“Cross Dressing” Rebs

Nothing is more grating to us armchair historians than watching an old “Grade B” Civil War movie and noting all the glaring inaccuracies contained therein. Here comes a column of Federals carrying M1873 Trapdoor Springfields! And yonder comes the Reb artillery clad in dirty gray jackets with blue collar and cuffs, while the infantrymen have yellow bands on their caps. Jeez! I mean anybody knows that infantry trim was blue, cavalry yellow, and artillery red. Right?!

Confederate Army of Tennessee artilleryman wearing blue-trimmed Columbus pattern shell jacket

Confederate Army of Tennessee artilleryman wearing blue-trimmed Columbus pattern shell jacket

Well, while the regulations did indeed specify such a branch of service color designation, the excengencies of war which the CS Quartermasters faced often produced an entirely different outcome not unlike the Hollywood portrayals. Take for instance the comments of the inspecting officer for the Army of Tennessee’s artillery batteries in August, 1864: “On very few occasions have I seen articles of clothing issued to the artillery with the proper (red) trimmings for that branch of the service. In nearly every instance it has been the uniform of the infantry, although occasionally I have seen jackets with artillery trimmings in the infantry.”

Just how common was this disregard of conformity to branch of service trim regulations in the issuance of clothing? Research seems to indicate that necessity generally prevailed over fashion in this regard. Geoff Walden’s excellent research on the so called Columbus Depot pattern shell jacket provides some interesting insight into this subject. The Columbus Depot was a principal supplier to the Confederacy’s western armies, and jackets attributed to that facility are noted for their blue collar and straight line blue cuff trim. Walden documents thru photographic evidence as well as extant museum examples that these blue trimmed jackets were indeed commonly issued to artillerymen and cavalrymen, along with their infantry bretheren. Such jackets are identified to members of the 1st Mississippi Artillery and 6th Louisiana Cavalry, among others. In addition, the Virginia Historical Society has in it’s collection the jacket of artilleryman Thomas Jefferson Beck of Fenner’s (LA) Battery. Thought to be a product of the Demopolis, Alabama depot, this jacket also has a collar trimmed with blue jeans material. So in the Army of Tennessee at least, the artillery inspector’s observation cited above does appear to ring true.

This red-trimmed kepi worn by a member of the Richmond Howitzers utilizes block "I" style infantry buttons

This red-trimmed kepi worn by a member of the Richmond Howitzers utilizes block “I” style infantry buttons

In the eastern theatre, the Richmond Depot seemed to circumvent this intrinsic identification problem by making “generic” jackets that generally had no branch of service trim after mid 1862. However, many of these jackets did include brass “Richmond pattern” buttons marked with a block style “I,” “A,” or “C” for the appropriate service arm. Once again, “the material evidence” indicates no real adherance to regulations. A surviving Richmond style jacket attributed to Joseph P. Lyle of the 63rd Tennessee Infantry sports “Block A” artillery buttons. Cavalry Brigadier General William Fitzhugh Payne wore an English grey jacket with “Block I” infantry buttons. A surviving red artillery kepi worn by a member of the Richmond (VA) Howitzers is adorned with regulation block “I” infantry buttons. Most interestingly, archeological evidence by relic hunters of a Confederate winter camp in the Fredericksburg, VA area found sets of buttons from the same “dropped jacket” which included “Block I’s” and “Block A’s” mixed together.

State seal buttons and buckles also saw indiscriminate use regardless of the wearer’s affiliation. Officers of the 1st Florida Infantry Battalion purchased South Carolina State seal buttons for their new uniform coats while stationed near Savannah in 1863. Artifacts in various museum collections document that Captain Edward Owen of the Washington (LA) Artillery wore a two piece Virginia belt plate, while Frank Hume of the 21st Mississippi Infantry wore a Maryland rectangular pattern sword belt plate. And a great photo in Bill Turner’s Even More Confederate Faces depicts Private R. N. Read of Tiller’s (GA) Light Artillery wearing a Georgia seal oval belt plate and a frock coat with South Carolina buttons!

This late war jacket with Script "I" buttons was worn by Confederate artillery officer William Blakemore. The red trim was added post-war.

This late war jacket with Script “I” buttons was worn by Confederate artillery officer William Blakemore. The red trim was added post-war.

By now you get the picture. The point of all this is not to encourage a gross non-conformity to uniform regulations when portraying a typical Confederate soldier, but rather to illustrate how the rigors of war often forced Johnny Reb to “make do” with whatever he could get in the clothing/equipment line. So, the next time you feel like critiquing the accuracy of some cheesy Hollywood Civil War flik, just remember that it could be unwittingly correct!

By Bob Williams


Notes on Confederate Staff Officer Uniforms

“There is a need of an abundance of competent staff officers by the generals in command. Scarcely any of our generals [have] half of what they [need] to keep a constant and close supervision on the execution of important orders.” So Confederate artillery Colonel E. Porter Alexander viewed the essential importance of a having viable command staff organization to manage and maintain a large army in the field.

A member of General "Jeb" Stuarts staff, foreign-born Heros von Borcke.

A member of General “Jeb” Stuarts staff, foreign-born Heros von Borcke.

While the regulations regarding staff positions were vague in terms of how many and what types of officers should be required, there was at least some specificity in terms of how they should be uniformed. Confederate clothing regulations issued in 1861 ideally prescribed staff officers to wear a double-breasted frock coat of cadet gray cloth with buff facings. Rank would be denoted both by collar insignia and sleeve braid. Trousers were to be dark blue in color. Buttons were to be of “bright gilt’ with a raised eagle in the center, surrounded by stars. Appropriate headgear was detailed as a dark blue forage cap “similar in form to a French kepi.” Yet, in truth, there proved to be wide disparity between the desired status versus what staff functionaries actually adopted in the field. Since officers were required to furnish their own clothing until 1864, the myriad of supply sources resulted in a “look” that seldom met CS central government regulations.

