That Most Indispensible Item: Confederate Shoes


At no point during its illustrious career was the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in more wretched condition than following the Maryland invasion of 1862. On October 9, 1862 the Richmond Daily Dispatch made editorial comment on this subject: “Posterity will scarcely believe that the wonderful campaign which has just ended with it’s terrible marches and desperate battles, was made by men, one-fourth of whom were entirely barefooted, and one-half of whom were ragged as scarecrows . . . We cease to wonder at the number of stragglers, when we hear how many among them were shoeless, with stone bruises on their feet.” Indeed, even before General Robert E. Lee began his northward march a Maryland newspaper correspondent reckoned that the army was already short 40,000 pairs of shoes. Whether or not this estimate is exaggerated, it does serve to highlight a basic fact: keeping the troops adequately shod was a problem that plagued Confederate authorities from first to last.

As early as August 1861 Acting Quartermaster-General A. C. Myers was struggling to meet demands from troops in the field. To General Joseph E. Johnston at Manassas Junction he wrote: “We have sent to Europe for shoes, and I have officers all over the Confederate States purchasing shoes, making contracts with tanners for leather and with manufacturers for making leather for shoes.” Yet, since army regulations specified the issuance of four pair of shoes per year, Myers wryly added: “The resources of our country are far too limited for the great demand an immense army creates for supplies of every kind. The demand is double what it would be from the same population in times of peace.”

Confederate low quarter brogans from the collection of the North Carolina MOH

Confederate low quarter brogans from the collection of the North Carolina MOH

Initially, Myers’ words rang only too true. But as the war progressed the Confederate shoe industry gamely managed to limp along. In October 1862 Congress gave President Jefferson Davis power to detail as many as 2,000 “skilled” men then serving in the ranks to the quartermaster department for shoe manufacturing. Yet, shortages were often more an issue of logistics than supply. Since marching wore out sole leather, acute deficiencies in shoe stocks coincided directly with seasons of active operations. Through a combination of heroic state and central government production efforts, importations, battlefield gleanings, civilian confiscations, and sheer improvisation measures including canvas shoes and rawhide moccasins, periods of abject need among the soldiers were usually of short duration.

What type of foot covering did the average Southern fighting man wear in the field? Clothing accounts of the 7th Louisiana Infantry, kept during the winter of 1862-63, list a combination of “English shoes,” “canvas shoes,” “Confederate shoes,” and “wood sole shoes.” For a unit that had seen as much close combat as the 7th, the absence of “Federal shoes” is noteworthy. While clearly not a statistically valid method of interpretation, interesting insight into the most common patterns and shoe styles worn by CS soldiers can be gained through studying surviving examples and examining known contemporary images, mostly battlefield death studies. The photographic record clearly demonstrates that the average Southern fighting man wore shoes of Confederate manufacture. While the variety of types are endless, their production characteristics generally follow two main patterns: (A) a low-quarter civilian style of inferior make, generally roughly finished, and (B) a high quartered Oxford shoe of solid construction of the style worn by laborers of the period.

Sturdy shoes issued to M. Page Lapham of the Washington Artillery of New Orleans

Sturdy shoes issued to M. Page Lapham of the Washington Artillery of New Orleans

Low-quartered shoes may have been the most common style of Confederate shoe. They generally sported only 2-3 rows of eyelets and often had only a single sole. While some collectors call these “Georgia shoes,” that is probably an oversimplification. They were likely produced throughout the South. The higher quartered Oxford shoes are also commonly seen, although not in as great number. These brogans exhibit a somewhat rounded toe and 4-6 pairs of eyelets. Vamps are usually sewn over the quarters with two rows of stitching. Their double soles are held together by two rows of wooden pegs. They were quite durable. An excellent example of Confederate Oxfords exists in the Museum of The Confederacy in Richmond. They are identified to Private M. Page Lapham of the Washington Artillery of New Orleans.

