The Shelter Tent
by Ken Gough


Each winter I choose one subject to concentrate (obsess) on. This year I have chosen the shelter tent. This tent has become an important part of our camp impression thus deserving of more than causal attention. A new work on the subject The Federal Civil War Shelter Tent by Fredrick Garde is now considered by many the definitive work on the subject. This is not an easy read but by cross referencing with information in my own files and doing a little digging it answers many questions and dispels many myths about this lowly tent.

The finished size of all shelter tents issued by the Quartermaster Department was 66½” long and 63” wide. There was a typesetter’s mistake that sent some contracts out 65” wide, but few tents were made with this mistaken information. Also, tents shrinking over the last 140 years have confused the issue.

During the Civil War, there were no end pieces provided by the Quartermaster Department. This is contrary to what many sutlers would like us to believe. Like many, I have heard the story of tents issued early in the war with ends, only to have the men throw them out, so often that I grudgingly accepted it as fact. I have never been comfortable with this but have accepted it. Careful examination of a few photos show only blankets closing off the end of the tents.

The Civil War tent was made and issued up through the turn of the century, in the 1890s the ends were made and issued for them. This would account for the original tents in collections with post Civil War issue ends on them.

No shelter tents were made with metal grommets. They were all sewn grommets. There was an experimental shelter tent made as a combination gum poncho with brass grommets but only a few were issued; none in the West. Don’t try to remove them! A good compromise would be to wrap them with thread to conceal them.

I know I promised shelter tent information to some last fall. But with all the new information I’ve been digging up, I didn’t want to send out the wrong info. I now have a pattern easy to follow so you can make one your own. I will be happy to send this to any of you who want to make your own tent. It’s not hard. Hey, if I can do it… Well you know.


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