This page contains articles describing camp life in the 4th Texas and the Texas Brigade. All articles are written by former member Lee Rainey unless specified otherwise.
This article describes how Hood's Texans spent the winter months.
When the Confederate Army entered winter quarters, the troops were normally called upon to build log huts for their winter accommodations. Photos exist of the huts built by the Texans during the first winter of the war at Dumfries, and they are full-sized, well-constructed log cabins.
After Fredericksburg, the Texans were stationed in heavily timbered ground for the purpose of allowing them to build winter quarters. However, as J. B. Polley states,
...it was so late in the season, and there was such liklihood, the men thought, of an early spring campaign, that they were content to erect only temporary structures. Accustomed and inured by this time to many discomforts, they deemed it a waste of labor and time to build cabins they might have to vacate in a month or two.
Jonathan Stevens, of Co. K of the 5th Regiment, has left an excellent description of the resulting shelters, which the troops called "dog houses":
...We at once begin to make ourselves as comfortable as possible, each company dividing up into messes. These messes are composed of from four to six men....
...[Each mess selects] a tree about ten or twelve inches in diameter, being careful to get one with a long straight body, and that has the appearance of splitting well. We cut it up into cuts seven to ten feet long, according to the size of doghouse we want, which is governed by the number of men in the mess. We split the cuts into slabs about eight inches thick; then we begin somewhat as you would to build a pig pen, building up one end (to the north) and the two sides, leaving the south end open. We build up about three feet high, then we set up a fork or post at the center of each end, and put a pole across for a ridge pole, or comb of the structure, and over this we place a covering of any thing we can get--usually an old piece of tent cloth, drawing it tightly down to the logs or slabs on each side as tight as we can and making it fast. Then we close up the opening at the north end and close all the cracks, making it wind tight. We then rake up dry leaves and fill the dog house about ten inches deep with the leaves, which makes us a good warm bed. On these leaves we spread one blanket and use the remainder of our blankets for covering. Our fire is built at the open end, the reflection of the heat from the fire striking the top of the covering of this dog house obliquely, is thrown by re-flection down upon our bedding, making it quite warm and comfortable. We keep up our fires in cold weather all day and pretty well all night...
(The author of this article has a special interest in the winter quarters at Fredericksburg. His great-great-uncle, a 1st Lieutenant in the 12th Virginia, was killed by a falling tree during the work of constructing his regiment's winter huts.)
The Great Snowball Fight
One event remembered by many Texas veterans was the great snow ball fight involving the 4th Texas after Fredericksburg.
Val Giles of the 4 Texas says the date was about January 6, 1863. Snow had fallen heavily the day before, and that morning 400 of the Texans organized a raid on the 11th Georgia, also of Hood's Division. According to Giles, the Texans
. . . filled their haversacks with snowball cartridges and filed off . . . to take the innocent and unsuspecting 'goobers' in the rear. . . . The surprised and routed old Eleventh appealed to their brother 'goobers' for help. The long roll beat, bugles sounded the assembly, and it was not long before the [Texan raiders] were retreating across the valley, followed by 1000 Georgians. . . .
Near their camp, the Lone Star men made a stand, reinforced by the rest of the brigade and a North Carolina regiment that wanted to join the fun. Plenty of ammunition was on hand, since the snow lay two feet deep.
All accounts agree that the ensuing battle lasted most of the day, with the Texans in the thick of the fray. Officers and even a few generals reportedly took part. No one agrees who won, but according to brigade historian Polley, the snowball fight made such a racket that even the Federals across the Rappahannock were alarmed.
Camp Diversions in the 4th Texas
During the war, the Texans spent several long periods in established camps such as we reenactors set up for the public events. There, wrote one veteran,
. . . time hung heavily on the hands of some, lightly on those of others. . . . there was to be done the fatigue duty to keep the camp in good sanitary condition, guard duty day and night . . . when the weather was favorable and the ground dry enough, there was company and regimental drill . . . daily guard mountings and dress parades. . . .
