Styled after the French tente d’abri, the Federal issue shelter tent half was a new and invaluable piece of equipment available to the Federal soldier of 1861. Previous types of tenting, such as bell, wall, and “wedge” tents, were deemed too cumbersome for campaigning soldiers to use since they demanded vehicular carriage in the field. The result was the Quartermaster’s adoption of the French shelter tent. Minimalist in regards to providing absolute comfort yet utilitarian enough for a soldier to rely on during a campaign. Arsenal production of the shelter tent half was limited to a few government manufactories, most notably Cincinnati Depot’s “tent loft”, but contracts were let starting in late 1861 resulting in millions being produced by 1865. Stylistically the shelter tent was simple yet no two contractors made them precisely the same until an effort was made in 1864 to standardize the pattern, construction, and materials.
We are proud to offer no less than four different styles of the Federal-issue shelter tent half, each one copied from original examples in both public and private collections.
Quite probably one of the most widely produced configurations, this early to mid-war shelter tent half was designated a “Type IIa” style by noted historian Fred Gaede. Joseph Lee, a New York City tailor, produced a total of 90,000 complete tents in July and August 1862, and 32,000 tents in April and May 1863. While not as prolific a manufacturer as fellow New Yorker John Martin, Lee held contracts for a wide range of items such as zouave uniforms, fatigue blouses, NCO and hospital steward chevrons, overcoats, overalls, stable frocks, trousers, mounted service enlisted and musician’s jackets, drum cases, and haversacks.
Our Joseph Lee tent halves are made from three vertically seamed panels of cotton drill, machine sewn and hemmed throuthout. Twenty-three natural bone buttons with matching buttonholes, hand-sewn round grommets, manila guy line and peg loops, and a contractor stamp finish each shelter half.
Based on one of a matching set of tent halves made by Henry S. McComb of Wilmington, Delaware, this style reflects a possible early version of the “Type IIIa” shelter tent. McComb won multiple contracts totaling 269,000 tents in April, May, and August 1862, and February 1864, to be delivered to the New York Depot. The original, in the collection of artist/historian Don Troiani, still retains two rough hand-hewn wooden stakes.
Our H.S. McComb tent halves are made from two vertically seamed panels of cotton drill, machine-sewn and hemmed throughout. Twenty-three natural bone buttons with matching buttonholes, hand-sewn round grommets, manila rope guy line and peg loops, and a red contractor stamp finish each shelter half.
Shelter halves produced at Cincinnati or by their contractors appear to have been configured directly on the original French tente d’abri. Cincinnati began in-house production of tent halves in 1862 which resulted in the manufacture of approximately 229,504 individual shelter halves by war’s end. Individual contractors in Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston produced an additional 475,000 shelter halves exclusively for Cincinnati Depot. Our reproduction is copied from an original in a private collection marked “WN” that exhibits expert repairs of the four corners and along the edges worked with a different style of sewing and using different thread. We offer this tent in what we feel is the original configuration and without the period repairs.
Each Cincinnati contract shelter tent half will be made from three horizontally seamed panels of cotton drill, machine sewn and hemmed throughout. Twenty-three drill-reinforced darkened bone buttons with matching hand-sewn buttonholes, hand-sewn slotted upright and round loop grommets, and manila guy line and peg loops finish each half. While the original bears no recognized markings, you may opt to have your tent stamped with a George Moulton/Cincinnati inspector mark.
This particular tent also fits the typology of a “Type IIIa” but exhibits materials common towards the end of the war as cotton duck and the oft-recognized blue-line sailcloth came into wider availability. Theodore Polhemus produced a total of 136,000 shelter tents starting in February 1864, with all tents delivered to Philadelphia. Surviving original halves are made from both plain cotton duck and blue-line duck with linen corner reinforcements and tin trouser buttons.
Our Polhemus contract tent halves are made from two vertically seamed panels of plain cotton duck, machine-sewn and hemmed, with machine-sewn linen corner reinforcements. Twenty-three tinned buttons with matching hand-sewn buttonholes, hand-sewn round grommets, manila rope guy line and peg loops, and a black contractor stamp finish each tent.