Camp Chase Gazette

Follow Us On:

Civil War uniforms and accoutrements

Posted on Friday, January 12, 2018 at 12:44 pm

Uniforms of Union Volunteers; drawing from Harper’s Weekly August 31, 1861.

Once the American Civil War was well underway, extensive logistical planning started. Uniforms, accoutrements and equipment for nearly three million men were needed. Arsenals were expanded, new ones created, individuals contracted for piece work and assembly at both arsenals and private companies. Various military goods were purchased by national, state governments, patriotic wealthy private citizens and officers overseas.

Questionable early uniforms and equipment of inferior quality were gradually improved and reduced to the essentials by 1863. Arms and equipment were secured anywhere they could be obtained including rifling old guns to importing from European countries. Fred Shannon’s Organization and Administration of the Union Army is a standard study of supplying uniforms and equipment during the early days of the conflict. Edward Carr Franks’ has a survey chapter, “Supplies” in Steven E. Woodworth, ed. American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research that includes primary as well as recent studies on the topic. More recent studies are Mark Wilson’ Business of Civil War: Military Mobilization and the State and Harold Wilson’s Confederate Industry: Manufactures and Quartermasters in the Civil War. The English Connection covers in detail imports from pins to gun boats to the Confederate States is an in-depth study by Russ Pritchard and C. A. Huey.

The best single study about Civil War uniforms and equipment is by a founder of the Company of Military Historians and former West Point Museum Director, Fred Todd: American Military Equipage, 1851-1872. The illustrated three volume work is enhanced by the drawings and research of museum curators, artists and historians: Maria Todd, George Woodbridge, Lee Wallace, Jr. Michael McAfee and Fred Chapman. The volumes are arranged by topics and each individual state’s variation of issued uniforms, accoutrements and equipment is identified. Shorter surveys are available through Ron Field’s Uniforms of the Civil War and artist historian Don Troiani’s Regiments and Uniforms of the Civil War.

The North South Trader’s Civil War: The Magazine for Collectors & Historians and the Military Collector & Historian: Journal of the Company of Military Historians are edited and reviewed by collectors and historians. Both publications have specific articles about arms, accoutrements, equipment, uniforms and unit histories. The publications appeal to military collectors, relic hunters and Civil War historians.

The Company of Military Historian publications start in 1949 and features a “Military Uniforms in America,” four color plate series with each issue and a separate plate series for subscribers that includes illustrated and documented articles. Previously published Civil War uniform and accoutrement articles can be found online. An index to the Military and Collector is on the search site. Searches can be done by author, artist name, volume and issue numbers, keywords and plate illustrated number.
Since 1973 the North South Trader’s Civil War Magazine is devoted to Civil War collectors, relic hunters, researchers and historians. An index to the table of contents of each issue is available on line.

Uniforms and equipment are commonly divided by North and South. Key word searching using the terms “military paraphernalia, military supplies, pictorial works, arms and armor and firearms” will locate books and articles.

Accoutrements varied with each branch of service. For an example, an infantryman’s accoutrements consisted of articles carried on his belts: Cartridge box, cap pouch and bayonet scabbard as well as a canteen, haversack and knapsack. These are first identified in illustrated contemporary catalogs issued by Francis Bannerman and Sons (1864-1966). From 1865 to 1887 Bannerman produced catalogues of 10-15 pages. From 1888-1966 Bannerman produced larger catalogues at various times, some 26 catalogues from this period having been identified. Bannerman expanded from U.S. Navy surplus materials to Civil War surplus items from small arms to siege cannons and leather goods to uniforms. Bannerman catalogs are favored sources among arms and equipment collectors. Another Civil War era printed catalog is by Horstmann Brothers (1852-1877) that has been reprinted in 1972 as the Catalog of Military Goods. Ridabock & Co. Military Goods is harder to find but Hartley Schuyler’s Illustrated Catalog of Arms Military Goods was reprinted in 1985 by Dover Publications.