Concerning the quality of shoes furnished to his army General Robert E. Lee had this to say in January, 1864: “The Chief Quartermaster of the Army brought me this morning a sample of shoes recently sent from Richmond. One pair was of Richmond manufacture and another from Columbus, Georgia. They were intended to be fair samples of each lot and were selected with that view. . . . In the Richmond shoe the face of the skin next [to] the animal was turned out, which is contrary to the practice of the best makers and contrary to the arrangement of nature . . . The Columbus shoe was not half tanned and the shoe was badly made. The soles of both [pair were] slight and would not stand a week’s march in mud and water.” Little wonder that one Rebel soldier concluded that his government-made shoes were “pitiable specimens indeed.”

CDV of Confederate shoes attributed to the State of South Carolina

CDV of Confederate shoes attributed to the State of South Carolina

As indicated above, Great Britain was also a major shoe supply source beginning as early as late 1861. While some recipients complained about the quality of imported footwear, surviving examples are generally well-made and suited for hard service. A common style English shoe is known as the Blucher pattern brogan. Made of fine leather, it boasts two pair of brass eyelets, sewn soles, and herringbone twill “pull loops.” They were often adorned with hobnails to increase mileage. English shoes are also frequently noted in battlefield studies from 1863 onward By late war, many, many Confederates were wearing English made shoes uniforms as well.

Another expedient to relieve the acute shortage of footwear in the Confederacy was the introduction of canvas shoes. First issued in late 1862, these innovative foot coverings were the forerunner of the modern day jungle boot. They were made of two layers of sewn canvas with leather reinforcements on the toes and tops. A member of the 63rd Virginia who received such a pair in February 1863 opined: “The government has lately furnished – for the lack of leather no doubt – canvas shoes. The soles are good, and they would answer very admirably for summer wear, but it will readily appear how insufficient they must be at this season.” A deserter notice later that year for a soldier in the 42nd Virginia also provides the following description: “[Private Samuel H.] Peay [of Company F] is about 6 feet high 28 years old, auburn hair, blue eyes, pale complexion; had on when he left grey jacket and pants, broad brim straw hat covered with black cloth, and cloth shoes.”

A distinctly “colorful” side note to the lore of cloth shoes is provided by Richmond hospital matron Phoebe Pember: “When the quartermaster-general issued canvas shoes [to the recovering patients] there was a loud dissatisfaction expressed in constant grumbling until “some genius dyed the whitish tops by a liberal application of pokeberries . . . and for many months crimson shoes were the rage and long rows of unshod men would sit under the eaves of the wards, all diligently employed in the same labor and up to their elbows in red juice.”

A typical pair of Confederate made brogans. Photo courtesy the History Network

A typical pair of Confederate made brogans. Photo courtesy the History Network

No study of Confederate footwear would be complete without acknowledging the vital contributions of the United States Quartermaster Department. That Southern soldiers gleaned much-needed shoes from many a battlefield and captured Federal supply depots has been stated too often to bear repeating here. Yet, the photographic evidence indicates that liberated Union shoes were not as commonly worn as one might expect. Often, it was a matter of “time and place.” For instance, images of Confederate dead on the Antietam battlefield show many of the men wearing Federal style brogans in near-new condition. Likely, they are part of the large shoe stocks acquired with “Stonewall” Jackson’s capture of Harper’s Ferry.

Some final insights into Confederate footwear may also be of interest. While hobnails were fairly standard on English shoes, they are also frequently noted on more generic shoe types. Additionally, shoes were not only tied with leather thongs, but frequently with ribbon or lace. English made buckle shoes also saw much use. And lastly, Confederate soldiers did blouse their trousers on occasion, as many photographs show. Please left click on images for larger views.

A pair of buckle style English made shoes. Southern soldiers generally described imported footwear as being "excellent" in quality

A pair of buckle style English made shoes. Southern soldiers generally described imported footwear as being “excellent” in quality

Brass eyelets on the shoes of a Confederate casualty at Petersburg identify these shoes as being of English manufacture. Photo from LOC

Brass eyelets on the shoes of a Confederate casualty at Petersburg identify these shoes as being of English manufacture. Photo from LOC

by Bob Williams



The Crenshaw Woolen Mills

Until its destruction by fire on May 15, 1863 The Crenshaw Woolen Mills in Richmond, Virginia was one of the chief producers of Confederate uniform cloth and blankets. It was situated in a five story building on the grounds of the Tredegar Iron Works. One of its best known products was a blue-grey woolen broadcloth often used for officer’s uniforms that came to be  known as Crenshaw gray. The following article, entitled “CITY INTELLIGENCE – THE CRENSHAW WOOLEN COMPANY” appeared in the October 17, 1861 edition of the Richmond Enquirer and provides an interesting overview of the facility’s vital capabilities:

