What did soldiers eat in Florida during the Civil War? What did they wear? What kinds of equipment were they assigned? Sometimes when studying history we get so busy discussing “big” issues like political trends and battles and ideas that we lose sight of everyday experiences. Diaries and letters are two kinds of documents that can help us uncover this sort of commonplace detail, but what if you could get even closer to the heart of the matter and see lists of the supplies and equipment received by an individual regiment?
That’s the great strength of the Joseph C. Shaw Papers, a collection held by the State Archives of Florida at its research facility in Tallahassee. Shaw was an Ohio native who served in the Sixth Michigan Infantry before accepting a commission as a lieutenant in the Fifteenth Regiment of the Corps d’Afrique in Louisiana. This unit was later reorganized as the 99th United States Colored Troops, which served in Florida in 1864 and 1865. The 99th was one of 175 Union regiments consisting mainly of African-American soldiers. The officers in these units were almost always white.
Shaw served as the quartermaster for his regiment, handling much of the paperwork regarding supplies, equipment, foraging for the animals, and rations for the men. His papers contain a variety of reports describing exactly what was issued to and consumed by the 99th U.S. Colored Troops while they were stationed at various points along Florida’s Gulf coast. Here are a few sample pages from the reports – click each image to enlarge:
These records may seem rather mundane, but it’s exactly this sort of information that helps historians piece together the daily experiences of soldiers during the Civil War. They are especially useful when examined alongside diaries and letters from individual soldiers to help parse some of the references the authors make to their living conditions.
Because these records were generally shared between unit quartermasters and the military departments of the Union and Confederate governments, the majority of these reports (where they still exist at all) are accessible only through the National Archives in Washington. In a few cases, such as that of Joseph Shaw, quartermaster officers or generals retained their own copies of the reports, and they eventually made their way to other archives such as the State Archives of Florida by donation.
To learn more about the Civil War era records housed at the State Archives of Florida, check out our research guide on the subject. We also recommend reviewing the Civil War in Florida bibliography from the State Library.