Current sources for Civil War accoutrements and equipment has been the subject of several encyclopedias with subject groups arranged alphabetically. The most thorough illustrated encyclopedia identifying Civil War related items is Francis A. Lord’s three volume Civil War Collector’s Encyclopedia: Arms, Uniforms and Equipment. The listings are alphabetically arranged in 150 categories. Lord has included patent information for many items. Some sutler produced items and supplies were commonly used by soldiers on both sides as well as officially issued items.

Two recent price guides of Civil War relics and collectibles by Russell Lewis, Warman’s Civil War Collectibles, 3rd edition and the North South Trader’s Civil War Collector’s Price Guide, 12th edition provide the current approximate value of artifacts.

Other useful sources are Bruce Bazelon’s Directory of American Military Goods Dealers and Makers, 1785-1915 and Howard Crouch Civil War Artifacts: A Guide for the Historian and are recommended for identifying and locating a wide range of makers and distributors.

Researchers for muskets, rifle-muskets, rifles and carbines will do well consulting William Edwards’ Civil War Guns: The Complete Story of Federal and Confederate Small Arms. Civil War arms that were purchased and used during the war is the subject of Carl Davis’s Arming the Union: Small Arms in the Civil War. Andrew Smith’s Warman’s Civil War Weapons and Harold Peterson’s Notes on Ordnance of the American Civil War are more concise but useful surveys for Civil War weapons. The Claud E. Fuller gun collection has over 2,000 collected Civil War shoulder arms at the Visitor’s Center at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Fuller’s Springfield Muzzle-Loading Shoulder Arms, 1795-1865, is considerate a standard source for Civil War period small arms.

Confederate cavalry was superior in the first half of the war until Federal cavalry caught up in training and experience and match the Confederate horsemen. Cavalry sabers were useful in mounted charges for shock effect but revolvers with extra cylinders were more effectively used by mounted men on both sides. Researching the cavalry aspect of the Civil War should begin with Randy Steffen’s four volume monumental study of the U.S. Cavalry in history, Horse Soldier. Volume two, The Frontier, The Mexican War, the Civil War and the Frontier Military and Indian Wars, 1851-1880 focuses on uniforms and equipment for the 1851-1880 era. This covers and illustrates equipment for both cavalry mounts and troopers. Howard Crouch’s Horse Equipment of the Civil War Era displays numerous cavalry photographs. Articles on cavalry uniforms and equipment have appeared in both the Military Collector & Historian and the North South Trader’s Civil War magazines. [10]
Different requirements and rivalry between the Army and the Navy in both the Union and the Confederacy meant that each side had two different sets of ordnance systems that could not be easily interchanged. A good survey of Civil War arms is Alan C. Downs’ “Ordnance” chapter in Steven E. Woodworth, ed. American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research (390-404). Good information can be obtained about Civil War artillery through James Hazlett’s Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War and Warren Ripley’s Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War. Larry Daniel’s Cannoneers in Gray: The Field Artillery of the Army of Tennessee and Jennings Wise’s Long Arm of Lee covers the Confederate side of artillery service. For the Union side consult Louis Naiswald’s Grape and Canister: The Story of the Field Artillery of the Army of the Potomac. More detailed information about artillery can be found in Artilleryman Magazine.

Artilleryman Magazine is recommended for specific aspects of primarily black powder artillery. A “35-year Artilleryman Index” is available through the web site. Articles range from particular pieces, to the exact paint used on cannon carriages to Civil War artillery unit histories.

Both sides published ordnance and quartermaster manuals and uniform regulations outlining what was prescribed for use by the men. Confederate organizations often substituted items that were handmade until supplies caught-up or Union materiel was captured. In most cases Confederate manuals and regulations were either copied directly from or were similar to those of the Union forces. See Frances Lord’s chapter, “Manuals and Training Literature” They Fought for the Union for an identification of Civil War era publications.

