Sundry hints for drinking water

Excerpts from The 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field, by William P. Craighill, 1862.

Precautions against Thirst. — Drink well in the morning before starting, and nothing will the halt; keep the mouth shut; chew a straw or leaf, or keep the mouth covered with a cloth; all these prevent suffering from extreme thirst. Tying a handkerchief, well wetted in salt water, around the neck allays thirst for a considerable time.

To Purify Water that is Muddy, Putrid or Salt. — With muddy water, the remedy is to filter; with putrid, to boil, to mix with charcoal, or expose to the sun and air, or what is best, to use all three methods at the same time. With salt water, nothing avails but distillation.

To Filter Muddy Water. — When at the watering place there is nothing but wet sand, take a good handful of grass, and tie it roughly together in the form of a cone, six or eight inches long; then dipping the broad end into the puddle and turning it up, a streamlet of partly-filtered water will trickle down through the small end. For a copious supply, the most perfect plan, if you have means, is to bore a cask full of auger holes, and put another small one, that has had the bottom knocked out, inside it, then fill up the space between the two with grass, moss, &c. Now sinking the whole in the midst of the pond, the water will filter through the auger holes and moss, and rise up clear of, at least, weeds and sand, in the inner cask, whence it can be ladled. With a single cask, the lower parts of the sides may be bored, and alternate layers of sand and grass thrown in, till they reach above the holes; through these layers the water will strain. Or any coarse bag, that is kept open with hoops, made on the spot, may be moored in the muddy pool, by having a heavy stone put inside it, and will act on the same principle, but less efficiently, than the casks. Sand, charcoal, sponge, and wool are the substances most commonly used in filters; peat charcoal is excellent. A small piece of alum is very efficacious in purifying water from organic matter, which is precipitated by the alum, and a deposit left at the bottom of the vessel.

Putrid Water should always be boiled with charcoal or charred sticks before drinking, as low fevers and dysenteries too often are the consequencies of its being used indiscreetly, but the charcoal entirely disinfects it; bitter herbs, if steeped in it, or even rubbed well about the cup, are said to render it less unwholesome, The Indians plunge a hot iron into putrid and muddy water.

When carrying water in buckets, put a wreath of grass, or something floating on the top of the water, to prevent splashing; and also make a hoop, inside which the porter walks, while his laden hands rest on the rim, the office of the hoop being to keep the buckets from knocking against his legs.

~ ~ ~ ~

Fact to fiction in The Color of Prayer

Read an excerpt of Chapter 20, The Sergent In Missouri with the Army of the Mississippi in April 1862, Edwin Lybarger has been promoted to 2nd sergeant in Company K, 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Ohio Brigade, and leads his first command in search of drinkable water. 

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