Documentary records describe a wide variety of housing modes used by both Confederate and Union soldiers. While warm weather quarters could be very flimsy, winter quarters needed to be fairly substantial to provide protection from the harsh Virginia weather. Billings (1993) describes several shelters that were used during the Civil War and which were likely to be used at the Fort Huger encampment. A common shelter is an “A” or Wedge tent, so named for its shape, and was little more than a piece of canvas laid over a horizontal bar that was supported by vertical poles at either end. A wall tent was similar to the wedge tent except that it had four upright walls. A sibley tent is shaped like a cone and was likely patterned after the teepee associated with Native Americans living on the Great Plains (Billings 1993). Figure 29 and 30 present views of the different types tents used during the Civil War.
The construction of these simple structures are not likely to leave an obvious archaeological footprint. Tents would be staked to the ground and then removed when the soldiers departed an area. Without some other feature such as chimney or hearth, the identification of tent locations would be extremely difficult. Most camps were temporary, especially during the warmer months. During the winter, soldiers would construct log huts (NPS 2007). The encampment at Fort Huger was occupied for about a year, including winter months, and would presumably have had more substantial living quarters such as the log hut.
The design of huts was generally left to the soldiers as there was no official regulation on how to construct one. However, Billings (1993) provides a description of how these structures would have been built. Log huts had walls ranging in height from 2 to 5 ft, with the logs notched to fit together. If the structure had an excavated floor, log hut walls were generally on the shorter end. Stones created a foundation of sorts, atop of which the bottom log of the walls would rest (Billings 1993; NPS 2007). Two to four men resided in these huts, and the size of the hut was often adjusted to accommodate the number of occupants. Mud was used as chinking between the logs, which sometimes had to be repaired after severe storms. Roofs were made of tents, ponchos, or sawn boards (Billings 1993; NPS 2007). Huts would have earth floors or may be covered with pine straw or boards if they were available.
Fireplaces were built of brick, stone, and wood. Wood chimneys were lined with mud to prevent burning. Above the brick or stone portions of a chimney, wood and pork and beef barrels were used to extend the reach of the chimney (Billings 1993). These fireplaces were most frequently placed along the side of a hut, with the firebox inside the building. According to Billings (1993), chimney building met with varying levels of success, and down drafts would fill the huts with smoke. Another method of heating was the California stove, which was a small fire pit inside the hut with a subsurface vent leading outside. A sheet metal or frying pan would be used to cover the fire pit (Whitehorne 2006:46).
Lt. John Watters, Union commander of the U.S.S. Minnesota describes a clear view of over a mile behind the fort as the forest had been cleared. Lt. Watters further states that the “retiring army burned the quarters,” which suggests that the quarters were made of wood. If tents were the sole means of shelter, they would have been taken with the retreating soldiers leaving little of substance behind to be burned.
Expected archaeological evidence of these structures would include brick, other structural features, hearths, post or log features, and artifacts related to the construction of the huts and the daily lives of the soldiers. The ephemeral nature of even the more substantial of these buildings within the excavation area makes identification of hut outlines difficult. Indeed, we were unable to identify hut outlines that may have been associated with the brick clusters excavated during this investigation. Brick and stone associated with the features observed at the site are interpreted as the remnants of chimneys attached to the structures. During the survey of the larger Lawnes Point tract, a brickworks site was documented. This site, 44IW0026, is located less than 1 km north of site 44IW0204. This brickworks was in operation in the early to middle nineteenth century (Reid et al. 2003) and could easily have provided the bricks used by the Civil War soldiers.