Some came mighty close. Major Heros von Borke, on the staff of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry division, described the uniform he purchased in Richmond in 1862 as follows: “A light gray frock-coat with buff facings, dark blue trousers, and a little black cocked hat with sweeping ostrich plume . . . which is as picturesque as it is suitable for active service.” He further validated this as “the regulation dress for staff officers.” Fortunately for posterity, von Borcke had his photograph taken in a variation of above described uniform as shown.

Lt. McHenry Howard of Maryland served on General Charles Wilder's staff in 1862

Lt. McHenry Howard of Maryland served on General Charles Wilder’s staff in 1862

For most new staff officers, acquiring a uniform was more evolution than revolution. McHenry Howard of the 1st Maryland Infantry provides a glimpse of this metamorphosis in his delightful post-war recollections. Howard was serving as 1st Sergeant in the elite border-state unit when he was appointed in March 1862 to the staff of General Charles Winder. His uniform at the time being described as “shabby,” Howard proceeded to Richmond where he “ bought a plain gray [civilian] coat, without sign of rank, to replace my soldier’s jacket.” He wore this through the Valley Campaign. In late May, a Baltimore acquaintance “gave me and sewed on my shoulders a pair of first lieutenant’s epaulets (though Federal) so that while not in regulation Confederate uniform I had now sufficient marks of rank.” Not until after the Seven Days did Lt. Howard obtain finer raiment in which he too had his likeness struck. This surviving photograph shows him resplendent in a gray double-breasted officer’s pattern frock coat, gray trousers, and a dark blue forage cap.

Another young man who received staff appointment at the same time as Howard was fellow-Marylander Randolph W. McKim. Formerly a color sergeant, McKim recalled with some embarrassment having no proper uniform during his early days serving as AAG for General George H. Steuart. Following the Battle of Port Republic McKim repaired to Stanton, VA for the purpose of obtaining a new uniform. This he did, which consisted of a gray six-button shell jacket, dark blue cap with gold braid, and high riding boots. He carried a borrowed Federal staff officer’s sword captured at Manassas with a decorative ”US” on the hilt. McKim averred that said markings stood for “United South.”

Since many staff officers advanced from positions in line units it was only natural that they continued to wear the uniforms made according to the regulations put down by their respective states. The state “Army” regulations for Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina all called for the use of grey single-breasted frock coats with a seven or nine button front. Rank was to be designated by Federal-style shoulder boards or straps. Officers from South Carolina wore similar uniforms of dark blue cloth as prescribed for “Volunteer Forces” of the Palmetto State.

Confederate staff officer Gilbert Moxley Sorrell in regulation uniform.

Confederate staff officer Gilbert Moxley Sorrell in regulation uniform.

Other photos and surviving examples document the frequent wearing of double-breasted frock coats, at least for studio portraits. Cadet gray broadcloth and gray satinette seem to be the most commonly used fabrics but coats made of various colors of jeans cloth are not unknown. This “regulation” uniform is well illustrated in the above photograph of Georgia Colonel G. Moxley Sorrell of General James Longstreet’s staff. Later in the war, stout blue-gray English kersey wool also came into wide usage. In most cases, rank insignia was confined to the collar only since sleeve braid was both expensive and difficult to obtain.

Lt. James B. Washington and friend. Washington served on the staff of general Joseph E. Johnston and was captured at Seven Pines, VA.

Lt. James B. Washington and friend. Washington served on the staff of general Joseph E. Johnston and was captured at Seven Pines, VA.

While the regulation frock was undoubtedly the desired garment for dress occasions, comfort, practicality, and plain old economics drove many staff officers to adopt other forms of dress while in the field. Thus shell jackets, sack coats, single breasted frocks, and even pleated tunics became commonplace among CS staff officers as the war progressed. It is perhaps worthy to note that in the Museum of the Confederacy’s Uniform collection for company and field grade officers, 83% are double breasted frocks, 12% are shell jackets, and 5% are single breasted frocks. Of the frock coats, 73% are of Cadet Grey broadcloth or English kersey while the remaining 27% are of either jeans or satinette. Of course, since dress coats were often reserved for “extra” occasions, their high survivability rate cannot be considered statistically representative.

The wearing of shell jackets in the field was likely much greater than the above sampling would indicate.  There is the surviving 1862 image of Lieutenant James B. Washington of General Joseph Johnston’s staff shown here. His uniform exhibits a decidedly personal flair with large “patch” pockets and dark tape trim around the periphery of his jacket.

Later in the war staff officers were allowed to draw uniform items direct from the CS Central Government clothing depots. As such, their attire reflected what was in general use within the armies they served. One documented late-war staff officers jacket was worn by B. F. Pendleton of the Stonewall Brigade. Pendleton’s jacket is a government issued imported jacket made by Peter Tait & Co. of Limerick, Ireland. Although an infantry command, the blue-grey kersey jacket of English army cloth sports a red collar and a mix of infantry and staff buttons. Two other surviving jackets made of similar material worn by staffers also survive. One has a Trans-Mississippi provenance and the other a Coastal North Carolina affiliation.

Late war Peter Tait jacket worn by B. F. Pendleton as part of the Stonewall Brigade staff. Note absence of rank markings.

Late war Peter Tait jacket worn by B. F. Pendleton as part of the Stonewall Brigade staff. Note absence of rank markings.

