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Winter weather and the 1880’s soldier

January 5, 2014
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

Weather frequently compounded the miseries of soldiers on the campaign. Soldiers learned how bad a march could be the first time it rained. If he was very lucky his pup tent kept him dry. Usually his blanket and clothes were soaked. After a sleepless night he marched the next day still soggy. Men sometimes went to sleep in wet blankets and awoke to find the blankets frozen to the ground.

By the 1880's the Quartermaster Department was beginning to use such items as long wooly buffalo overcoats and muskrat caps. General George Crook ordered for his men a supply of ingenious arctic boots made by strapping buffalo fur overshoes around cork soled Indian moccasins, in the field, however much of this equipment still proved inadequate.

One officer described his clothing during a winter march, "I am now wearing two flannel and a buckskin shirt, one pair of drawers, trousers of buckskin, and a pair of army trousers, two pair of woolen socks, a pair of buffalo overshoes, and big boots, a heavy pair of blanket leggings, a thick blouse and heavy overcoat, a heavy woolen cap that completely coves my head, face and neck, and still I am not happy."

Despite every effort to keep warm, winter cold often overwhelmed the men. Even when the air was perfectly still, the air was filled with frozen ice crystals. While marching through snow, horses and men regularly broke the surface crust which slashed their legs until trails were marked in frozen blood. Faces, ears, hands and feet froze as the men marched with amputation being the frequent result.

From the 1865 diary of Lewis Hull, a trooper stationed at Fort Hallack, Wyoming:

February 17 snowed very hard all day. Chryst and Greany lost. Greany fell from his mule frozen so badly he died during the night. Chryst stayed with him till morning.

February 18 Chryst was found about 10 miles from the post, badly frozen. Little hope of recovery.

March 2 Chryst died.

March 3 - 19 degrees below zero, ground frozen too hard to dig a grave.

Yet men marched and fought in the worst weather the plains could supply. In January 1867, George A. Armes led 55 men to relieve a party 40 miles away. Things did not go well, and in the pursuit of Indians, in 45 hours they marched a total of 125 miles, fought two actions, eaten three meals, rested hardly at all, and had never once been out of the bitter cold and driving snow.

 
 

 

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