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