Headgear, buttons, and trousers were whatever an officer could readily obtain, and that included liberal use of captured Federal items. Many early war staff officers who had seen previous Federal service wore their blue regulation uniforms into the field. One particular item that saw extensive usage by CS line and staff officers throughout the conflict was the “muffin style” Federal eagle staff button. Confederate manufactured staff buttons are generally found only on late war issued uniforms and sites.

Swords were nearly universally carried by staff officers, more as a symbol of rank and authority than for personal defense. While both the U.S. Army and the Confederacy produced so called “staff officers swords,” edged weapons actually used in the field were of every conceivable type and pattern. By way of research, a listing of Confederate swords by type, manufacturer, and owner currently in the collections of the Museum of the Confederacy:  https://www.ctsi.net/~moc/oldsite2/images/swordlist.pdf.

In closing it should be noted that Confederate staff officers were, in general, men of education, wealth, achievement, influence or all of the above. As such they represented themselves as gentlemen and dressed and behaved accordingly. Even when on extended campaign they sought to maintain a neat, clean, and soldierly appearance.

By Bob Williams


A Dam Fine Park

image064The only engagement worth noting during General George McClellan’s so called Siege of Yorktown, VA in 1862 occurred on April 16th along the banks of the Warwick River, several miles southwest of the old Colonial port town. Known variously as the Battle of Lee’s Mill or Dam Number One, this spirited skirmish was instigated by four companies of the 4th Vermont Infantry making a bold probe of Confederate defenses along the dammed up river. Taking advantage of shallow water just below the dam the Federals waded across at a point where the defensive lines were incomplete, initially scattering working parties of the 16th Georgia. When the nearby 15th North Carolina came to the Georgians defense, they too were manhandled and their young Colonel Edward McKinney killed.

Sensing the upper hand, local Federal commanders turned the supposedly limited incursion into a broader attack. They added the remaining companies of the 4th Vermont along with the 6th Vermont Infantry to the assault force. The breach of the Confederate defense line was widened, but not for long. After about an hour the Vermonters found themselves hard pressed by a number of revenge seeking Confederate units who poured a vicious converging fire into the erstwhile attackers. The beleaguered New Englanders had no choice but to recross the swampy river under a scathing fire and seek the safety of their own lines. In the end, the gallant Vermonters lost 44 men killed and 148 wounded. They gained nothing. Soon the minor skirmish at Dam Number One and the Siege of Yorktown passed to nothing, remembered only by locals and close students of The War. One participant called it a “Dam Failure.”

View of Confederate works captured by the 3rd Vermont after crossing dammed up river in background.

View of Confederate works captured by the 3rd Vermont after crossing dammed up river in background.

Fortunately for us the locals did something to memorialize the site of this unique little battle. Back in the 1960s the City of Newport News, VA found itself taxing its water supply. To alleviate the problem the city purchased several lakes in the Lee Hall/Warwick River area and established a watershed. The preserved area, which became Newport News City Park in 1966, included not only the site of the Battle of Dam Number One but miles and mile of some of the best preserved Civil War earthworks remaining in America today. Thank you Newport News City fathers!

Including over 8000 acres, the park is one of the largest city parks in the U.S. In addition to the usual recreational amenities considerable effort has been put into marking and identifying key historical sites. The intricate Confederate trenches for miles along the dammed up Warwick River are wonderfully preserved. Trails allow the visitor to see where the Vermonters crossed, where Colonel McKinney fell, and generally follow the course of the battle of April 16th. Another trail leads to the extensive fortifications guarding Wynn’s Mill, a key Confederate strong point during the Yorktown siege. Additionally, the park’s interpretive center offers a wonderful display of battle relics, including some rare Confederate buckles, uncovered within the park’s boundary under the direction of historically minded rangers. Relic hunting is not allowed. To paraphrase the battle participant cited above, it is a “dam fine park!” Give it a visit.

Colonel McKinney of the 15th NC was killed in this area while rallying troops to resist the Federal incursion.

Colonel McKinney of the 15th NC was killed in this area while rallying troops to resist the Federal incursion.

The extensive Confederate fortifications near Wynn's Mill remain heavily guarded to this day!

The extensive Confederate fortifications near Wynn’s Mill remain heavily guarded to this day!

By Bob Williams


Confederate Quartermaster Stores: Savannah Coastal Defenses


During a past visit to Old Fort Jackson in Savannah, GA, I rediscovered a report by an unidentified Confederate inspection officer.  It details CS Quartermaster stores on hand in Savannah as of October 31, 1863. Since the Port of Savannah closed with the Federal capture of Fort Pulaski in April 1862, supplies for defense of the city had to be obtained from domestic sources or from the ports of Wilmington and Charleston. This missive provides a wealth of insight into the Confederate Quartermaster system in general as relates to procurement, variety, and quality of supplies on hand, etc. It also gives some wonderful insight as to the actual sources from which these supplies were obtained. There are some real pearls here! It is quoted verbatim below, allowing for some editing on my part to facilitate readability.

