1861: “If I Slept In The Pig Pen…”

Gazette665 Blog Series 1861: In Their WordsJuly 9, 1861

If I had stayed home & gone out & slept in the pig pen at night I should have had about the same experience that we have had here…

Francis C. Barlow to his mother,  July 9, 1861

Disillusionment With Army Life

A Union Camp in 1861 (this one is probably more comfortable than the one Barlow describes)

A Union Camp in 1861 (this one is probably more comfortable than the one Barlow describes)

When the parades were over and the uniforms started to get dirty, the “romance” of going to war began to wear off. Long hours of military drilling were interspaced with camp duties – cooking, hauling water, chopping wood, digging latrines, and other routine tasks. Food was a far-cry from home cooking or hotel delicacies, and sleeping quarters were typically basic tents without floors or extra comforts.

Many men enlisted to battle for an ideal – usually Union or States Rights. In spring and early summer of 1861, they wanted to fight. They weren’t so enthusiastic about learning military discipline. They complained about the discomforts of camp life. Soldiering was definitely not what most had expected.

The disillusionment would increase (and without humorous comparisons) when the soldiers fought their first battle. Though many acknowledged battlefield danger, they were unprepared for the horrors they would encounter. 1861 is a year of joyous enlisting, disillusionment with military life, and startling battlefield realities. However, many men would stay (or re-enlist), continuing to stand up for what they believed was right.

Francis C. Barlow

Francis Channing Barlow had a way with words. His blunt comments about the military, politics, and leadership can be humorous, irritating, informative, or pure bravado. In April 1861, twenty-six year old Barlow enlisted as a private in the 12th Regiment of the New York State Militia for three months. The evening before he left for war, he married his sweetheart, Miss Griffith.

Francis C. Barlow (in this photograph he is a major general)

Francis C. Barlow (in this photograph he is a major general)

After experiencing three months of military life, his unit was mustered out without experiencing battle. In November 1861, Barlow got a lieutenant-colonelcy in the 61st New York. During the 1862, he rapidly moved up in rank and, by 1863, was commanding a division. Barlow served in most of the major battles with the Army of the Potomac, becoming one of the most trusted and respected division commanders. From the rank of private to brevet major general, Francis C. Barlow served his country in muddy “pig-pen” camps and on victorious battlefields.

Historical Musings

Today’s quote is insightful, but mostly it’s just funny. Civil War soldiers had a good (sometimes wicked) sense of humor. Although it doesn’t always resonate with the modern folks unless they’re familiar with the settings, Civil War humor was it’s own unique brand of American words, thinking, and jokes. Certainly there were crude jokes, but quite a few are correctly termed “clean humor.”

Appropriate humor (not derogatory to a companion) can foster comradeship and forge a unit. It can be way that men – soldiers especially – deal with hardships and overcome them. From pig-pens to soft iron nails in the hardtack to fussing about mud marches, humor was a consistent “relief-valve” for complaints about food, accommodations, and leadership.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Is anybody going to add “camping in the pig-pen” to their hard-core reenacting bucket list? (Thanks…I’ll pass.)

Barlow 1861

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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