“Second in importance as an auxiliary to Southern independence, scarcely to the Tredegar Iron Works, and the Virginia Armory, is the Crenshaw Woolen Company, the factory of which immediately adjoins the Tredegar works, presenting in strong and proximate contrast the arts of peace and of war – the labors of the anvil and of the loom, made equally subservient to the success of a people engaged in an arduous struggle for their liberties.

Ruins of the Tredegar Iron Works, 1865. Arrow denotes the shell of the Crenshaw Woolen Mills which was converted to a pattern house for the Richmond Arsenal

Ruins of the Tredegar Iron Works, 1865. Arrow denotes the shell of the Crenshaw Woolen Mills which was converted to a pattern house for the Richmond Arsenal

The fabrics manufactured by the Crenshaw Company, chiefly the light, blue and grey cloths, adopted for the regulation uniform of the Confederacy; broad cloths and blankets, although lacking, it may be, somewhat of the high finish of those made in Northern mills, are certainly far superior in every other respect. This superiority is especially observable in the weight and strength of the material, and in the firmness of its color. Where Yankee cloth may be torn by the slightest exertion of force, it requires the exercise of considerable muscular power to rend that manufactured by the Crenshaw Company. The marked inferiority of the former in this respect, is due to the almost general introduction into Yankee manufactures, as a substitute for wool, of the material technically known as shoddy, which, while it cheapens the manufactured article nearly 25 per cent., without detracting in the slightest degree from its appearance to the inexperienced eye, renders it comparatively worthless for actual use. . .

Another fraud upon purchasers, extensively practiced by Northern manufacturers, is in the adulterated character of the dyes used in the manufacture of broad cloths, principally log-wood and chloride of tin, the effect of which is to give to the cloth a highly glossed color, superior even in appearance to that obtained from indigo – the proper dye – but which fades away before a few days of exposure to the weather. In this respect, also, the cloth of the Crenshaw Company is superior to much the greater portion of that which finds its way to this market from the North, and is seized upon with eagerness by inexperienced purchasers, willing to sacrifice substance to show. We have ourselves witnessed a practical comparison, by means of chemical tests, between the cloth of the Crenshaw Company and a specimen of that from Northern mills, the result of which was to establish beyond cavil the excellent – we may say – the honest coloring of the former, and the thoroughly Yankee – i.e., tricky and unreliable – nature of the colors employed in the latter. Even English manufacturers, we are told, use the spurious dyes.

Crenshaw Grey uniform coat worn by Lt. Charles Ellis Munford of the Letcher Artillery. Munford was killed July 1, 1862 at Malvern Hill. Photo courtesy the Virginia Historical Society www.Virginia Historical.org.

Crenshaw Grey uniform coat worn by Lt. Charles Ellis Munford of the Letcher Artillery. Munford was killed July 1, 1862 at Malvern Hill. Photo courtesy the Virginia Historical Society www.Virginia Historical.org.

The sudden blockading of the ports of the South bade fair for awhile to terminate, or very much cripple, at least, the operations of the Crenshaw mills, as far as the manufacture of broadcloths was concerned, by cutting off the supply of logwood; but fortunately the much talked about ship Tropic Wind, which ran the blockade in April, brought within available distance of Richmond a full cargo of the necessary material, found on board a wreck which was encountered on the coast of Cuba. The Crenshaw Company are now enabled to furnish their less fortunate manufacturing friends throughout the South with as much logwood as can be needed for months to come. Some difficulty was also at first experienced in procuring the cotton warp necessary for manufacturing purposes, and which prior to the war had been usually brought from England, but an ample supply, nearly as excellent in quality as the British warps, is now obtained through the agency of a manufactory established at Franklinsville, N.C., under the direction of Coffee, Foush & Co. The woolen warps necessary for their business are here made in the mills of the Crenshaw Company.

