Sunday, September 3, 2023

Black Gum Toothbrushes and Nightcaps


Supplies. Organization. Funding. Three key pieces to the war machine that didn't exist in the early days of the territory that would become the United States and shortly after. Due to this lack, soldiers often furnished their own needs. For example, dog tags were not provided until World War I. If a soldier wished to have a form of identification during the Civil War, they had one made or created it themselves. Notice the brass tag in the photo at right.

Another essential was what we might refer to as a dop or toiletry kit. During the Civil War, this was dubbed, "The Housewife." 

I learned about these lifelines when I visited the Tabor House in Ellijay, GA. You can read the prior post to learn more about the museum. I'm grateful to the docent volunteers who shared their time and their knowledge. One dedicated individual is featured below with his nightcap. 

This is a short fun post today to learn about some of the contents:

Toothbrush and tooth powder - In North Georgia, the preferred toothbrush was crafted from Black Gum tree twigs. Soldiers removed the bark and chewed the end of the twig. This made a bristle type brush. Funny, in watching the Lost in Austen movie, I wondered what Jane meant when she showed Amanda the implements to clean her teeth. I couldn't imagine how they worked. Did you see that movie and wonder the same? Now we know. The other type of toothbrush had a bone handle with pig hair. Don't those options sound delightful?


Personal lantern and spare candles – A candle stood inside a folding tin container to reflect the light. How neat is that?

Pocket knife

Coffee pot

Notebook, Bible, Prayer book, paper, pencils

Fishing kit (see photo above at right)

Medicated paper for the water closet. I’m surprised they carried this luxury at all.


Fork, spoon, knife - These had many variations depending on what was available. Some resemble modern hiking kits. Some were individual utensils.

Plate and tin mug

Sewing kit – This could be the reason behind the entire kit name of “Housewife.”

Sleeping cap – Think, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” but a bigger/longer version. The men pulled the cap down over their noses, either due to cold or bugs.

Mittens and socks - “Why not gloves,” you ask? Mittens were much warmer for the troops on the ground out in the cold. In fact, instead of gloves, they had mittens that allowed them to shoot a gun with the mitten on. Trigger finger isolated.

Canteen – Did you know the best or favored canteens were made of wood? The soldiers preferred that type because they kept the water cooler, and the taste was better. These canteens were often some of the first pilfered items by the Northern units when they overtook their Southern counterparts.

The country made great progress in all three areas over the years. During WWII soldiers had more resources available. I photographed these items at the Airborne Museum in Normandy, France. 

I never thought about the logistics of the military until a family member joined. Stop and consider all that must transpire to keep the wheels turning. Perhaps I'll share more in the future. We did visit an interesting transportation museum. Have you ever considered what the daily life components were/are like for the soldier in each of the battles and wars?

As a child, Rebecca loved to write. She nurtured this skill as an educator and later as an editor for an online magazine. Rebecca then joined the Cru Ministry - NBS2GO/Neighbor Bible Studies 2GO, at its inception. She serves as the YouVersion Content Creator, with over 100 Plans on the app.

Rebecca lives near the mountains with her husband and a rescued dog named Ranger. If it were up to her, she would be traveling - right now. As a member of ACFW and FHLCW, Rebecca learns the craft of fiction while networking with a host of generous writers. She is working on her first fiction novel. This story unfolds from the 1830s in Northern Georgia.


  1. Thank you for posting today. I found it interesting to see what they considered essential. I like those mittens.

    1. True. I didn't think about that aspect. They could only carry so much and that meant they had to prioritize. Neat mittens indeed.

  2. Interesting post on what the soldiers carried in their packs during the Civil War--medicated pads for the water closet and items in the housewife. And wooden canteens! Who would have thought they preferred wood over metal or tin. All things that make sense but you'd never think about. Thanks for the peek into the soldiers' lives in this post!

    1. I had no idea wooden canteens existed. Thank you for reading and leaving a message!