officers, made an immense pile of stuff, so that each company had a small wagon train of its own.
All thought money to be absolutely necessary, and for a while rations were disdained and the mess supplied with the best that could be bought with the mess fund. Quite a large number had a "boy" along to do the cooking and washing. Think of it! A Confederate soldier with a body servant all his own, to bring him a drink of water, black his boots, dust his clothes, cook his corn bread and bacon, and put wood on his fire. Never was there fonder admiration than these darkies displayed for their masters. Their chief delight and glory was to praise the courage and good looks of "Mahse Tom," and prophesy great things about his future. Many a ringing laugh and shout of fun originated in the queer remarks, shining countenances, and glistening teeth of this now forever departed character.