The Art of Spooning
By Scott Cross
Reprinted with permission from
The Company Wag, Vol. 2 No. 1, April 1989
Journal of the Mudsills
Spooning is an old term for bundling up together in bed like spoons placed together in the silver chest. It is an ancient practice as old as man kind itself. I had read about Civil War soldiers spooning in the field for warmth, similar to the 18th century custom of bundling, but never gave it much thought until practical experience taught me a valuable lesson.
William Hinman, makes mention of this manner of sleeping several times in his all-encompassing novel, Si Klegg and His Pards. His description states that:
"At night they lay together on one blanket with the other as a cover. It is not probable that Solomon ever snuggled up to his ‘pard’ under a ‘pup’ tent; but he seems to have the correct idea when he wrote (Ecclesiastes 4:11): ‘Again, if two lie together, then they have heat; but how can one be warm alone?’ There were many times when they hugged each other like two pieces of sticking plaster, in the vain effort to generate heat enough for even a measurable degree of comfort."
John Billings also states in Hard Tack and Coffee, that this custom was common in order to share warmth. In the chapter on winter cabins he wrote about the method in which it was done:
"There was a special advantage in two men bunking together in winter quarters, for they each got the benefit of the other’s blankets - no mean advantage, either, in much of the weather. It was a common plan with the soldiers to make an under sheet of the rubber blanket, the lining side up, just as when they camped out on the ground, for it excluded the cold air from below in the one case, as it kept out the dampness from the other. Moreover it prevented the escape of animal heat."
Having read this before, I never really took to the practice until I nearly froze one night in the mountains of Pennsylvania. My ‘pard,’ Paul Mckee and I were enroute to a living history demonstration at Sharpsburg. We had stopped for the night and put up our tent in a farmer’s woods to get a little sleep. We put on every stitch of clothing (including great coats) and wrapped up like mummies in our blankets. After shaking from the cold so violently that my pard couldn’t sleep from the commotion, he suggested we do as the old soldier did. We took off our shoes and our outer clothing down to our shirtsleeves and trousers, and laid the excess clothing down on a rubber blanket for our bed. Laying spoon fashion, we then covered up with both of our blankets and the other rubber blanket. I could not believe the difference that it made! It was so warm that I became convinced of the practicality of the soldier’s method of sleeping.
Spooning is especially useful when sleeping in-groups of three or more. Billings also wrote that in "A" tents, sometimes as many as six men would share accommodations.
"When so occupied at night, it was rather necessary for comfort, that all should turn over at the same time, for six or five men were tight fit in the space enclosed unless ‘spooned’ together."
When one of them needed to roll over to avoid grinding his hip bone through his skin, he would holler out, "Spoon!" and all would roll over at the same time.
During the frozen night at the 125th anniversary at Shiloh, I found myself in just a situation. Since we will often sleep three to a tent, a number of us had bundled together and spooned that night. We awoke the next morning, warm and rested, to be greeted by the sight of patches of snow and ice on the ground, frost on our tent and equipment, and a large group of Mudsills huddling around a fire where the had spent the night sleeplessly trying to stay warm.
We can read about the things the old veterans did, and talk about their experiences, but it is not until we actually put them to the test that we really begin to experience what they did. A couple of men spooning under the same blanket may have some negative connotations today, but I think Hinman said it best when he wrote, "When two congenial spirits were thus brought together, nothing but death or separation at the call of duty could ever sever the ties that bind them." That is what pards are all about.