Army Life

Powell was part of the 2nd Florida Infantry, Perry's Brigade.  Below is an excerpt from a thesis by Shane Micah Turner.  Find the whole text here

From the spring of 1861─when the regiment was formed─until the spring of 1865─when it surrendered─the men of the regiment had endured four full years of military life They underwent discipline and chaos, slumber and sleep deprivation, abundance and hunger, and living and dying together. The Second Florida took part in nearly every campaign and fought in nearly every major battle.


 On July 1, 1861, the companies received orders to congregate at a location near Jacksonville.15 One-by-one the companies arrived at the encampment, called the “Brick church.”16 By July 12, all ten companies had arrived. Whil e at their Jacksonville encampment, the regiment elected its field officers. George T. Ward of Leon County was elected Colonel and thus became the Second Florida’s first commander.  

On the morning of July 15, the entire regiment broke camp, marched to the train depot in Jacksonville, and from there departed for Richmond.   

At various stations along the way, they attended ceremonies hosted by local citizens, which served to boost the men’s morale and give them courage for the coming fight. It was in these early days when some of the regiment’s men, having new uniforms and in the better health than they would be for the rest of the war, received their first wound—from an arrow fired by Cupid.  Men who had wives or sweethearts were especially motivated for the coming conflict, as they were fighting not just for glory, or even to defend their homes, but to defend their womenfolk from whatever percieved dastardly deeds the Yankees might otherwise inflict upon them.   The chance for adventure was also cited as a reason for joining up to fight.  They arrived in the Confederate capital the day of the first battle at Manassas, and thus did not participate in the engagement.

Aside from the preparation and eating of food, the men involved themselves in activities such as conversing or singing with friends, writing letters to friends and loved ones, playing games,attending religious  services, travel, courting the fairer sex, imbibing spirits, or engaging in any number of superfluous activities.

One Confederate soldier appropriately remarked that, “None can imagine, who has never experienced a soldier’s life, the languor of mind—tediousness of time, as we resume—day after day the monotonous duties devolved upon.”  

Often, the number of men engaged in battle represented only a fraction of the number of men the armies had on paper. One aspect of their experience was that of group and personal health and sanitation.  Beyond just taking a bath, health and sanitation included all of the conditions in which they lived and died: quarters, clothing, food, water, personal hygiene, latrine facilities, interaction with disease carriers, and even interaction with animals. Ignorance of microbiology, misunderstandings about common ailments, as well as their treatments, improper foodhandling and preparation techniques, inadequate diet, and casual attitudes towards group and personal hygiene all combined to create a situation in which many men sickened. Most recovered completely or with only minor complications, while somewere rendered unfit for duty; still others simply died.

 Poor sanitation was the most important cause for disease among the members of the Second Florida.  While some treatments worked, such as quinine for malaria, the only disease which did not proliferate at pandemic levels was smallpox, due to a vaccine which, while not always effective, was administered to enough soldiers that the virus was unable to propagate as it would have on an untreated group. There were two main reasons why so many men died as a result of improper sanitation: they were exposed to poor sanitary conditions while in camp, and they included among their number many men who were either unfit for service or were already infected when they began service.

Perhaps, more striking about the camps than the dust in the summer or the mud in the spring and fall was the pungent odor, a mixture of burning wood in campfires, rotting flesh in the commissary, the smell of unwashed clothes of men who went weeks─if not months─without bathing, and open latrine ditches.

One soldier vividly described the situation: ' …an army, any army, does poison the air. It is a city without sewerage, and policing only makes piles of offal to be buried or burned. Animals die as they do not die in cities and, if buried, they are apt to be insufficiently so. Then animals are slaughtered for beef and so, what with the fragments of food and scraps of decaying substances, all festering under a mid-summer sun, an army soon breeds . . . the most fatal of fevers.'

