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How Much Did A Civil War Soldier Carry?

After Fort Sumter was bombarded, the Union and Confederate armies started to experience the activity soldiers would come to know best: marching. A soldier could expect to cover at least fifteen miles per day when on the march, with forced marches occasionally covering up to thirty miles in a single day. And, like soldiers for centuries before them, the Union and Confederate fighters had to carry a load: in this case, their ammunition, tents and other personal necessities. Since older armies had marched similar distances on foot, the only way to compare marches throughout history is to ask "how heavy were Civil War soldiers' loads?"

You might think that the soldier's standard burden has become heavier over the centuries, but in the Winter 2010 issue of the Australian Army Journal, Lieutenant Rob Orr found that, since the beginning of recorded warfare, the weight of the foot soldier's load has remained roughly the same as a percentage of body weight. In fact, the American Civil War may have been a relative low point in average weights. The Union soldier's average load, for example, averaged between forty-four and fifty pounds, while the Confederate soldier's average load, because of limited supplies, could be anywhere between thirty and eighty pounds. By comparison, the average Roman legionnaire carried eighty pounds, and in Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers' average loads are between 100 and 120 pounds. Since the Roman weighed around the same as the average Civil War soldier, and the average modern American soldier weighs around twenty to thirty percent more than soldiers in previous centuries, Civil War soldiers were typically carrying ten to twenty five percent less of their body weight on a typical march.

For more research on what’s in the news, check out the rest of TNR’s newest blog, The Study.