Civil War era uniform illustrations and equipment information can be gleaned from the Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Harpers Weekly and the U.S. Army and Navy Journal, all of which have been digitized. However, Civil War era photographs offer a clearer image of period clothing and equipment. The ten-volume 1911 Photographic History of the Civil War edited by Francis Trevelyan Miller has long been the standard source for Civil War images. Volume 4 covers cavalry, volume 5 features forts and artillery, volume 6 focuses on the navies and volume 8 focuses on soldiers’ life.

It is estimated that over a million photographs were taken during the Civil War. Henry Mace’s Collector’s Guide to Early Photographs is a good introduction to period photography.

One of the surprises facts that came out during the Civil War Centennial was the unexpected high number of photographers during the Civil War. Many photographers were on the home front. Some took portraits at railroad stations as soldiers often waited for their trains to come and decided to have them done for their girlfriends, wives, family members and other acquaintances. However, it turnout that many haberdashers took photographs of soldiers who just had their uniforms tailored. Two good sources for tracking down photographers are Ross J. Kelbaugh’s three volume Directory of Civil War Photographersand George F. Witham, compiled Catalogue of Civil War Photographers: A Listing of Civil War Photographs’ imprints.

Military Images: Documenting the Photographic History of the U.S. Soldier and Sailors is an outstanding on-line periodical source featuring Civil War pictures in each issue supplied by collectors. The magazine has a convenient online “Finding Aid” for every year since 2004. Many of the images have never been published before and information about many images is included.
Some museums and historical societies have period family albums, rare academy or college photograph albums, regimental and battery histories and county histories including illustrated biographical sketch of Civil War era individuals. Greg Mast’s State Troops and Volunteers; A Photographic Record of North Carolina’s Civil War Soldiers is one of the best examples in print. Other detailed sources for unique units have been published.

Some specialized organizations’ uniform, accoutrements and equipment have been studied. Among the best articles and books are William Gladstone’s United States Colored Troops, 1863-1867; Ralph Donnelly “Uniforms and equipment of Confederate Marines,” Military Collector & Historian; Mike McAfee’s Zouaves: The First and the Bravest; Irving Reed’s “Civil War Medical Department Uniforms,” Military Collector and Historian; and Alban Shaw’s “Civil War Medical Uniforms,” Military Collector and Historian. These articles identify what details made these uniforms and equipment different from those regularly issued.

The collecting of military buttons has been a favorite pastime for some. The best sources are Alphaeus Albert’s Record of American Uniform and Historical Buttons. Albert also wrote an article about the major Civil War Connecticut button manufacture, “The Mill on Mad River – Scovill Button Company”. Daniel Binder’s “A Glossary of American Military Button Terminology” is another useful source as is Bruce Bazelon and William McGuinn. Military Button Makers and Dealers; Their Backmarks and Dates. Additional Civil War button resources are Warren Tice’s Dating buttons: A Chronology of Button Types, Makers, Retailers and Their Back Marks and his Uniform Buttons of the United States, 1776-1865 and Martin Wyckoff’ organized study of the United States Military Buttons of the Land Services, 1787-1902: A Guide and Classificatory System. The identifying actual Confederate materials used during the war is harder to determine than for Federal materials.

Harold Peterson’s How to Tell It’s a Fake: Trade Secrets Revealed for Antique Collectors and Dealers is a good introduction to this topic. Beginning researchers who want to start with Confederate uniforms should consult Les Jensen’s Johnny Reb; the Uniform of the Confederate Army, 1861-1865. Kenn Wood’s new source for Confederate uniforms, organized chronologically and by region from books, unit histories and documents is a good initial source to cross-check and Ron Field survey, Brassey’s History of Uniforms: American Civil War Confederate Army are three introductory studies of Confederate uniforms.

Advanced Confederate uniform collectors should consult Les Jensen’s compiled Catalogue of Uniforms in the Collection of the Museum of the Confederacy which is a detailed study of the largest depository of Confederate uniforms. An article by Howard Lanham “Civil War Shoulder Straps: A Primer” explains the differences in Union and Confederate rank identifications.

