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

CONFEDERATES IN BLUE
"ENGLISH ARMY CLOTH" IN THE A.N.V.

During the last two years of the was there were many stories and reports by soldiers of both sides of troops in the Army of Northern Virginia appearing to be uniformed in Blue.

One story written by a Georgian in Hills Corps wrote. He had received clothing that was "blue in colour but not like Yankee Blue" he complained that his jacket and trousers did not match".

A soldier in the 2nd Georgia, Bennings Brigade, Longstreet's Corps wrote, "sometimes the Govt would get a supply of fine cloth, and we would get uniforms almost to Blue".

Another report by Augustus Dickert Co.H 3rd S.C.Vols. stated the uniforms consisted of "a dark blue round jacket closely fitting".

Even union troops had trouble distinguishing Longstreet's men from their own. Lt C Clark of the 125th Ohio on viewing Kershaw's Brigade at Chickamauga ordered his men to hold their fire saying, "at a distance they appeared to wear dusty blue". A volley by Kershaw's men ended the confusion.

So where did this cloth come from and what did it look like?

In September 1862 Major J B Ferguson was sent to England to procure items for the Quartermasters Dept, and take charge of all Confederate purchasing operations. According to surviving records the first shipment of this cloth was purchased by Ferguson, in Manchester in April 1863, possibly from the firm Alexander Collie and Co who supplied bulk cloth to the firm S Issac Campbell and Co Ltd.

It was widely used by the British Army for uniform trousers and greatcoats hence the term it became to be known as in Richmond "English Army cloth".

This cloth arrived at the warehouses in Richmond on July 9th 1863. Records show that this shipment consisted of 18 bales totaling 3,336 yards of 1 1/2 yard wide blue grey kersey.

However small amounts of this cloth did arrive prior to this date, in a letter written in April 1863 by Q.M. Major Richard Waller of the Richmond Dept mentions the purchase of English cloth "A small portion of which has now arrived".

So what did the colour look like? Various descriptions have come to light one states "it was a variably toned blue grey wool with a dark hue".

Another went on "The shade of cloth varied from a dark grey to a blue grey, to a shade that looked very much like Dark Blue.

When examined closely the material is variably toned, but when viewed under magnification the wool is revealed to be a combination of both dark blue, and light to medium grey fibres.

The wool was apparently dyed in two colours and then carded together before spinning into yarn.

As synthetic dyes came into use in England at the time of the Civil War, it is likely they were used in the making of this cloth. Another pointer to the fact synthetic dyes were used is the fact that surviving jackets show very little signs of fading. Evidence of good solid English synthetic dyes.

Records indicate that the Quartermaster's Department in Richmond did not begin to receive any large quantities of the Blue Grey kersey until October 1863. By the spring and summer of 1864 the amounts running the blockade were huge, for example on June 10th 1864 4,574 yards of "English Army Cloth" came in, followed by 4,983 on June 13th, 3 days later 2,983 more came in, so that in one week the Richmond Depot received 12,540 yards of blue grey "English Army Cloth".

This was probably typical, although some week's smaller quantities were received, most likely because some blockade runners were captured by union warships.

By the summer of 1864 the Richmond Depot was becoming virtually reliant on this imported English kersey for uniforms, even though some smaller quantities of jeans, cassimere and kersey were still being produced by domestic sources.

By the time of General Grant's arrival at the gates of Petersburg, A.N.V. uniforms were largely made of the blue grey kersey. In the last half of 1864 up to the war's end, upwards of 75,000 jackets and tens of thousands of pairs of trousers were made of this cloth.

Known as the Richmond Depot Type III by the Les Jenson Typology these jackets were the same as previous styles produced by the Richmond Depot but lacked shoulder tabs and belt loops.

This same English Blue Grey kersey was used by another manufacturer to supply uniforms for the Confederacy. This firm was Peter Tait and Co of Limerick Ireland. Tait was a Scotsman who founded the company in 1852 and by the end of the Crimean War was the biggest uniform contractor to the British Army.

Tait was using the blue grey kersey at the time of the Civil War for British uniform trousers and greatcoats. They brought the cloth from Alexander Collie and Co of Manchester, who made a deal to supply all the cloth to Tait for the contract with the Confederacy.

Tait's distinctive jackets complete with a double row of stitching on the button side and lack of centre seam at the back of the jacket began to arrive in the South in the autumn of 1864. Tait not only supplied the uniforms of jacket and matching trousers, but also delivered them in his own blockade runners the Elavey, Eveline and Kelpie.

A surviving quartermasters book records the arrival of 4,400 jackets and trousers on December 29th 1864 as part of the Collie and Tait contract.

As both the Tait jackets and trousers and the Richmond Depot Type III jackets were the final uniforms issued to the army of Northern Virginia, both were made of Blue Grey kersey, it was probably the only time the A.N.V. ever achieved any kind of uniformity - in colour at least.

Vendors

  • Blue Grey Tait jackets and trousers by C J Daly and Charlie Childs.

Sources:

  • Correspondence with Ron Field
  • The New Richmond Depot Catalogue - Chris White
  • Regiments and Uniforms of the Civil War - Don Troiani
  • A Survey of C.S. Central Govt Issue Jackets - Les Jenson

Article supplied by By David Burt Co G 18th VA Inf