HIS­TORY LES­SON

One piece of equip­ment deemed es­sen­tial dur­ing Civil War was the tin cup

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Tim Tal­bott Di­rec­tor of Ed­u­ca­tion, Pam­plin His­tor­i­cal Park

In the af­ter­math of the Bat­tle of Chicka­mauga, B. F. Tay­lor, an army cor­re­spon­dent from the Chicago Jour­nal, rode with a train­load of Union wounded sol­diers seek­ing care at Nashville hos­pi­tals. “They were loaded upon the train; two plat­form [flatbed] cars were paved with them, forty on a car. Seven box [cars] were so packed you could not set your foot down among them as they lay. The roofs of the trains were tiled with them,” Tay­lor wrote.

Tay­lor con­tin­ued that dur­ing the train ride north, “the at­ten­dants are go­ing through the train with cof­fee graced with milk and sugar—think of that!” “What worn-out faded faces look up at you! They rouse like wounded crea­tures hunted down to their lairs as you come.” Among the wounded most of whom had cast away al­most all of their other worldly pos­ses­sions while in re­treat - there was no ab­sence of one piece of equip­ment, the tin cup. Tay­lor claimed that, “The tin cups ex­tended in all sorts of hands but plump, strong ones, tin­kle all around you. You are fairly gir­dled with a tin-cup hori­zon. How the dull, faint faces brighten as those cups are filled.”

Civil War sol­diers, both Union and Con­fed­er­ate, be­gan their mil­i­tary ser­vice car­ry­ing a num­ber of pieces of equip­ment they ini­tially deemed vi­tal. How­ever, as they be­came vet­eran cam­paign­ers, sol­diers quickly learned that their marches be­came less op­pres­sive when they pared down their be­long­ings to the bare min­i­mum. One piece of equip­ment that usu­ally sur­vived a soldier’s purg­ing was the tin cup.

Of­ten is­sued by their var­i­ous state gov­ern­ments upon a soldier mus­ter­ing into ser­vice, tin cups var­ied greatly in size and style. An­other rea­son cups dif­fered so greatly is that it was an item sut­lers car­ried among their stores to sell to sol­diers when cups were lost or dam­aged. A sut­ler’s wares came from a va­ri­ety of man­u­fac­tur­ers, which of course, re­sulted in many dif­fer­ent styles.

Some tin cups were tall af­fairs that sported wire bales to hang over the camp­fire, while oth­ers were squat, shal­low ves­sels. Some had straight sides, while oth­ers tapered at the base. Some even had a ribbed ring around the body to pro­vide re­in­forced sup­port. Pe­riod pho­to­graphic ev­i­dence in­di­cates a plethora of shapes and sizes. Per­haps the most com­mon sur­viv­ing ex­am­ples are those that are about four inches tall and about four inches in di­am­e­ter. Al­most all tin cups had a wire re­in­forced han­dle.

Sol­diers used their tin cups for a va­ri­ety of tasks. Tin cups helped them make cof­fee, their fa­vorite drink. Sol­diers of­ten mixed corn­meal or flour with wa­ter in their tin cups to pre­pare their bread ra­tions. Some­times, un­able to stop and fill their can­teens, cups made scoop­ing wa­ter for a quick drink much eas­ier when cross­ing a stream. There are even ac­counts of sol­diers us­ing their tin cups as im­pro­vised en­trench­ing tools when des­per­ate times called for des­per­ate mea­sures.

In a soldier’s world, where non-es­sen­tials be­came bur­den­some and thus of­ten dis­carded, the tin cup re­mained a vi­tal be­long­ing.

“The tin cups ex­tended in all sorts of hands but plump, strong ones, tin­kle all around you. You are fairly gir­dled with a tin-cup hori­zon. How the dull, faint faces brighten as those cups are filled.” B. F. Tay­lor

[CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO/PAM­PLIN HIS­TOR­I­CAL PARK]

BothUnion and Con­fed­er­ate sol­diers val­ued a good cup of cof­fee and tin cups were among their most valu­able pieces of equip­ment.

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