The finest wool used in these manufactures is brought from South America, but the Merino wool raised in Fairfax county, in the vicinity of the now classic locality of Manassas, and the Texas wool, are very nearly equal to the South American, requiring perhaps, but care and systematic attention to render it fully so. At all events, the Virginia and Texas wools are far superior to that elsewhere to be found within the limits of North America, and are quite good enough to meet the chief requirements of the finest manufactures.

The Crenshaw Company – the only one, by the way, in the South now engaged in the manufacture of broadcloths – employ at present 25 broad looms, and an addition of 15 more are now in the course of construction; 5 sets of carding machines – three in each set – and 8 spinning jacks, comprising about 270 spindles in each. About 130 work people in all are employed, 25 of whom are females, the latter earning wages to the average amount of about $7.50 a week each. Several children ranging in their ages from 10 to 12 years, are also employed in the light and simple labor of filling shuttles. The male employees are principally foreigners, from the English, Irish, and German factories. Their labors are superintended by experienced overseers from England.

There are 8 dye vaults in the establishment, with an aggregate capacity equal to about 2,000 pounds per day; and 4 double fulling mills, in which the cloth, in its rough state of manufacture, is shrunk, to render it firm preparatory to receiving the final finish. The operation of raising the nap of the cloth, is an exceedingly simple one, and is performed upon a gig mill of a German mill.

CrenshawThe Crenshaw Works are now exclusively engaged under a Government contract, in the manufacture of regulation cloth for army uniforms, blankets, and stocking yarn, all for the use of the army. About 5,000 yards in all of cloth is manufactured weekly, and about 450 blankets. The latter, of which large numbers have already been furnished to the army, are quite equal to the English army blanket, many of which are made of shoddy, and superior to those of the Yankees. The blankets of the Crenshaw Company are 60 by 80 inches in dimensions; are made wholly of wool, and weigh but 3 7/8 pounds.”

Today the surviving structure of the old Crenshaw Mills building serves as a visitors center for the Richmond National Battlefield Park. Please left click on images for larger views.

by Bob Williams



The Hardee Hat Pin

One of the most attractive insignia items utilized during the Civil War period was the enlisted man’s brass “Eagle” cap and hat ornament, often called the “Jeff Davis” eagle or Hardee Hat pin. This device,  initially prescribed in the 1851 Army Regulations, was intended to be a metallic rendering of the Arms of the United States, to wit: “the escutcheon on the breast of an American eagle, displayed, proper, holding in his dexter talon an olive branch, and in his sinister a bundle of thirteen arrows . . . and in his beak a scroll, inscribed with this motto: “E PLURIBUS UNUM . . . over the head of the eagle, which appears above the escutcheon, a glory breaking through with a cloud, proper, and surrounding thirteen stars, forming a constellation, argent, on an azure field.”

Photo courtesy Cowan Auctions

Photo courtesy Cowan Auctions

The pin was to be made of “yellow metal,” sometimes called “pressed brass.” Its original purpose was to serve as a pompom eagle on the Model 1851 shako cap. However, in 1858, when the tall, black felt Hardee hat replaced the shako as the standard headgear for the U. S. Army, other uses were found for the brass eagle device. The 1858 dress regulations stipulated that for mounted services the brim of the hat was to be “looped up on the right side, and fastened with an eagle attached to the side of the hat.” For infantry and artillery, hats were required to be looped and pinned on the left side. However, during the war, as the army changed from Scott’s to Hardee’s tactics, many infantrymen turned up the hat’s right side in order to better facilitate the new “Shoulder Arms” position.

While the reproduction eagle hat pins offered today have two long brass wires soldered on the reverse for attachment purposes, the original devices were constructed quite differently. Specifically, soldered to the reverse of the brass eagle near the top and middle were two wire loops, which were “pegged” by means of a leather thong to the side of the hat. Below these loops, at the bottom of the eagle, was a small hook of brass or iron wire. The purpose of this hook was to engage an “eye,” either of black metal or looped thread that had been sewn to the underside of the hat’s brim. Thus, the hat brim could be turned up or down “at will,” without altering the insignia’s position on the hat. And it made the hat much more utilitarian in blocking the rain and sun.

