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  • Texas | Columns | "It's All Trew"

    Sibley inventions simple

    by Delbert Trew
    Delbert Trew
    Although Maj. Henry Hopkins Sibley never reached the war hero level, he made great contributions to the comfort and survival of his fellow troops during his career. Graduating from West Point in 1838, he accompanied John Freemont on one of his exploratory excursions into the new frontiers of the West. While on this expedition, he observed the American Indians closely, spending time inside their wigwams and was impressed with their utility and comfort.

    Asked to design a canvas tent for use in the field by the Dragoons, long before the Cavalry was formed, Sibley designed a tent shaped like a wigwam that was light in weight, roomy and easy to erect on a single pole. Military records show receipts where the Army ordered 43,958 Sibley tents to be used during the four-year conflict of the Civil War.

    His tent was so successful Sibley was asked to design a small, lightweight, simple heating stove to fit inside the Sibley tent. Again Sibley turned to the wigwam shape, designing an upside-down cone of lightweight metal with an opening for smoke at the point of the cone.

    Draft for the blaze was controlled by a small oval-shaped hole at the bottom of the cone.

    To close draft, kick some dirt over the hole. To increase draft, dig the dirt away, enlarging the hole.

    No working parts made the invention simple and maintenance-free.

    A small hinged door about 18 inches from the floor allowed fuel to be dropped inside. Sections of lightweight metal stovepipe could be attached to the upper part and hung from the center pole of the Sibley tent in more permanent installations. Food and drink could be hung close to the sides for cooking and heating. A minimum of fuel provided a maximum of heat.

    The stove cone was about 36 inches high, and several stoves could be encapsulated inside each other for transport yet could be put into service in minutes.

    The conical design with inside blazes rising along the inside slopes provided much more heat than conventional wood stoves.

    Weighing only 30 pounds, including stove pipe sections, the device was easy to load and carry in supply wagons. The construction of the stove was by hand in a simple shop and did not take away from other vital war production in factories.

    Now for the rest of the story. At the time Sibley invented the Sibley tent and stove, he was a member of the U.S. military service. He had patented both inventions and was to receive a $5 royalty for each item produced. From military records, his royalties should have reached a half-million dollars or more, and Sibley should have retired a wealthy man.

    But in 1861 he resigned his commission in the U.S. military service to accept a commission in the Confederate States Army. This nullified his contract because he had allied himself with The Lost Cause, or so deemed by the courts. Sibley survived the Civil War, but eventually died a poor man in Virginia in 1886.


    Delbert Trew -
    July 19, 2011 column
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    "It's All Trew"
    Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164, by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by email at trewblue@centra media.net. For books see delberttrew.com. His column appears weekly.
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