A.C.W.S.
Ltd (UK)

UNIFORMS OF THE CONFEDERACY

On the Road to Malvern Hill

The 2003 ACWS International event and the events leading up to it are planned to be based around the Seven days campaign OF MAY 1862, in which the Confederates pushed back the tide of invading Yankees from the edge of Richmond and off the Peninsular. As this years events are based on the Army of Northern Virginia in early 1862 some units and individuals are putting together an 1862 ANV impression. But what did the Confederate troops of 1862 look like?

We have a report of what they looked like several months after the campaign. Colonel Wolsley, a visiting English Officer and Veteran of campaigns in Burma, India, the Crimea and China accepted Lee's invitation to attend a large scale military review and inspection. As thousands of Confederate troops marched past, the British Officer cast a critical eye on the lines of marching troops. He observed that some units were to a man outfitted in short jackets, caps and trousers of grey cloth, while others presented a "harlequin appearance" , being dressed in every conceivable variety of coat, both as regards colour and cut". But despite their untidy appearance and shabby garb, the colonel did not fail to notice a sure sign that these Rebels were serious soldiers. Their rifles were clean, well cared for, and ready for use. Above all, it was the proud bearing of the Confederates - "an unmistakable look of conscious strength" - that won Wolseley's undying respect. "Never had he seen an army", he said, "that looked more like work".

The main difference from the usual 1863 impression of ACWS is the jackets. At the time of the Seven days campaign the Richmond Depot of the Quartermaster's department had recently started issuing jackets to replace those state issued jackets that had worn out and for the growing number of new recruits. The new ones would have been what we now know as Richmond Depot Type 1 jackets constructed in locally produced cloth. Materials used could vary depending on what was available. The Richmond manufactory dealt mainly with four textile mills. The Crenshaw Woollen Mills of Richmond was capable of producing all wool material as well as woollen goods on a cotton warp. Kelly Tacket and Ford of Manchester, Virginia produced a variety of cloth including red flannel and sky blue cloth. Bonsack and Whitmore of Bonsack's Depot, Virginia also produced woollen jeans, as did Scotsville manufacturing Company of Scottsville, Virginia.

The Richmond Manufactury jackets were of a 6 piece body and two piece "baggy elbow" sleeve construction. There were from 7 to 9 buttons on the front (my theory being that the smaller jackets had fewer buttons than the larger ones). They were trimmed with belt loops, and epaulettes which together with the collars and sleeves were trimmed with piping or branch of service coloured tape. These jackets, that we today refer to Richmond Depot Type One jackets were constructed from wool or jeans cloth in various shades of grey. However, as grey is a difficult colour to dye, there was a tremendous variation in the colours from dark to light grey. The dye on some oxidised to a brown or butternut colour or even olive green. There was some "broadcloth" available at the time but as the blockade began to bite and cheaper cloths combining wool and cotton such as jeans cloth, satinette or cassinette or even a rough homespun cloth would have been more typical. Basically, they used what they had.

The jackets were cut out by tailors and packed up as kits to be sewn by thousands of women out workers. If a worker owned a sewing machine, she would have used it in the construction of jackets. Sewing was almost a universal pastimes amongst women of the 19th century and so they were very accomplished in the art., they typical young lady of the era having started sewing samplers from perhaps the age of 5. This was reflected in the general good quality of construction. Button holes would have been sewn by hand as domestic sewing machines of the time could not sew button holes.

Some men would have been dressed in military frock coats from previous state issues, regimental issues or even home made versions. Some were trimmed, either with facing colours, blue or black for infantry or militia, decorated with piping or left plain. The originals, like the best reconstructions had pockets in the tails and lining that could have including padding in the front to look more military.

There would also have been some surviving state commutation jackets, in various greys and browns, again plain or trimmed. In addition, some men would have worn civilian sack coats or frock coats, sent from home through Richmond, still possible as the Federals had yet to occupy the great swathes of the Confederacy they would do later in the war.

So what does this mean for those wishing to put together an enlisted infantryman's impression appropriate for May 1862? There is a wide choice.

Many members of ACWS already have a Richmond Depot jacket of the second issue style. This can easily be temporarily converted to the first style jacket by whip stitching thin (up to ½ inch) blue or black cotton tape to the collar and epaulettes. To do this you need approximately 1 ½ meters of tape priced at around 25p per meter and an hour or so to whip stitch it on. Other plain shell jackets can be passed off as Commutation jackets.

Military frock coats are also a good choice and would be a worthwhile addition to a re-enactors wardrobe. Civilian coats, in particular Civilian sack coats are also appropriate.

Other equipment should be geared towards early war, for example wooden or Confederate issue tin drum canteens rather than late war bulls eye federal canteens. Whilst there had been contact with Federal forces, the Confederates had recently retreated from defensive lines so had had limited opportunity to scour battlefields for captured or discarded Federal equipment.

Of course, existing good jackets will suffice but this year's scenarios provide an excellent opportunity to put together an 1862 impression.

Sources:

  • A survey of Confederate Central Government Quartermaster Issue Jackets by Leslie D. Jensen
  • Echoes of Glory - Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy by Time Life Books
  • Brasseys History of Uniforms American Civil War Confederate Army by Ron Field

Article supplied by Private Graham Beattie, 1st Tennessee.


The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, April 2003