“The clothing on hand consists as follows:
Infantry Jackets: A lot [of 1300] made of English cloth, with metallic buttons, a good article and strongly put up; a lot [of 2600] made of Georgia jeans, from the Richmond [Georgia] factory, with wooden buttons, an inferior article compared to the first.
Pantaloons: A lot [of 150] made of English tweed pants, a good article (the artillery in and around Savannah has been provided with these pants for the last six months); a lot [of 800] made of Georgia homespun, manufactured in Savannah, a strong article of light gray but rather thin for winter; a lot [of 6,700] made of Georgia jeans, a pretty good article, off light gray. Besides the above, the Quartermaster has on hand a lot of 1400 jackets and pants of Georgia homespun which were turned over to him by the state of Georgia and which, as a last resort, might be used for the troops. It is a poor article, however, thin for the season, and almost white.
Drawers and Shirts: [A lot of] 8000, of white cotton. These shirts and drawers are made in Savannah, under supervision of the Quartermasters, who employ for that purpose the wives and female relations of Ga. soldiers.
Shoes: A lot of 150 pairs of shoes of different patterns; a lot of 200 pairs French army shoes of strong materials, but most of them do not match. Said lot hardly fit for issue.
[Miscellaneous:] 6000 pairs cotton socks; 2000 blankets. The QM has also a lot of 18 second handed blankets fit for use and another lot of 36 damaged, rotten blankets, entirely unfit for use. Oil cloth caps about 175; gray cloth caps [about] 300. Thread: 10,000 spools. Bone buttons for drawers and shirts 600 great gross; metallic buttons 700 gross; shirt buttons 400 gross.

Major George Robertson is the Chief Commissary of Subsistence at Savannah. He has on hand: bacon – 250,000 lbs. sides; sugar – 108,000 lbs; flour – 1,500 barrels; meal – 328,286 lbs; hard bread -587 furnaces making about 117,000 lbs. in all; vinegar – 1,600 gallons; candles – 7,600 pounds including 4,000 lbs. that were expected daily from Atlanta; soap – 14,000 lbs. on hand and 9,500 expected from Atlanta; whiskey – 5,000 gallons; molasses – 2,700 gallons; salt – 283 bushels (the commisary keeps but a small supply of salt on hand as he gets it readily from the Government Salt Works, seven miles from Savannah); fresh beef – 4,620 lbs. (this beef, says the Commissary, is unfit for slaughter). The corn stores and warehouses are kept in very good order, in large ventilated halls.”

Plain jackets such as this one with wooden buttons [reproduction] were included in Ft. Jackson's stock of supplies. Photo courtesy Andrew Kasmar.

Plain jackets such as this one with wooden

buttons [reproduction] were included in

Ft. Jackson’s stock of supplies. Photo courtesy Andrew Kasmar.

By Bob Williams


A Few More Paintings by Sidney E. King

The house where Jackson died. Guinea Station, VA, May 1863.

The house where Jackson died. Guinea Station, VA, May 1863.

Back in July we provided our readers a brief biography of renowned historical artist Sidney E. King along with a few examples of his Civil War art. Since that time we have run across some additional wonderful paintings by King that beg to be shared. All illustrations are courtesy of the National Park Service. Please left click on images for an enlarged view. Enjoy!

The Battle of Drewry's Bluff, May 15, 1862. Confederate batteries in Ft. Darling resist an attempt by Federal gunboats to ascend the James River near Richmond, VA.

The Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, May 15, 1862. Confederate batteries in Ft. Darling resist an attempt by Federal gunboats to ascend the James River near Richmond, VA.

The death of General John Sedgwick at Spotsylvania Court House, VA, May 9, 1862.

The death of General John Sedgwick at Spotsylvania Court House, VA, May 9, 1862.

Lee and his generals watch the opening of the Seven Day's Battles from Chickahominy Bluff overlooking Mechanicsville, VA, June 26, 1862.

Lee and his generals watch the opening of the Seven Day’s Battles from Chickahominy Bluff overlooking Mechanicsville, VA, June 26, 1862.

The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. Confederate gunners on Willis Hill pound away at attacking Union columns.

The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. Confederate gunners on Willis Hill pound away at attacking Union columns.

By Bob Williams


Period Descriptions of North Carolina Soldiers


Of all the Confederate States, North Carolina arguably did the best job in uniforming her troops while in the field. Yet, active campaigning quickly thwarted even the best attempts at a smart military appearance. The following contemporary descriptions are enlightening for their revelations on the North Carolina soldier in the field as he really looked and fought:

Prisoners of Branch’s NC Brigade taken at Hanover C.H., VA, June 1862:
“The scene within [the prisoner’s compound] . . . reminded me of the witch-scene in Macbeth, or pictures of brigands or Bohemian gypsies at rendezvous, not less than five hundred men, in motley, ragged costumes, with long hair, and lean, wild, haggard, faces . . . Some were wrapped in blankets of rag-carpet, and others wore shoes of rough untanned hide . . . Some appeared in red shirts, some in stiff beaver hats; some were attired in shreds and patches of cloth; and a few wore the soiled garments of citizen gentlemen; but the mass adhered to homespun suits of gray, or “butternut,” and the coarse blue kersey common to slaves . . . They came from North Carolina . . . In a corner, lying morosely apart were a Major, three Captains, and three Lieutenants, – young athletic fellows, dressed in gray cassimere, trimmed with black, and wearing soft black hats adorned with black ostrich – feathers. Their spurs were strapped upon elegantly fitting boots, and they looked as far above needy seedy privates, as lords above their vassals.”
George A. Townsend, Campaigns of a Non-Combatant, pp. 104-105

Casualties of Garland’s NC Brigade at South Mountain, MD, September 1862:
“All around lay the Confederate dead – undersized men mostly, from the coast district of North Carolina, with sallow hatchet faces, and clad in “butternut” – a color running all the way from a deep, coffee brown up to the whitish brown of ordinary dust.”
Battles &Leaders, Vol. II, p. 558.