Insect-borne diseases became a problem due to an imprudent attitude towards personal hygiene. The men regarded vermin that infested camps and their persons as a nuisance and not as a threat to their health.47 The vermin most men of the regiment had to cope with were lice—called “greybacks” by the men. Nearly every soldier had to deal with them, even the officers. At first, the men saw them, as a mark of shame similar to being thought to be a coward. However, as time went on, and all ranks fell victim to the plague of “greybacks,”  it became a matter of jest.  After the initial shock of having lice wore off, the men tried to manage them.  The soldiers all washed at the same time and boiled their clothes together, rather than one at a time, to avoid transferring the lice to  one-another. This practice proved somewhat effective in dealing with the problem, but, lice were an ever-present nuisance, as bathing remained a rare occurrence.48

The Floridians were especially susceptible to the cold. T. M. Palmer, the surgeon in charge of the hospital to which all Florida troops were admitted, wrote that the Floridians suffered a higher percentage of deaths from sickness than any other state’s troops serving in Virginia. Yet those same troops had experienced good health while still in Florida. He blamed their inability to cope on two factors: First, because the men were used to warm weather, the cold of Virginia was beyond their ability to cope; and second, many men were not fit for service.  Another factor which contributed to the spread of disease within the regiment was the nature of Southern society at that time. The members of the regiment were primarily from agricultural backgrounds, and thus had not come into contact with diseases such as measles during childhood. When the regiment was encamped together, and the men started breathing the same air, sharing each other’s meals, drinking out of each other’s canteens, those who were from urban areas, who had already experienced boyhood disease—some of whom were carriers—infected those from rural areas. In these first months of the war, Brigadier General John Gordon wrote of his concern that so many “country boys” were coming down with boyhood diseases. “They ran the whole catalog of boyhood diseases except teething . . .”.   In the months of July through September 1861 the Confederate forces stationed near Richmond suffered 8, 617 cases of measles.  In January, some regiments were completely immobilized by measles and other maladies.   There are no statistics showing exactly how many men of the Second Florida fell ill during its first months in Virginia. However, this number must have been substantial, as 31 members of the regiment succumbed to disease between July 1861 and March 1862.

If any single word could describe the diet of the average member of the Second Florida Infantry, with regard to the impact it had upon his health, it would be “abysmal.” The Rebel diet consisted for the most part of flour biscuits or cornbread, beef or pork─often heavily salted, as a means of preservation─some sort of sweetener─such as sugar, molasses, or sorgum─and coffee. A great problem within the army was the absence of fresh vegetables. Potatoes and peas, as well as corn and green vegetables, were sometimes issued. However, they came at irregular intervals, and by the time they were evenly distributed, the average soldier’s share was hardly enough to prevent diseases such as scurvy.

 Without a doubt, the most common activity in which the men engaged, during their free time, was making conversation or singing with other members of their regiment or with men of other units. When the men gathered to cook and eat meals, they were apt to “shoot the breeze,” and at nighttime informal groups formed around campfires. There they would talk, tell jokes, and sing. Their favorite songs were doleful ballads such as “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” “Home, Sweet Home,” “Lorena,” and “All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight.” Still, there were many lighthearted songs that the men sang to enliven their spirits, including such songs as “Dixie,” “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” and the song which was destined to become Florida’s official state song, “Suwannee River.   One member of the Second Florida reported that the town where the regiment was stationed had an “excellent singing society . . . and the soldiers are invited to attend and take part in the society.”85 Music became so well intertwined in the everyday lives of the soldiers that General Robert E. Lee made the comment: “I don’t believe we can have an army without music.”

The men of the Second Florida who could read sought to catch up on the latest news, peruse works of literature, or read whatever else they could get their hands on. Items such as the Southern Illustrated News, Southern Field and Fireside, and other periodical journals enjoyed immense circulation among Confederate troops during the war.91 Soldiers with a more aristocraticbackground procured copies of higher literature, such as The Count of Monte Cristo and Paradise Lost.

 Virtually every literate soldier wrote letters home and received letters in return. Even when the only surface a soldier had upon which to write out a letter was his knapsack, as was the case for one member of the Second Florida, Sergeant Eugene Lykes, the soldiers still managed to correspond with friends and relatives.

Sports and sit-down games, such as checkers, were immensely popular. Cards were certainly the most popular of all games. The historian Bell Irvin Wiley parodied a scriptural passage by stating that,  “Wherever two or three Confederate soldiers were gathered together, there would a deck of cards make its appearance in the midst of them.”

A possible reason so many men gambled is that many of them joined hoping to experience adventure and excitement. Gambling is certainly thrilling, and the accounts of visitors to Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada attest to how persons who are otherwise pious and prudent can fall prey to the impulse to “test their luck.”

