What An Art Director Or Set Director Knows About Making A Movie About The Civil War.

by Daniel Russ on August 4, 2012

Confederate soldier: Enoch Hooper Cook, Jr., Pvt., 38th Alabama Infantry. Unknown photographer. Public domain.

Enoch Hooper Cook, Jr., Pvt., 38th Alabama Infantry

 

Their clothes didn’t always fit well.

 

The massively operose task of training, arming, clothing and feeding and then sending hundreds of thousands of people into the bloody jars of war is as daunting as actual combat. Perhaps even more so. Imagine just the task of having two governments where the previous week there was only one, and both of them were designing, manufacturing and distributing the uniforms for their side, and to people who fit under what we would call adult sizes. So often soldiers were given two shoes that didn’t match, clothes of buffoon like proportions, and they had to make do. On the way to and from their battlefields both armies often fed and clothed themselves. So if a uniform chafed too much or was too warm, someone’s clothing might disappear out of their clothes when an army passed by.

 

They were skinny.

 

The average American pre Civil War did not have access to the abundance of food we do today. The average weight of the US soldier during the Civil War was 145 pounds.

 

They were ill.

 

Public healthcare did not exist during the Civil War. People often had bad teeth by the time they were in their thirties. Pneumonia killed people with regularity. So did malaria, diarrhea and dysentery. In fact, explosive bowel problems were so common a soldier had three or four weeks of “the quickstep” before they died or their commission ended. We have talked about disease as a killer before here: The Big Killer In The Civil War Was Not The Bullet. It was disease

 


Forget Eye Glasses

 

 

Again this is the difference between then and now. Glass was expensive and fragile and glasses frames were hard to find. Perhaps glasses disappeared with raiding troops as well, but very few Civil War soldiers wore glasses. Sometimes officers had readers, but that was it.

 

Don’t Blink.

 

When you see Matthew Brady’s photographs of these young men fighting, they all look like their eyes are wide open. That’s because the shutter speed on the cameras were a few seconds long and they had to avoid blinking so as not to ruin the shot.

 

Unidentified Civil War Soldiers

Unidentified Civil War Soldiers

 

Members of the 6th Maine Infantry, circa 1860-1865. Photo by Mathew Brady, U.S. War Department. Public domain.

Members of the 6th Maine Infantry, circa 1860-1865. Photo by Mathew Brady, U.S. War Department. Public domain.

 

Sources: The History Buffs Guide To The Civil War, Thomas R. Flagel. Cumberland House 2003; Shmoop, savannah tah

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