Pender’s Division on the march to Gettysburg, PA, June 1863:
“The soldiers of this division are a remarkably fine body of men, and look quite seasoned and ready for any work. Their clothing is serviceable, so also are their boots; but there is the usual utter absence as to color and shape of their garments and hats: gray of all shades, and brown clothing, with felt hats, predominate.”
The Freemantle Diary, p. 180

Lane’s NC Brigade at Cold Harbor, VA, June 1864:
“On the road stood a couple of Rebel officers, each in his gray overcoat [i.e. frock coat], and just behind a group of some twenty soldiers – the most gipsy-looking men imaginable, in their blue gray jackets and slouched hats; each with his rusty musket and well filled cartridge box.”
Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman, etc., p.154

McRae’s NC Brigade at Ream’s Station, VA, August 1864:
“Numbers of our men . . . were wearing the flashy uniforms of the Yankee artillerists and the fine hats of officers a few days after the battle.”

by Bob Williams


Some Common “Confederate” Uniform Buttons

On March 13, 1861, the Raleigh North Carolina Standard reported: “O. S. Baldwin, Esq., of Wilmington, N. C., has placed upon our table a specimen of the military button, recently advertised in our paper, having embossed the coat of arms of our State. Knowing little of heraldry, we can not see much in the coat of arms to admire, but as to the mechanical execution of the button itself, we can truly say it is decidedly neat and in good taste.” Indeed, the attractive North Carolina button is among the most commonly found state seal type buttons found on battlefields and in Confederate campsites today.

An even more common button utilized throughout the war by Southern soldiers from all states was the lowly “flower” or “coin” button. In May, 1861, The Wilmington Journal advertised that the firm of Leon and Swarzman was selling military buttons for 66 and 2/3 cents per dozen: “These buttons are perfectly plain, as Messrs. L. & S. inform us that they have not been able to get the dies made yet so as to impress them with the State arms.”

These common flat and "flower" buttons of the mid-19th century were often used on Confederate uniform coats. These are often referred to today as Golden Age buttons. Image courtesy OZ Militaria.

These common flat and “flower” buttons of the mid-19th century were often used on Confederate uniform coats. These are often referred to today as Golden Age buttons. Image courtesy OZ Militaria.

Any brass button in the 1860s was considered a “military button,” and in the rush to clothe troops in the early months of the war, metal buttons of all types adorned early uniforms. They are either one or two piece in construction and range in size from the cuff variety to over an inch in diameter. Many of the buttons were brass or gold plated. They exist in an unending array of designs. Modern collectors refer to them as “flower,” “Golden Age,” or “geometric” pattern buttons. Other buttons of the “coin” or “flat” variety have their origin in Colonial days. Still others of the “Sportsman” variety have dogs, eagles, or bears on them. The late Mac Mason, an ardent Virginia collector, used to travel to various relic shows with a huge display of hundreds of different flower and coin buttons he had found in many years of relic hunting. These are “true” Confederate buttons, and non dug examples can often be found at relic and antique shows if one knows what to look for. “Stonewall” Jackson’s famous old blue forage cap even sports flower buttons on the side, as do many other caps privately made for Confederate officers.

When the 6th NCST went off to war, its early sack coats were adorned with a particular type of domed two-piece with a unique floral display. Buttons of this pattern were unearthed in considerable quantity from the Sixth’s 1861 winter camp around Dumfries, VA. This writer dug one of this type of button, and has found two non dug specimens in pristine condition at antique shows. Most people would never presume these buttons to have CS affiliation. Prices generally range from $2-$5!Usage of these type buttons continued even through Appomattox, as archaeological evidence indicates. They form a unique and part of Confederate material culture.

An even more homely but truly Confederate button that saw extremely wide usage was the plain, ordinary wooden variety. These buttons were produced in large quantities to circumvent the shortage of brass and stamping dies, and saw use in every theater. Their size was generally from ½” to 1” in diameter and they came in both two hole and four hole pattern. They may well be the most common Confederate manufactured uniform button.

As described by Dr. S. H. Stout: “While on an inspecting tour in Columbus, Ga. in the winter of 1862-63, I was informed that wooden, horn and bone buttons were being manufactured there, and I visited the plant. The factory was owned by a former lieutenant of the Confederate army, who had lost an arm in one of the early battles. The motive power of his factory was an engine of moderate horsepower that had been used to run a printing press. So complete were the saws, borers, and drying kilns that in the final process of their manufacture the completed buttons dropped into the hoppers with as much rapidity as nails from a nail making machine.”

These two Southern stalwarts wear Richmond Depot issued jackets closed with plain four-hole wooden buttons.

These two Southern stalwarts wear Richmond Depot issued jackets closed with plain four-hole wooden buttons.

Even as early as 1862 the 1st Missouri Brigade received white wool uniforms with large wooden buttons which appeared quite distinctive when offset with black crossbelts. Numerous photos of North Carolina Troops (and others), particularly those wearing Richmond Depot jackets issued in the late summer of 1862, show four hole wooden buttons. In late 1863, the Savannah garrison reported having on hand: a lot [of 2600 jackets] made of Georgia jeans, from the Richmond factory, with wooden buttons, an inferior article.” Furthermore, a Reb prisoner captured around Richmond in late 1864 had a “jacket [of] dirty white coarse flannel the cuffs and collr dark blue and the buttons, large wooden very rough looking . . .”

Additionally, numerous museum collections house surviving examples of Confederate uniform jackets with crude wooden buttons. The Gettysburg National Park Museum owns two fine examples. While most of these are of coarse woolen jeans with a provenance to Deep South depots, examples of fine English wool kersey jackets with wooden buttons, one identified to a member of the Richmond “Otey” Battery, are also known.