Photo Courtesy Cowan Auctions

Photo Courtesy Cowan Auctions

How much field service did the Hardee hat pin actually see? In the famous Iron Brigade at least, even as late as January 1864, one of it’s regiment’s was receiving “hats, together with bugles, eagles, cord and tassels, and feather,” but it is unlikely that the eagle devices saw much use after that time, except on dress parade. As a matter of information, there are as many as a dozen different die variations of the eagle hat pin, and while on most stampings the eagle faces to the left, right facing eagles have also been noted. Additionally, photos of the period show that soldiers sometimes exercised creative license and wore these pins on other headgear including forage caps. While not typical, it did happen. C’est le guerre!

by Bob Williams



“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. 

While the regulations regarding staff positions were vague in terms of how many and what types of officers should be required, buy viagra 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


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


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


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, medical 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


The Blue and the White?!

Jacket worn by J. J. Appler of the 1st Missouri Infantry during the Battle of Champion Hill. Photo courtesy Missouri Historical Society.

Jacket worn by J. J. Appler of the 1st Missouri Infantry during the Battle of Champion Hill. Photo courtesy Missouri Historical Society.

Just prior to the Battle of Pea Ridge, sildenafil check Arkansas in March 1862, and the 1st Missouri Regiment of Sterling Price’s Southern army received its first government-issue uniforms. “The cloth was of rough and coarse texture,” one member recalled, “and the cutting and style would have produced a sensation in fashionable circles: the stuff was white, never having been colored . . . [and] the wool had not been purified by any application of water since it was taken from the back of the sheep. In pulling off and putting on the clothes, the olfactories were constantly exercised by the strong odor of that animal. . Our clothes, however, were strong and serviceable, even if we did look somewhat sheepish in them.” These drab jackets came with large wooden buttons which appeared quite distinctive when offset with black cartridge box belts.

Undyed uniforms of this type seem to have been quite commonly furnished to Confederate troops, particularly those serving in the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters of operation. The 2nd Texas Infantry wore similar white uniforms into the fight at Shiloh, prompting one Federal prisoner to ask: “Who were those hellcats that went into the battle with their grave clothes on?”

The elite 3rd Louisiana nearly rebelled when they received an issue of uniforms “made of coarse white jeans” in March 1863. At first they refused to wear them, except by special order. Later when the regiment was ordered on a forced march, “some of the men suggested the propriety of wearing the new white uniforms on the approaching expedition, which would be among the swamps of the Yazoo valley. The suggestion was universally adopted, affording a rare opportunity to give the new clothes a thorough initiation into the mysteries of a soldier’s life. Thus the regiment assembled the next morning arrayed as if for a summer’s day festival.” The Third continued to wear these garments thru the Vicksburg Campaign, and fought valiantly.

Undyed clothing also saw some usage in the eastern Confederate armies as well. One Federal soldier viewing the battlefield of South Mountain in 1862 observed: “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.”

Cotton jeans jacket worn by Private J. Prentice of the 38th Arkansas.

Cotton jeans jacket worn by Private J. Prentice of the 38th Arkansas.

While surely not the only source, one supplier of undyed cloth was the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. There, inmates were put to work looming and weaving millions of yards of jeans cloth for indigent Texans and the Confederacy as a whole. Most of the material was not dyed after manufacture in order speed production and reduce the cost of manufacture. Large quantities of this durable “stuff” were made into jackets and trousers. Its inherent light weight made such clothing extremely suitable for wear in the heat and humidity of the Deep South. Much of Bragg’s army was said to have been attired in this “penitentiary clothing” at Chickamauga.

While not positively identified examples of the Huntsville output, several excellent specimens of undyed Confederate jackets survive today. One is attributed to Private James Prentice of the 38th Arkansas Infantry. Another, worn by J. J. Appler of the 1st Missouri Infantry, is in the collection of the Missouri Historical Society. Appler was wearing this jacket when severely wounded at Champion Hill in May 1863.

This distinctive clothing proves, once again, that the Civil War was more than the “Blue” vs. the “Gray.”

By Bob Williams