Confederate equipment can range from unmarked crude homemade items, contractor made, production from state arsenals and fine imports from England. Henry Woodhead’s edited Echoes of Glory: Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy and Russ Pritchard’s Civil War Weapons and Equipment as well as his English Connection are good surveys for this aspect of the southern armies. There were 56 Confederate facilities that produced bullets and cartridges according to Dean Thomas’ three volume Confederate Arsenals, Laboratories and Ordnance Deports. More detailed studies include Marius Iadeau’s “A Confederate Soldier’s Ditty Box” and Sydney Kerksis’ “Confederate Improvisation.”

Federal Civil War uniforms and equipment have been studied and written about more than Confederate. An introduction to Union equipment is Henry Woodhead’s Echoes of Glory: Arms and Equipment of the Union; Michael McAfee’s Billy Yank; the Uniform of the Union Soldier, 1861-1865 with John P. Langellier who also researched Army Blue: The Uniform of Uncle Sam’s Regulars, 1848-1873. The issued Federal field uniform of dark blue coat and sky-blue trousers were designed for function and serviceability not show. Tim Fulmer and Maureen Fulmer, “Civil War uniforms: Why so small?” explains some of the contemporary methods used for uniform tailoring. “The Complete Soldier” article by Michael Cunningham describes in detail a rare complete Union sergeants uniform and equipment. Sidney Brinckerhoff has researched a study of shoes, metal insignias and headgear that applies to many Civil War uniforms of the period. Brinckerhoff’s studies include Boots and Shoes of the Frontier Soldier, 1865-1893; Metal Uniform Insignia of the Frontier U.S. Army, 1846-1902 and Military Headgear in the Southwest, 1846-1890.

Military headgear has been widely collected, researched and written about. Among the best studies are Duncan Campbell and Michael O’Donnell’s American Military Headgear, Insignia and Edgar Howell and Donald Kloster’s United States Army Headgear, 1855-1902: Catalog of United States Army Uniforms in the Collections of the Smithsonian Institution.

Insignias and ranks have been well researched in Bill Emerson’s Encyclopedia of United States Army Insignia and Uniforms and also his Chevrons: Illustrated History and Catalog of U.S. Army Insignia.

Corps badges have also been studied. Becky Sylvia’s “Focus on Corps Badges” and Stanley Phillips’ Civil War Corps Badges and Other Related Awards, Badges, Medals of the Period: Including a Section on Post-Civil War and Spanish American War Corps Badges are worth reviewing.

Another common practice for identification for soldiers was stenciling. Soldiers of both North and South carried their own stencils for use in marking clothing and equipment. They were normally made of brass and generally measured two inches by 3 inches. The plate indicated the holder’s name, company, and regiment and, in the case of a casualty, often served as an identity tag. Wendell Lang’s “A Civil War Stencil” has written about this common practice for both sides. Many museums in the United States have Civil War uniform, accoutrement and equipment collections that have been conserved and stored for preservation. The annual American Association of Museums, the official museum directory identifies county, municipal and regional museums having Civil War collections. The major Confederate collection is the Museum of the Confederacy, 1201 East Clay St., Richmond, VA 23219. The National Museum of American History (Smithsonian) National Mall at Constitution Avenue, Northwest between 12th and 14th Streets, Washington, D.C. has a major collection of both Federal and Confederate uniforms, accoutrements and equipment. The U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum, Fort Lee, VA 23801 contains many examples of Civil War accoutrements and equipment that are not displayed or stored elsewhere.

The resources document includes publications arranged by topics: General sources, primary or original printed sources, buttons, images sources, Confederate accoutrements, Confederate uniforms, union badges and insignias, union accoutrements, union uniforms, museums and collector and historian organizations followed by web resources. Researchers will find there is an enormous amount of digital and printed resources. A tip for finding experts is to check a book’s acknowledgement and bibliography or an articles’ footnotes for collectors, curators and reference librarians. Start with a good survey on the topic and then look for specific articles and books that interest you most.

-By Alan C. Aimone