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The Pritchard pack pictured on page 203 of the Confederate volume of Echoes of Glory is a variant of the old Mexican War style pack, sometimes called the "Kibbler" pack after the example shown over on page 202. Both are basically single-bag knapsacks made of canvas and painted cloth, with a flap that folds over the bag part and cinches down with a combination of leather straps. More than a dozen of the Mex War style packs remain in museum collections, and are documented to the Eastern theater, western theater, and the Trans-Mississippi.

This pattern of knapsack was in use from the late 1820s until the U.S. Army changed over to Model of 1855, so there were a fair quantity of them in the Federal quartermaster system and militia armories. Once these supplies ran out, the Confederate quartermaster system took up their manufacture in the state depots, so depending on just who was making them, you get the differences like you see in the "Kibbler" and "Pritchard" examples.

One of the big differences in clearly apparent in that the Pritchard pack is more simply constructed, having a longer flap to close the bag portion of the knapsack and a much narrower flap. The Kibbler also has the two leather straps over the rear to help secure the load; the Pritchard pack shown in the book appears to omit these.

As for use in the field, I have one of the "Kibbler" pattern packs as well as an Isaac & Campbell and one of the Federal M1855 packs that I use as a particular impression requires. A Mex War or "Kibbler" knapsack can be packed in a variety of ways, and it can hold a surprising amount of equipment. Unless circumstances dictate otherwise, pack it to be as comfortable on your back and shoulders as possible.

I tend to pack pretty lightly when I can, so here is what works for me: My usual load includes a wool blanket (County Cloth “North Carolina” version), an oilcloth or gum blanket, one or two spare pair of socks, a sleeping hat, housewife, huck towel, and a couple of small poke bags holding personal items like a comb, soap, and a few small knick-knacks.

First, get familiar with the straps and buckles and how they fit together before going farther. What appears to be simple at 7 p.m. under the lights of your den, can be chaos at 4 a.m. in complete darkness when all the buckles are undone. It happens, and it always seems to happen just at the moment of "Come on… we gotta go."

The two long straps in the back go over the flap and secure at the bottom rear of the pack. I have found that crossing these across the back of the flap helps to keep things from sliding around back there, and appears to have been the period practice as well. The two shoulder straps attach to the bottom front of their respective sides, and there's a small strap that goes across your chest to secure the shoulder straps and help distribute the load a little more evenly across your shouders. With a new pack, the straps will need to wear in a bit to find their place in life... the best way is to load the pack and buckle it up, and let it set for a spell for the leather to stretch to just about where it needs to be. It can do this sitting on the den floor or in the closet about as well as it can on your shoulders the first time you try to use it ;-)

The Mexican War pack is essentially a "pocket" and "flap" arrangement. The flap is a nice idea, as it is flexible for a variety of items. Fold your blanket in thirds, a little less wide than the width of the flap, and lay it in there as the first layer. Do the same with the groundcloth, and it goes as the layer over the blanket. That way, as you unsling and unpack at the end of each day’s march, you simply undo the two rear buckles, open the flap, and the first thing out is your groundcloth, then your blanket, and you’re pretty much fixed up to grab a few winks, as well as make a hasty departure with a minimum of re-packing at O’dark-thirty the following morning.

The flap usually doesn't quite meet in the middle with a blanket and goundcloth enclosed. It usually takes a little practice to get the right folding size down pat, so fiddle with it a bit.

Need to carry an extra blanket or groundcloth for those winter events? Well, the area between the filled flap and the pocket can be used for carrying a folded item. It makes an easy-access location for your groundcloth or gum blanket, should you need faster access to that item. Some folks don’t put stuff in the flap at all, but simply fold the flap neatly and use it as a cover, rather than fill it with a blanket, so these alternatives are worth exploring to see what works best for you.

The pocket takes a little thought to pack comfortably. Since this is the part that goes against your back, any cushioning you can arrange here can be a blessing. Think about what you really need to carry, and pack accordingly. Sharp and hard objects in the pocket will make their presence known most unpleasantly once you get on the road. An option that has worked well for me in the past is to put your small poke sacks of personal items, or other small stuff that you don’t need all that often in the bottom, then fold your blanket and put it in the pocket. Fold your ground cloth and put it in the flap.

With the pocket and flap both filled, the pack resembles a large beetle. Crossing the straps across the back of the flap appears to be the period way to go, although there were probably exceptions. For me, the crossed straps keep the pack together a whole lot better. As your load increases or decreases, you'll find the straps need adjusting to keep a neat and balanced load.

Once you’ve got it packed in a way that you think suits you, put the pack on, and go take a hike with it around the park or around the block, for at least a mile or so. Figure out what hurts, what’s uncomfortable, or what keeps coming loose, and adjust things accordingly. What looks to be a neat and manageable load while sitting in camp or on the floor in your den wears a whole new image at around Mile Number Five or a little further down the road.

