NPS Hampton NHS
  • Home
  • keypad
  • Downloads
  • Return to Portal
  • Stop 6: Barracks: 1814 Soldier Life

    Barracks No. 1 was used to house enlisted men. One room was for non-commissioned officers (corporals and sergeants), perhaps a second for musicians and artificers (skilled military craftsmen). The remaining room was for privates.

    Barracks No. 2 was used exclusively to house enlisted men, and all three rooms held as many as 20 men each.  

    The Soldier's Daily Routine:

    At the beginning of the War of 1812, men who enlisted in the Regular Army had a five-year commitment, and while most of the men who enlisted were between the ages of 18 and 35, there were a considerable number of men who served that were in their 50s and 60s as well. In 1812, Privates were paid $5 a month. In addition, every soldier received a bounty of $31 and 160 acres of land. However, because enlistments fell far short of requirements, Congress gradually increased the incentives so that by the end of 1813, recruits were enlisting for the duration of the war rather than five-years, pay was increased by $3 per month to $8, and the bounty was raised to $124 and 320 acres of land. This was the highest bounty paid by any army in the world. The cash bounty alone was as much as many unskilled laborers earned in a year, and even if the soldier sold his land to a speculator for 75 cents an acre, far less than its $2 an acre value, the total bounty was more than most people made in two years.

    Throughout the year, the soldiers at Fort McHenry arose at 5:30 A.M. to the sounds of reveille played by the fifes and drums. Bed sacks were doubled to the head of the bunks, with the blankets doubled from the length, turned together in three folds, and laid on top. The rooms were then swept clean, so that no straw or litter was left under the bunks or in the corners.


    Half an hour after reveille, the assembly was sounded, and every man, excepting the sick, and those already on duty, formed on the parade and the roll was called by the first sergeant. The officer of the day inspected the parade, while the quartermaster went through the barrack-rooms, to insured that they were clean, in good order, and that every man was turned out. The men were then dismissed back to their barracks, while the first sergeant proceeded to the adjutant's room with his morning report. 

    A few minutes before breakfast, the sergeants went through the rooms to see that every man was present and that the tables were properly placed, with the utensils laid out ready for the sound of the breakfast call. As soon as breakfast was over, the mess things were removed, washed, and put in their proper place. The bedding was then taken out, (weather permitting), and left to air in whatever place was most convenient for the purpose. This was done under the direction of the quartermaster, who insured that the passages and avenues about the garrison were kept thoroughly clean. The men then employed themselves in getting ready for guard duty or parade.

    At about eight o'clock, the fort's commander made his first round of the quarters, guard house, and hospital, attending to the general good order and cleanliness of the garrison. Junior officers were to be in readiness to attend the commander, should he require them to do so. 

    The general morning parade was, in the summer season, held at nine, and in the winter, at ten o'clock. At three quarters of an hour before all general parades, musicians call was sounded by the duty drummer — at this time, the non-commissioned officers and musicians turned out for inspection by the officer of the day. At the call for morning parade, all the men were formed and the junior officers inspected their men. The men furnished for guard duty were marched by a sergeant to the adjutant's parade, about thirty paces clear of the general parade, where they were formed and inspected by that officer. On the approach of the captain, the senior lieutenant present ordered the whole parade to "Attention, Shoulder Arms," and advances with the report of the company. The Captain then inspected and observed which squad deserved the preference for its general good appearance.

    Men selected for fatigue duty and those reporting for sick call were formed separately under their respective non-commissioned officers. The captain then proceed to size the company, with the shortest man in the center and the tallest men on the flanks, and organize it into four sections. The captain then marched his company to the place designated for the morning drill, and maneuvered his men for two or three hours.

    At noon, the men were marched back to their barracks and were given one hour for lunch. In the afternoon the men were reformed for artillery drill. Three-quarters of an hour before the general evening parade, all of the troops were assembled by the officer of the day for inspection. The men were then allowed to stack arms and walk about freely until the sounding of assembly. In the summer this was at half past five o'clock, and in the winter at four o'clock.


    Dinner call sounded at six-thirty after which the men were allowed to lark, sing, play games, and discuss the rumors of the day. At ten the drums and fifes played tattoo; at which time, letters were finished, the last song was sung, and the games put away. At half past ten taps was sounded and the lights were put out.

    On Sunday, church parade followed the morning parade, after which the Articles of War were read. At mid-day a general dress parade was held, with the remainder of the day at the disposal of the men, "and it was hoped that no abuse would be made of the indulgence."

    Listed below are the uniforms and equipment, personal items that a soldier at Fort McHenry would have had in 1814.


    The knapsack contained the personal effects of the soldier, and served as the footlocker of 1814. Soldiers were required to wear it on guard duty, and having it packed and ready to go meant that they were ready for any emergency.

    1 Knapsack (The Lherbette Knapsack Patter 1808)

    1 White wool blanket (his should normally be folded on his bunk when in garrison)

    1 Fatigue frock

    1 Pair fatigue trousers

    1 Fatigue cap (organizationally made and issued)

    1 Pair linen overalls

    1 Cotton shirt

    1 Pair of Socks

    1 Vest or sleeved roundabout

    Toiletry items and personal articles

    (Toiletry items and personal articles were the responsibility of the individual soldier to purchase, and were not provided by the War Department, except as noted).

    Soap (part of the ration), used for both shaving and washing.

    Soap holder 

    Razor The importance of regulations and appearance – only sideburns were allowed!


    Shaving Brush



    Fire starter kit (box containing flint, steel striker, and tinder)

    Tapers – a wood stick lit from a candle or fire used like a match

    Candles (part of the ration)

    Blackball and cloth


    Tooth Powder (baking soda and salt)

    Letter writing materials (if literate)

    Bible, letters from home &c.

    A game such as checkers &c., (However, gambling was strictly forbidden – and offenders were subject to harsh discipline if caught)


    The haversack was used primarily for carrying rations on the march along with the soldiers individual mess gear. Soldiers also carried other items, such as a pipe and tobacco, to keep them close at hand.


    1 Haversack

    1 Trencher or tin plate

    1 Folding knife

    1 Spoon

    1 Fork

    1 Tinned iron cup

    Condiment bag (salt)

    Condiment bag (sugar)

    Condiment bag (coffee)

    Pipe and Tobacco

    Rations were issued daily in garrison and cooked in barracks.


    The weapons of the war and the soldier’s most important equipment!

    1 Musket – US Model 1795, very similar to the muskets used during the Revolution (smooth bore, .69 caliber, effective range of about 80 yards, which emphasizes the “advancement” of technology over three decades)

    1 Bayonet – Model 1795

    1 Cartridge box with shoulder belt, Model 1808

    1 or 2 Spare flints

    1 Bayonet scabbard and shoulder belt