This is not to say that these wooden buttons were popular with the troops. They broke easily and were replaced as quickly as resources permitted with more durable buttons, preferably of brass. Southern hospital matron Phoebe Yates Pember describes how her patients developed a button mania: “Men who had never had a dream or a hope beyond a horn convenience to keep their clothing together, saved up their scanty means to replace them with gilt, and made neat little wooden shelves with a slit through the middle into which the buttons slid, so that they could be cleaned or brightened without taking them off, or soiling the jacket.”

It is no surprise that buttons of Federal origin were very commonly used on Confederate garments. These buttons came from a number of sources.

Large quantities of pre-war stocks were acquired when seceding states seized Federal arsenals. As a result, buttons of the Eagle “I,” “A,” “C,” “R,” and “V” patterns adorned the uniform coats of many young Southern volunteers. They are frequently recovered by relic hunters from Confederate camps. Gravesites attributed to the 8th Louisiana Infantry near Centerville, VA yielded a considerable number of eagle “letter” buttons. In fact, Union buttons are much more commonly found on CS sites than those of Southern manufacture or European import. Additionally, early war photographs of North Carolina soldiers likewise document the usage of Federal buttons well before the North Carolina State seal button came into common usage.

Additional Federal buttons were also gleaned from battlefield captures, particularly at 1st Manassas, Shiloh, and the Seven Days. Not just eagle buttons, but Federal state issue patterns as well, found their way into Confederate ranks. A late war jacket belonging to E. F. Barnes of the Richmond Howitzers, utilized buttons of both the Virginia and New York State types. It is in the Confederate Museum in Richmond The North Carolinia Museum of History houses a “camp uniform” worn by General Robert Hoke that sports New York, eagle, and flower buttons.

Union eagle buttons on the jacket of a dead Confederate soldier, ca. 1865.

Union eagle buttons on the jacket of a dead Confederate soldier, ca. 1865.

Federal buttons were also acquired in trade from Union prisoners. Ezra Hoyt Ripple of the 52nd Pennsylvania, in his fascinating memoir of prison life called Dancing Along the Deadline, describes the button market at Andersonville: “When money and trinkets of varying kinds were exhausted, we had to fall back on something else as a purchasing power. Luckily for us we had buttons, and buttons were in great demand among the rebs. I do not know what the Confederate Army regulations were in regard to buttons, but I do know there seemed to be no limit to the number a Reb would put on his coat if he had them. The buttons were of several grades in value, the lowest being the regulation button, the next the New York State button, and the highest the Officers and Staff buttons . . . I have seen private reb soldiers with four rows of buttons in front and a corresponding number on cuffs and coat-tails.”

Actually, the Federal Staff or Eagle Officer’s button is the most commonly noted button on Confederate officers uniform coats, as is documented by the superb MOC uniform collection. Several officer’s coats in the NCMOH attributed to members of the 26th NCT also use buttons of the Federal staff type.

By Bob Williams


Update From Greg Mast on “State Troops and Volunteers, Volume II”

I have received several inquiries of late about the status of State Troops and Volunteers. I can report that, after sustaining a few “bumps in the road,” I have been making excellent progress on Volume 2 the past few months, and I expect that progress to continue for the foreseeable future. However, I am not about to issue any predictions, because the book is not completed and I do not know exactly when it will be.

That said, I do encourage any who have, or know of, an image you would like to place in Volume 2, to please contact me fairly soon. When you do so, I will need you to provide some kind of copy of the image: a photocopy, a cell phone picture, a quick scan etc. (but not, under any circumstances, the original image itself!). An excellent high-resolution copy will be needed for publication, but that can wait a bit, if necessary.

I should add that many photographs in Volume 2 will be in color.

Here is what I am looking for:

Photographs of North Carolina soldiers, sailors, and marines that can be dated ca. 1847 to ca. 1867. Uniformed images are desired, but civilian-clad images of soldiers and sailors are acceptable, particularly if the subjects are armed or died in service. Obviously the vast majority of such images are of Confederates, but there are other categories:
–antebellum militiamen
–N.C. soldiers and sailors in the antebellum U.S. Army and Navy, including Mexican War service
–Federal soldiers and sailors from North Carolina who served during the Civil War (I have located about 50 so far, rather more than I thought I would find).

In Volume 1 of State Troops and Volunteers I published several civilian images: fathers, mothers, wives, and children of the soldiers. It is unclear if there will be room for that kind of photograph in Volume 2.

Please do not submit post-war family pictures of the veterans. I can never use them. I do plan a short final chapter of veterans in the context of veteran activities, principally at reunions. I will consider additional such images, but it is very likely that I already have more than I can use. Kindly left click on image for larger view of flyer.

By Greg Mast

Confed Veteran Ad-color2a


“Follow Me:” Hamilton Allen Brown of Wilkes Co., N.C.

[Author's Note: An earlier version of this article first appeared in the May/June 2003 issue of Military Images magazine. It has been updated with additional research for inclusion in this blog]

“Liquor flowed freely and there were ½ doz. fights.” Thus one Southern rustic described a late April 1861 patriotic rally in the mountain town of Wilkesboro, North Carolina, aimed at garnering recruits to defend a newly forming Confederacy. Two community leaders of pronounced stature, Montfort Sydney Stokes, Jr. and James Brown Gordon, led the gathering. Their efforts produced an exceptional company of men known as the Wilkes Valley Guards or Wilkes Volunteers. When the unit left Wilkesboro on May 27th with Stokes as its Captain and Gordon as 1st Lieutenant, a proud member asserted: “The company on that day numbered 110 and nearly every man was over six feet tall.” Also named 1st Lieutenant was Gordon’s younger stepbrother, 23-year-old Hamilton Allen Brown.