Each soldier carried one flannel blanket and one rubber or gum-lined blanket called an “oilcloth” or a “gumblanket.” There were times, when these two blankets provided members of the regiment with their only protection from the elements, besides that offered by their uniforms themselves. James Nixon wrote of how, when the wind and rain picked up one night, he wrapped his blanket around him and stood under a tree until the storm passed. He then slept alone on the wet ground.  More commonly, two men slept together. They spread out one oilcloth on the ground, one blanket over both of them─two if it was cold─and the second oilcloth on top to protect against precipitation.

The men did not take their overcoats with them on the campaign, as they were too heavy to carry. The knapsack suffered a similar fate, being discarded as it was uncomfortable and the items carried therein─changes of clothes, tents, and personal items─were judged unnecessary while on campaign. The men thus rolled their personal items up in their blankets, tied the ends together with twine, and wore them over the shoulder with the fastened ends hanging under the opposite arm. The extra clothes were discarded─the men wore one outfit until they could obtain another set of clothes─and the haversack served as the means of transporting items such as extra rations and a tin cup, which was secured by the strap of the haversack’s fastener. Cotton undergarments replaced woolen underwear, as they were easier to wash and vermin did not proliferate so much. Having an inner layer of cotton and an outer layer of wool proved effective at keeping the soldiers cool during the summer. As theysweated, the cotton would dampen, and at the same time draw the heat of the skin’s surface away, and, depending upon the type of knit, the wool allowed the heat to escape while trapping the cool moisture of the sweat.

 While boots were part of the official uniform, and looked nice when on parade, they lost their popularity after one or two long marches, as they chaffed the ankles, and were difficult to put on and take off. The soldiers found broad-bottom shoes called “brogans” to be much more suited to long marches, and they could put on and take off these shoes with much greater ease. 

Being in the vanguard of a column was actually preferred to being in the rear, as those in the back had to “eat the dust” that everyone in front of them kicked up. During the summer months, when most campaigning took place, Virginia’s dirt roads and fieldswere dry and the soil was loose, allowing for thick clouds of dust to be sent into the air by even small columns of troops. The dust was inhaled by those who had to pass through it and caused many respiratory problems.   As difficult as it was to march on dry roads, it was worse after heavy rains. So many men marching over the same stretch churned the roads into muddy expanses. After severe rain storms, the regiment sometimes had to march through mud that was, in some places, waist deep. One Floridianrecounted: “I do not know how many times I fell and went head and ears under.”.  

It was during long marches that the soldiers experienced problems with blisters, which had a tendency to become infected. Any soldier who was unlucky enough to be wearing a pair of shoes which had yet to be broken in was prone to develop severe blisters. The lack of washing facilities and poor personal hygiene was the primary cause of infections to blisters, wounds, and other  injuries in which the skin was opened up.  One reason why washing was so rare was that cold water did not get rid of the vermin that lived in the clothing, and they neither had the time to build fires large enough to boil their clothes nor the cauldrons in which to do it.18 Smelling bad certainly was not something in which soldiers found delight, nor was it pleasant for those who encountered the troops.

 Hollowed out tree stumps and the butts of rifles were used to grind dried corn into grits. Twigs, slivers of wood, pocketknives, or whatever else was on hand served as cooking and eating utensils.   In one sense, hunger was an important factor in increasing the unit’s morale before a battle. Hunger drives people to actions beyond their normal capacity. It often caused Confederate soldiers to make seemingly suicidal attacks against Federal troops.  An officer wrote that some of his men even gathered up the dirt and corn from where a horse had been fed, “so that when he reached his bivouac he could wash out the dirt and gather the few grains of corn to satisfy in part at least the cravings of hunger."

The Second Florida took a very active role in the Chancellorsville Campaign. On May 1, Perry’s Brigade marched up the Turnpike until reaching the line of battle. Perry’s Brigade formed its battleline to the right of Wofford’s Brigade, with McClaws’s Division on the right. At about 5 pm, General Perry received orders to move his brigade
forward. They pressed forward approximately one-and-a-half miles without encountering.

At Gettysburg, the Second Florida lost a substantial number of men, suffering 11 killed, 70 wounded, and 50 missing.  Lewis Powell was wounded late on the second day of the battle of Gettysburg where he lay all night on the battle field, wounded through the right wrist.  It's safe to say he most likely was one of those 50 missing, captured at some point in the early hours of 3rd July.

According to muster roles, during the course of the war, 887 men served with the Second Florida Infantry Regiment. Of those men, 17 deserted, 32 transferred to other units, 28 resigned—most of them later joined other units—38 became prisoners of war,   34 received discharges for disabilities, and 31 died of disease.