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The 1865 Quartermaster Manual: An end to authenticity arguments?

Posted on Friday, April 4, 2014 at 9:46 am

The cover of the 1865 Quartermaster Manual.

The following vignette I am sure has occurred at least one time to all those long time veterans of the Federal impression. You just arrive at the latest “Mega Event” tired from a long drive only to find two of your associates in the outfit engaged in a rather heated “AA” or Authenticity Argument. The object of the dispute is naturally over an item in the Federal uniform. Both participants appear to have valid points but there appears no way to settle this squabble as there is no definitive answer available. What is one to do?

Well Pard, I am glad you asked me that question. What you need is a copy of the newly published “1865 Quartermaster Manual.” Authorized during the war at the direction of Quartermaster General Montomery C. Miegs it was compiled by Bvt. Maj. Gen George H Crossman, Assistant Quartermaster General. The manual, however, was never published due to the cessation of hostilities.

This book was the first comprehensive attempt by the government at issuing military specifications or “Mil Specs” as we called them eons ago when I was in the Navy for the items purchased by the Quartermaster Department. From blankets to wall tents, the composition and dimensions of thousands of articles are included in this manual. Want to know the waist size for No.1cavalry trousers or the length of a No 2 great coat for your next sewing project? You will find it in the manual. For sticklers on authenticity, where else can you find that the heel of a brogan is attached to the sole with nineteen square iron nails?

This work comes in two sections. The first part of the manual covers all of the items that were contracted for by the Quartermaster Department. In it are listed the dimensions and composition of the articles purchased as well as useful information on the construction of regimental barracks and hospitals. The second book of the set, which will not be available until March 2014, will be of great use to collectors. It lists quartermaster inspectors and their service records as well as data on nearly 5,000 contracts. It will also include a directory of the marks used by quartermaster inspectors during the war. The manual also contains the 38 quartermaster photographs that were taken in 1866

This potential godsend to reenacting is the work of editors Earl J. (Jerry) Coates and Fred Gaede who spent over four decades of research on this project. The impetus for the project, however, was the late Donald Kloster, the head of the Military History branch of the Smithsonian Institute’s Division of Military History National Museum of American History. In the early 1990’s Don Kloster while working in a U.S. Army library discovered many of the printed galleys as well as a reference to the desire of Quartermaster General Montomery Meigs to have a Quartermaster Manual similar to the U.S. Army Ordnance Manual. In December 1863 Miegs directed Colonel Crossman at the Schuylkill Arsenal’s Office of Clothing and Equipage to begin work on the project

With the majority of the “Manual” Messers Coates and Kloster worked countless hours in the National Archives going over Quartermaster records. After several years of work a complete copy of the 1865 manual was finally assembled. At same time Mr. Coates working with his friend Fred Gaede, was able to finish the compilation of contracts, which added to the work on Quartermaster inspectors. By 2008 the manual was ready for publication, Unfortunately, the death of Don Kloster postponed its printing. The project was shelved for several years until the arrival of the sesquicentennial of the war, which seemed like the ideal time for release.

Work began on publishing the Manual in July of 2012. One year later in July 2013 Part 1 began rolling off the printing press. As was stated earlier, Part 2 is due out in March of 2014. The cost of a working trade edition copy is $75 per volume. There is also an edition of signed copies of the books bound in embossed leatherette limited to 150 sets for $265.

Both Mr. Coates and Mr. Gaede are reenactors as well as members of the North South Skirmish Association (NSSA). Earl Coates serves with Company F First Maine Artillery and has also served as National Commander of NSSA. A history major in college he is a now a retired Federal worker. Fred Gaede a printer by trade is a Confederate reenactor with Hardaway’s Battery and has published a book on Civil War shelter tents. He was the former editor of Military Collector & Historian and has published extensively on accoutrements in its pages.

As a reenactor I do not believe there is any impression, military or civilian, that will not find useful information from the 1865 Quartermaster Manual. Volume 1 provides a wealth of data for the combat arms. Picket shovels for the infantry are described in great detail. For artillery men, the complete list of tools for the traveling forge is available.

The cavalry can learn what to look for when inspecting horses and how to shoe horses and mules. Adjutants and clerks can learn how to construct a field desk as well as copy numerous blank forms and contracts. Due to the amount of information in the Manual it is recommended that Federal reenacting units have a copy in their reference library.

The reenacting community owes a great debt to Messer’s Coates, Kloster and Gaede for the years they spent combing through quartermaster records at the National Archives. But without their research this marvelous work would have never been published. Not too many of us would have devoted free time to searching old government contracts and records. They were, however, up to the task. The only regret seems to be that our Southern brothers are denied this precious resource. Unfortunately the Confederacy had the neither the means nor the manpower to undertake such a task.

So will the publication of the 1865 Quartermaster Manual put an end to Authenticity Arguments? In all honesty it probably won’t. It is too much to expect one work to be the definitive guide on such massive subject as the purchase of supplies by the United States Army. It will, however, be a blessing to those reenactors who like to sew their own uniforms and make their own accoutrements and equipage. Besides I have met too many reenactors that just love to argue.

For those interested in purchasing a copy of “The 1865 Quartermasters Manual” the following information is provided:


Publishing Division

47 Steinwehr Avenue

Gettysburg PA 17325


-By Todd S. Campbell