Colonel Hamilton Allen Brown, 1st North Carolina Infantry Courtesy, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

Colonel Hamilton Allen Brown, 1st North Carolina Infantry
Courtesy, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

At Warrenton, N. C. on June 3rd, the Wilkes Volunteers officially became Company B of the newly formed 1st North Carolina State Troops. The First was one of ten regiments of “State Troops” authorized by law whose term of service was to be for three years or the duration of the war. Confederate staff officer McHenry Howard of Maryland, who would later come to know the First well, thought the organization exhibited “something of the espirit, called by some ‘uppishness,’ of regulars.”

Naval Academy graduate “Sydney” Stokes, judged by one observer to be “a splendid officer, well prepared to drill in regimental or brigade maneuvers,” became the regiment’s first Colonel. When Gordon soon transferred to the cavalry arm, Lieutenant Brown assumed the vacant captaincy of Company B, to rank from May 16th. For the balance of the war, Brown’s distinguished service career would be inextricably linked with fortunes of the 1st North Carolina Infantry.

Known to his intimates as Allen, Brown was born at “Oakland” in Wilkes Co., N. C. on September 25, 1837, the second son of a marriage between Hamilton Brown and widow Sarah Gwyn Gordon. His grandfather was a participant in the Revolutionary Battle of King’s Mountain. Brown attended the U.S. Naval Academy as a member of the class of 1858, but did not graduate. When North Carolina seceded, Governor John W. Ellis called on the Wilkes Co. native to help train new recruits. This must have proven interesting, since Brown spoke with a pronounced stutter. One member of the 1st N. C. irreverently described a command from Brown as sounding: “A-a-a-a-a—damn—a-a-a—damnit—pst—pst—pst—a-a—forward, Company B!” His verbal orders were said to be often unintelligible to an untrained ear. However, subsequent events would soon demonstrate that Brown’s speech impediment did not diminish his ability to lead men in battle.

In the 1st North Carolina’s baptismal engagement at Mechanicsville, Va. on June 26, 1862, the regiment was brutally mauled while assaulting strongly fortified Union positions along Beaver Dam Creek. Colonel Stokes was mortally wounded and all other field officers either killed outright or severely injured. Enlisted casualties amounted to more than 150. While witnesses described initial Southern efforts to reform after the battle as “pathetic,” Brigade commander Roswell Ripley noted in his official report: “Captain [H.] A. Brown, of the 1st North Carolina, rallied the troops of his regiment, with other officers . . . and led [them] until relieved . . .”

In subsequent battles of the Seven Days, particularly at Malvern Hill, the young Captain again distinguished himself. For his performance in the fighting around Richmond, Brown earned promotion to Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st N. C. to rank from July 8, 1862. That same month he traveled to Raleigh to acquire 300 new conscripts for the regiment, men, he said, who “proved to be excellent material for soldiers, brave and willing . . .”

Brown capably led the revitalized First thru the subsequent Maryland Campaign. The Tar Heels escaped harm’s way at South Mountain but sustained losses of more than 50% on the fringes of the Miller Cornfield at Sharpsburg. At Fredericksburg in December, Brown and his regiment played a minor support role in the Confederate third line of battle and incurred only minor injury from long distance fire.

In early 1863, the 1st N.C. was reassigned to a newly formed, mostly Virginia, brigade in what was called the old “Stonewall Division.” It was a move that displeased Brown. Wishing to be in an all North Carolina unit, he later warranted: “Trouble and discomfiture were necessarily entailed by such an arrangement . . . we were often neglected and sometimes forgotten in the distribution of army stores, clothes, provisions, etc.,” Perhaps of more importance to the young and ambitious officer, Brown further observed: “The field of promotion was also narrowed, and our achievements on the field frequently shared by others.”

Yet, the new mixed brigade performed well enough at Chancellorsville in May. Brown led them briefly near battle’s end after successive commanders had fallen. It proved to be the 1st North Carolina’s bloodiest engagement of the war. “We captured piles of fat knapsacks and fatter Dutchmen,” Brown boasted of the action. During Lee’s second invasion of the North, the First gained further laurels (and booty) at Stephenson’s Depot near Winchester. They were less fortunate at Gettysburg where attacks against sturdy Federal works on Culp’s Hill proved both futile and costly. Brown later asserted that with proper and timely reinforcements, he might have seized the Baltimore Pike in the Union rear on the evening of July 2nd.

In the NPS commissioned painting by Rick Churms, Colonel Brown (brandishing pistols) is shown capturing Winslow's New York battery in the Wilderness fighting. Photo by author.

In the NPS commissioned painting by Rick Churms, Colonel Brown (brandishing pistols) is shown capturing Winslow’s New York battery in the Wilderness fighting. Photo by author.

At the Battle of Payne’s Farm in November 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Brown lost the middle finger of his right hand to a gunshot wound. When infection subsequently set in, threatening lockjaw, he was forced to relinquish command of the regiment for a time. While recuperating, Brown received well-deserved promotion to Colonel of the 1st North Carolina to date from December 14th. He spent the balance of the winter bringing his unit to a state of “perfect discipline and efficiency.” The Spring Campaign of 1864 was very nearly the new Colonel’s last. At the Wilderness on May 5th, he personally assisted in capturing two guns of Battery D, 1st New York Light Artillery in Sander’s Field. “It is . . . a fact known to the entire brigade that Colonel Brown, First North Carolina, with his own hands pulled the lieutenant in charge of the guns from his horse, and held possession of the horse until required to turn him in,” a witness recorded.