When the men were not on duty or attending to the necessities of life, a variety of activities occupied their time. One favorite pastime was reading. An old soldier remembered that ". . . The Richmond press was enterprising, and daily papers supplied the news . . ." The troops spent much time ". . . in discussing these, announcing and listening to plans of campaigns and comments and criticisms on this, that and the other subject. . . ." Other soldiers mention reading novels and even classics like Dante's Inferno.
Soldiers' accounts make quite a few mentions of games in camp. Card games seem to have predominated, and a wide variety were popular. Pvt. J. B. Polley of the 4th wrote in a letter home ". . . Whist and euchre are the games most indulged in, but poker has many devotees..." Another frequently mentioned game was "seven up". Accounts tell of soldiers gambling at a mess table or on a blanket on the ground, and when the Texans went west to Chickamauga they ran into a more organized gambling operation that even offered faro and chuck-a-luck.
The money involved in gambling seems to have varied greatly from one game to the next. Some veterans' accounts talk of memorable games in which hundreds of dollars in currency changed hands, but another game on the battlefield of Fredericksburg is remembered as a "cent-ante" game using beans as money.
Those who were not interested in cards played a number of board games in camp. Texan accounts mention checkers, chess, backgammon and cribbage as camp pastimes. Indeed, in 1864, Lt. Col. Winkler reported that chess was "fast superceding" cards, which were becoming "unfashionable."
Music played such a large role in the camps that we'll cover it in a future article. Suffice it to say here that during the winters of 1861-62 and 1862-63, the Texans went so far as to build log theaters in their camps. There "Hood's minstrels" staged amateur musical and dramatic events, supported by an occasional professional from Richmond.
A Camp Dance in the 4th Texas
The following passage appears in The Confederate Capital and Hood's Texas Brigade, the memoirs of Mrs. A. V. Winkler, wartime wife of Lt. Col. C. M. Winkler of the 4th Texas. Perhaps this contains some possibilities for solving the age-old "ladies in camp" issue so vexing to reenactors.
One evening [in September, 1864] Major Burns, commissary of the [Texas] brigade, called with a request that I should act as chaperon for a dozen young ladies who were coming down to visit the camp of the Texas brigade. They would spend the day, have a dance, with music by the bands, and take dinner. As they were all strangers, mostly refugees from Washington, Maryland, and invaded districts of Virginia, I hesitated about accepting, but being assured they would not come unless some married lady was present, and knowing how few were the soldiers' chances for sociability, I consented to attend.
The 28th of September was one of those charming days in early autumn, when all nature seems in unison -- warm enough to be pleasant, yet not oppressed by the heat of summer.
About 9 o'clock an ambulance was waiting to convey us to headquarters. Everything was "swept and garnished" for the occasion; a large fly-tent was stretched over a sanded floor of plank laid down loosely; the table was set under another, while another was specially prepared to accommodate the ladies. The soldiers invited to be present were on hand, dressed in their best, looking as cheerful and bright as possible at this variation to the monotonous life of camp.
At 10 o'clock the boat reached the landing on the river, in sight, bringing the gay crowd of girls, accompanied by two escorts sent up to Richmond to attend them. When introduced to their chaperon, they were much amused to find I was not old enough to wear mob cap and spectacles, but were not adverse to finding the lady as young as themselves who was to give propriety to the occasion, and promised to be very obedient to every suggestion I might make. Thus mutually pleased, began a day they all seemed to enjoy very much, dancing under the large tent, with music by string and brass band, conversing, resting on seats made quite comfortable, and partaking of the dinner, where I sat, at the head of the table, and played hostess. The whole country had been scoured to provide the edibles of vegetables and chicken menu, without any kind of dessert, as sweets had long before been relegated to things of the past on the best tables in the land.
At 5 o'clock the boat arrived, and they returned to the city, expressing their pleasure and enjoyment of the occasion.