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Where did Civil War soldiers go to the bathroom?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: February 28, 2013 
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Where did soldiers during the Battle of Gettysburg go to the bathroom?

- Lexi

? ? ?

Dear Lexi,  

Give the matter an ounce of thought and you'd have an answer applicable to any Civil War battle—or pretty much any battle of the 18th and 19th centuries. Each camp had its open latrine area, raked and buried over daily to maintain a modicum of sanitation, but during a battle any available latrines and privies were generally luxuries reserved for the senior officers. For the typical line infantryman, cavalryman or artilleryman on the march or engaged in battle, there were no convenient facilities and little time for a "time out." If he really couldn't hold out any longer, the nearest tree, bush or stream would have to do—and fast, since his comrades were counting on him to rejoin them ASAP. As for privacy—when everyone in the vicinity is focused on kill or be killed, who's looking at you?  



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History


One Response to “Where did Civil War soldiers go to the bathroom?”

  1. 1
    Ed Hamilton says:

    A better question would have been: Where did soldiers, like those in the Mississippi Marine Brigade, go when they were aboard the crowded transports and gunboats for extended periods?

    I was once told by a historian who specialized in the Brown Water Navy, that the steamers had breakdown outhouses that extended out from the deck (one would assume the main deck). In the diary of James A. Dickinson (look this up. It is a diary of a 14 year old sailor on the Tiawah – a timberclad gunboat.), he mentions going for a swim off the boat. Probably not a wise activity.

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