A week later, Brown suffered the most severe of his 13 war wounds. He was shot in both shoulders when the First was overrun in the “Mule Shoe” at Spotsylvania. All but 30 men of the regiment were captured, and her colors lost. The injured Colonel himself was captured and recaptured three times, “the last time from the enemy’s ambulance corps, who, in turn, were made prisoners,” he remembered. Brown’s wounds were deemed so serious that a nearby Chaplin conducted a burial service over him while he was still alive! In later years, Brown maintained that “hearing his own [funeral] . . . brought him back to life rather than laying him away.”

After a lengthy convalescence, Brown returned to the army in August 1864 to find his skeleton regiment reassigned to the North Carolina brigade of William R. Cox. Brown was given command of the newly formed sharpshooter battalion for Jubal Early’s Second Corps. He ably led the battalion through spirited engagements at Martinsburg and Third Winchester. In the latter action Brown narrowly escaped a severe wound when a bullet struck his pocket watch. He avoided capture by a Union cavalryman by begging off that he was too severely wounded to hobble to the rear. Brown then escaped to fight again. At Cedar Creek the aggressive Colonel spearheaded Early’s surprise assault on Sheridan and claimed the temporary capture of sixteen Federal guns. Following the disastrous Valley Campaign of 1864 the sharpshooter battalion spent the winter along the siege lines west of Petersburg. In March of 1865, Brown was captured in a free for all fight at Fort Steadman during “Lee’s Last Grand Offensive.” He was sent northward, ultimately taking the oath of allegiance at Fort Delaware on June 24, 1865.

Colonel Brown narrowly avoided capture at Second Winchester when the Confederate left flank was overrun by charging Federal cavalry.

Colonel Brown narrowly avoided capture at Third Winchester when the Confederate left flank was overrun by charging Federal cavalry.

Brown returned to Wilkes County after the war where, in 1868, he married his cousin Amelia Selina Gwyn. Later moving to Columbia, Tennessee, Brown became a “planter of modest means” and fathered four children. He died on April 9, 1917 and is buried in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in his native, Wilkesboro, N.C.

Of the courageous North Carolinian a later biographer wrote: “It was stated that Brown never ordered a man into battle, but instead always said, ‘Follow me.’” Hamilton Allen Brown clearly deserves an honored spot among the Fighting Colonels of the Confederacy.

By Bob Williams


Comfort from the Enemy


The timely arrival of A. P. Hill’s division from Harper’s Ferry to bolster Lee’s battered line at Sharpsburg on the afternoon of September 17, 1862 stands as a classic moment in Confederate battle history. Several contemporary accounts claim that considerable numbers of Hill’s men were clad in blue uniforms captured from the Federal garrison, thus enabling the surprise element of their assault. Certainly at no point in it’s history was the Army of Northern Virginia in more ragged condition, and one of Hill’s men admitted to capturing at Harper’s Ferry an “immense quantity of stores . . . [including] meat, crackers, sugar, coffee, shoes, blankets, underclothing, &c.”

Yet, all this begs the question: Just how frequently did the average Johnny Reb avail himself of wearing pieces of Federal uniform? Research seems to indicate that, while authorities did not wholly sanction such a practice, the average soldier in the ranks was more driven by necessity and probably did it if he could get away with it. Even as early as the Valley Campaign of 1862, Stonewall Jackson found it necessary to issue an order to his army which stated: “No soldier is permitted to wear any article of the Federal uniform.”

Jessie Peek of the 9th Georgia infantry wearing captured Federal frock coat and "SNY" (State of New York) belt plate.

Jessie Peek of the 9th Georgia infantry wearing captured Federal frock coat and “SNY” (State of New York) belt plate.

While this order caused an almost “universal shedding of blue jackets, new trousers, U. S. belts, and comfortable caps,” such stopgap measures were only temporary.Virginia artilleryman Edward Moore recalled a number of men in his battery wore Union forage caps. Moore, himself, kept a blue sack coat for extra warmth. Likewise, John Casler of the Stonewall Brigade picked up a blue blouse during the Seven Days that he wore until being assigned skirmish duty. He ditched the garment afraid he might be “popped over” by one of his own men as an enemy. The rich larder of Federal stores captured at Manassas Junction gave other Rebs an opportunity to upgrade their wardrobe, and South Carolinian Berry Benson pillaged a pair of sky blue trousers he wore through Antietam.

In the western theater, the story was much the same. After Shiloh, one observer noted: “Unless he knew better, a stranger would mistake our army for first rate Yankees. Fully three-fifths of the men are dressed in federal hats and overcoats.” At Perryville in October, 1862 Confederate General Pat Cleburne reported that his men were shelled by their own artillery: “ I can only account for this blunder from the fact that most of our men had on blue Federal pants.” Cavalryman Bedford Forrest outfitted his command several times at the expense of the Federal government. “Every man had a complete Yankee Suit consisting of hats, coats, pants, jackets, and boots,” a Mississippian recollected. This posed an inherent problem which in 1864 caused Forrest to direct: “All men and officers belonging to this command who have blue Yankee overcoats and clothing and who do not have them dyed by [December] 20th the coats especially will be taken from them.”

Interestingly, a small cottage industry developed around recycled Union clothing. A Texas soldier who admitted that men of his brigade stripped Union dead at Fredericksburg, also noted that much of the scavenging was done by civilians or soldiers in support roles who made a “business” out of it. He further noted: “the [stolen] clothing, when washed, was good stock in second hand stores and its benefit was that it supplied the wanting soldier and the poor citizen at a low price.”

Dead Confederate soldier at Antietam wearing Union issue blouse.

Dead Confederate soldier at Antietam wearing Union issue blouse.

By Bob Williams