One vital but often overlooked source of clothing for the Confederate soldier in the field was, of course, the “folks at home.” In fact, except for elaborately dressed militia companies that existed in various locales prior to the war, home produced clothing was the rule rather than the exception until state and Confederate manufacturing facilities could swing into high gear.
References to clothing from home in contemporary letters are frequent. On August 2, 1861 a Georgia private made this request: “I wish Ma would send me a coat; let her make it of gray woolen cloth she once made me a hunting coat from . . . It must be a jacket, buttoning all the way up the front military fashion, with a short collar to stand up; buttons either brass or silver, oval shape, nearly half inch in diameter; put a short tape 1/3 inch wide upon the shoulder, running front to back. Let it be warm, pockets inside and on both sides.”
Another Georgian in the 35th Regiment placed an even heavier order to help him survive the upcoming winter of 1862-63: “[Send me] 1 close bodied coat made in uniform style. 2 pairs of jeans pants lined. Be careful not to make them too large. 4 shirts, 2 nice and 2 plain. 2 pair of drawers. 3 or 4 pair of socks. One pair of heavy home made boots as the winter is severe . . . Also a head cover to sleep in. My pants and coat I want made of gray cloth or one pair of the pants gray and the other pair brown. Also a good heavy vest. You may think it strange of me for sending for so much but I am tired of being unclothed.”
One enterprising Virginian even set up an 1860’s version of Men’s Warehouse by selling his home made clothes. To his wife he wrote” I have sold my pants, vest shoes, and drawers for sixty-one dollars so you can see I am flush again . . . You will have to make me more pants and drawers, if you can raise the material make two pair of pants and four pair of drawers and I will have a pair of pants and two pair of drawers for sale and in that way will get mine clear . . . If you could make up a good supply of pants, vests, shoes, and drawers I could be detailed to come after them.”
This mailing of clothing was not always one-way. An Alabama soldier soldier sent some of his government-issue clothing home, commenting: “I send you a couple of shirts and a pair of drawers. Use them as you please. I had rather wear your make. The reason I drew them was that they are so much cheaper than you can make them. You can use them in making clothes for the children.”
The practice of wearing home made clothing persisted throughout the war. Even as late as 1863 an English observer noted: “I was told that even if a [Confederate] regiment was clothed in proper uniform by the government, it would become parti-colored again in a week as the soldiers preferred wearing the coarse homespun jackets and trousers made by their mothers and sisters at home.”
By Bob Williams