Overall, the Kibbler is an excellent (if not the best) choice for a purely Confederate knapsack, and once you get the hang of packing, is one of the more comfortable of any of the knapsack choices.

Some of the other fellows have raised questions about wearing knapsacks in battle... this of course depends on the circumstances; in many cases the troops were ordered to drop packs before making an attack; in others they took them with them.

Dropping packs alawys meant the possibility you might never see them again, or that they might be pillaged by others. Many references can be found on this item, and I would put it into a historical context when you consider leaving your pack. Sometimes they had to, sometimes they did not, and other times they had choices. In "Footprints of a Regiment", a detailed account of the First Georgia Regulars, by 1st Sgt. W.H.Andrews wrote after the battle of Sharpsburg: "Next morning early, resumed the search and found the brigade not far from where we threw our knapsacks when we went into action. Everything I had was gone. Overcoat, blanket, clothing, and all. Right there and then I swore by Jeff Davis, Abe Lincoln, and all the rest of them, that I would never drop my knapsack again. If I got where I could not carry it, I would lie down with it."

This is an interesting issue, and if one persuses the literature (memoirs, letters and diaries) the "answer" to the question is even more elusive!

It seems that among the troops under Stonewall Jackson's command, the "storing" of knapsacks was "de rigeur" and even signalled to the men that they would be engaging in "...some hard marching and fighting ahead of us..". During the Valley Campaign, the troops stowed their knapsacks prior to the Front Royal, Middletown, Winchester phase; they recovered them during the retreat to Cross Keys/Port Republic.

In "Letters from the Stonewall Brigade" one of Jackson's boys also described how they dropped their packs at the beginning of the grand flank attack. At the close of the battle, details were sent back to recover the baggage; the men were shocked to survey the "..scenes of wreckage and carnage..." that engulfed the field.

I contrast, in his "One of Stonewall Jackson's Foot Cavalry", John Worsham talks about how the 21st Virginia unslung their "captured yankee rubber blankets" and knapsacks, expecting to be able to watch the Battle of Monocacy (they did not expect to be engaged). Then, they were suddenly called into action, and lost their baggage by not returning to that portion of the field! He swore he would never unsling his gear again (yet interestingly, it would be only after 3.5-years of fighting that Worsham would make the oath!)

Some time prior to November 1862, the 34th Arkansas received an issue of Isaac & Campbell knapsacks, and carried these into battle at Prairie Grove. Sam Pittman of Company K remembered, "All morning that infernal old knapsack had been beating a tattoo on my poor back and under any other circumstances would have brought froth yells of pain at every step. A little farther on we met old man Linden in a dog trot. Swinging his hat and shouting at us to “Go in, Boys, that’s the way I done in the Black Hawk War.” He turned and trotted along by my side for a little while and proposed to take my knapsack and take care of it but I told him we were going right on to Springfield, Mo. And that from that point we would invade the North and as it would likely be cold up there, I would need my clothes, and if he took them, perhaps I might not find him again. I also knew the old man could not carry that pack fifty yards in a day and I clung to it with a desperation worthy of a better object. ... I think the first shot that was fired after we rose up, cut the strap that bound the knapsack to my right shoulder, and it swung around and slipped to the ground. I had no time to think of it, but when I remember the torture it had been and the loss of all my worldly goods, camp treasure, etc. I bitterly lamented the fate that caused me to lug it all over that weary trip and then turn it over to the enemy."

Many troops in the war surely had orders to drop knapsacks. This came down from higher level command. This happened to pick up marching speed or mobility in combat. Ever try to fight with speed and mobility with a knapsack on?

However, from personal military experience its always bad "ju ju" to get separated from your gear. The caveat to that is if a unit is required to move quickly it is not going to (1) make it there as fast or with packs (2) will suffer attrition from straggling and/or heat casualties.

Though orders came down, officers would allow the men to draw items from them and carry rolls. If there was no time, several guards were placed to watch them. There are a hundred variables to this equation.

When I command a company or a battalion, I look at the need to drop packs: why do it? If the burden will kill the troops or their efforts more likely than a bullet, then yes, drop them. If we are attacking a fixed position, yes, drop them. If you have to attack artillery at a double quick across a half a mile, drop them. If a pitched battle, maybe not. It all depends - there is no golden rule other than documentation on specific instances. A soldier (especially a veteran ) would often make just that call if he knew he had a better chance of avoiding a bullet by dropping his pack. A hard call to make.... you have a choice: sleep cold and hungry... or sleep for eternity.

your pard,

Tom Ezell

Co. A, 6th Arkansas Infantry & the Wretched Mess

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