More Civil War Artifacts

Other field equipment
Poncho made of rubberized material with a gauze-like backing used by William R. Prickett during the Civil War. The poncho has eight metal grommets around three sides of the perimeter and measures 35.5″ x 43.75″. One edge has a flat loop with a button and button hole. MCHS object 1938-050-0004.

Rubberized ponchos were usually issued to the cavalry, while infantry troops received India rubber blankets. Either could double as a waterproof tent in rainy weather by stringing rope through the grommets around the perimeter. This poncho, worn by William Prickett of the 150th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, may have been constructed in the field from a blanket. It measures approximately half the size of a standard issue poncho or blanket. Standard issue ponchos had a slit in the center for slipping the poncho over one’s head, while this example has a rough-sewn neck strap on one edge.

William Prickett
Carte de visite photograph of William Russell Prickett by Rundle’s Gallery. From page 6 of the Amschler Album, property of the Madison County Historical Society.

William Prickett’s parents were both southerners who moved to Edwardsville, Illinois, before he was born. The 28-year-old William worked as a sand agent when he enlisted with the 150th Illinois Infantry for one year in 1865. He mustered out as a major and returned to Edwardsville, where he became a banker and a state legislator. William served as mayor of Edwardsville for 1895-1897.

field bed
Civil War field bed, MCHS object 2015-028-0001.

This three-section wooden frame and metal mesh cot with cast iron brackets measures 72″ long x 29″ wide when it is unfolded to the reclining position as shown. Although the origin of this specific example is unknown, it was probably used by an officer. (Enlisted men were lucky to find a plank of wood to sleep on to keep them out of the mud.) Hughes, Chapin, and/or Prickett may have had a similar cot.

hand mirror
Hand mirror (5.5″ x 2.75″) used by Isham Benson Gillham during the Civil War. MCHS object 1972-033-0002.

Civil War soldiers needed firearms and ammunition, they needed to stay warm and dry, and they needed a place to sleep. They also needed to shave. This small hand mirror with a swiveling wooden cover could easily slip into a soldier’s pocket. Isham Benson Gillham used this example during his service as a private with Company C of the 10th Missouri Volunteer Infantry. The 20-year-old Isham lived in St. Clair County (Illinois) when he enlisted. After tragically losing his first wife in childbirth, Isham eventually remarried and settled in Madison County, where he raised his first daughter Lucy and her six half-siblings.

Isham Benson Gillham and family
Isham Benson Gillham with his second wife, Harriet Jane Sickles, and his seven children. Standing, left to right: Laura Etta, Lucy, Sarah. Seated, left to right: Martha Jane, Edwin, Henry, Florence Belle. MCHS photograph 1979-051-0002.

Ideas for Teachers (or anyone who wants to take a deeper dive into the artifacts)

Some relevant essential questions for students to explore:

  • What impact did military leadership have on the conduct of the war?
  • How are people affected by war?

Possible classroom activities:

  • Discuss how the disparity between the conveniences enjoyed by officers versus enlisted men may have affected morale during the war.
  • Make a list of everything a soldier needed to carry in order to survive in the field.

Sources for this article include United States federal decennial census records, newspapers (notably the Edwardsville Intelligencer), and the following additional sources: