The Shelter Tent Was the Standard Issue Tent for Union Soldiers in the Civil War

Shelter TentsIn the early part of the Civil War, Union soldiers in camps or in the field were housed in large tents, especially the cone shaped Sibley tent. While the large Sibley tent could accommodate a dozen men or more, it’s large size made it impractical for armies actively campaigning in the field, requiring horses and wagons for transport. In 1862, the army began issuing a much smaller and more portable tent known as the Shelter Tent, also called the Dog Tent, for armies on the march.

Actually, each soldier was issued half a tent. When going into camp, each soldier would pair up with another and connect the two halves

Shelter Tent at Federal Picket Station Near Bull Run, VA in 1862

Shelter Tent at Federal Picket Station Near Bull Run, VA in 1862

together with buttons. There were holes for stakes on each corner of each half. To hold the tent up, a rope was strung the length of the shelter and tied to two tall sticks or often two muskets with fixed bayonets stuck in the ground. This formed an inverted V shaped shelter large enough for two, at least large enough for two men to sit or lie down. Sometimes, three or more such halves would be buttoned together for a larger tent.  While sharing a Shelter Tent was standard practice for enlisted men, line officers typically had their own Shelter Tent while higher ranking officers had larger Wall Tents.

That was the extent of it; a simple, portable shelter to protect the soldier in the field from the elements. In fair weather, some men would just sleep outside rather than pitch the tent; it could be put up quickly if rain threatened. The Shelter Tent was used exclusively in the field; more substantial shelters were constructed for use in winter quarters, and larger tents or buildings were used in areas away from the fighting or in training camps for recruits.

Union Soldier in Shelter Tent


Hardtack & Coffee or The Unwritten Story of Army Life
by John D. Billings

The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union
by Bell Irvin Wiley

The Shelter Tent by Henry A. Castle. In Glimpses of the Nations Struggle: Papers Read Before the Minnesota Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Volume 3.

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