ISSUE AND NON ISSUE SLOUCH HATS
ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA
The most important part of any Confederate Army Soldier's Kit was his hat, favoured almost universally over the regulation kepi, for its comfort, and ability to keep the elements at bay. This article intends to look at a couple of the most popular styles of slouch hat, issue and non-issue used by the troops in the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV).
A Hungarian patriot named Louis Kossuth in 1852 introduced the Slouch Hat into the U.S. He toured America seeking support for Hungarian liberties after Hungary had become dominated by the Czar of Russia. At first the slouch hat was defined as a soft hat with a low crown and medium brim. But over time the term "Slouch Hat" became to be a generic term to describe most hats.
By the time of the Civil War the term "Slouch Hat" had come to be associated with hats with different types of crowns and brim widths with the most popular colours being black, grey, brown and tan. Unlike European inspired kepis and forage caps, slouch hats were one of the only all-American articles of clothing used during the war.
A.N.V. veteran Frank H Foote stated, "Slouch Hats are peculiar to the South and affected a great deal".
Another veteran remembered, "A man who has never been a soldier does not know the amount of comfort there is in a good soft hat".
One of the most popular hat styles was the Beehive. This style was a product of wartime economy. This hat is almost unique to the Civil War with very few photos showing this style afterwards. This hat was rushed through production by local hatters to meet demand by being rushed through the blocking process. The brim would dish up in a concave fashion normally the brim would lie flat. This brim would be 3 to 3 1/2 inches wide and the crown would be 5 to 7 inches or more. After the conflict the makers would go back to the more time consuming way of producing hats, hence this style was rarely seen after the war.
This hat, as were most hats of the time, was trimmed with Grosgrain (pronounced Grow-Grain) ribbon. Grosgrain ribbon had been around hat brims for a long time and the sewing machine made adding ribbon to the brim much faster and less expensive than handwork. The sewing machine that enabled the ribbon to be sewn on the brim became popular with hatters in the 1850's. More hats produced just before and during the war had this option.
This type of civilian hat and many other civilian style hats were used by the troops either brought from, or sent from home.
One soldier Valerius Giles of the 4th Texas, upon his enlistment purchased himself, "The Best Hat in the House" from a local store. This hat, a large top hat, waterproofed with Goose Grease lasted him until Gaines Mill in 1862.
Soldiers would also "swap hats" with unsuspecting civilians. During the Gettysburg campaign some troops often found themselves with hats with holes in, with hair sticking out, they looked like scarecrows and they knew it. As they entered Pennsylvania the men would swap hats with unsuspecting civilians watching them pass.
Sometimes hat badges or regimental number and letters were used, although this practice was fairly rare. One soldier was photographed in 1864 wearing a hat with a white badge marked 'AL4' suggesting the 4th Alabama Inf. which did serve in the area the image was made. Also sources noted seeing soldier of the 18th and 21st Georgia with Hat Insignia, but for the most part hats were left unadorned with any ornamentation or hat cords.
As slouch hats became the prominent headgear and the men themselves preferred this type of headwear over the regulation kepi, were these hats issued by the quartermasters? It appears the answer is yes. From July 1st 1864 through January 31st 1865 the Quartermasters themselves issued 27,000 hats and caps to the ANV.
In a report written by Q.M. General Alex R Lawton dated August 15th 1864 noted, "Our entire supply of blankets has to be drawn from abroad. The same is true of hats for which a cap is a poor substitute." The report asked for 300,000 hats and $450,000 was set aside for this purpose.
Thousands of hats were imported from England to meet the demand; one of these worn by T.V. Brooke 3rd Co Richmond Howitzers still exists. It is a hat with a rounded crown with a rolled brim. It is a medium brown colour. The rolled brim was a fashion of the time. The brim would extend straight then upturn at the end to look similar to a saucer. This stopped the brim falling into the eyes.
But even at the beginning of the war the Central Government, and certainly individual states, including Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina issued Slouch Hats to the soldiers.
Several States had pre war militia that adopted the U.S. 1858 Army Hat as a regulation. This hat was known by several names including the Hardee, Jeff Davies Hat, and even Fra Divolo Hat, after a character from Comic Opera. Two cavalry regiments originally used the hat in 1855 and authorised for use by all branches in 1858.
The inability of the Central Government in 1861-62 to clothe these volunteer troops and the introduction of the commutation system led several afore-mentioned States to adopt a black felt hat to be "looped up" on one side, thus copying the 1858 style headgear.
Two hats survive that were issued either by the Central Government or by the State of North Carolina itself. Both of these hats are black civilian hats, which have been altered to mimic the 1858 army hat.
The first belonged to Theophilus Frank who served in the 48th N.C., which served in Hill's Corps ANV from October 1863 to October 1864. This hat shows evidence of being 'militarised'. The crown when domed is 6 inches at its apex, and the brim measures 3 inches. It is edged with 1/4 in Grossgrain Ribbon on the top only. A 7/8 wide band encircles the base of the crown that is made of double play thickness cotton that has been blackened and is now a medium grey colour. This has been applied over the original hat bank. Applied under this hatband are two pieces of cord approximately 3 inches long that look like they represent hat cords, and lastly the brim has been looped up on one side by use of a button and corresponding slit in the brim.
The second hat that surfaced in 1991 is different to the first in the fact that it has a smaller brim but it has been 'militarised' in exactly the same way.
Judging by this evidence it seems likely that some States and maybe the Central Government itself issued civilian hats to the men from the beginning of the war and some of these at least were altered to mimic the 1858 army hat. Some of these were still being issued in late 1863 (T Frank enlisted in October 1863).
The birth of the Confederate Slouch Hat stems from the war's outset. Due to the Confederate Government's inability to provide the regulation kepi in enough numbers. This led the States and the Government itself to issue civilian hats. Some of these were 'militarised' to copy the pre war US 1858 army hat. It is unknown how many of these hats were altered. It may have been a few, it could have been thousands. As the war progressed any style of Slouch Hat that could be made into the South was pressed into service. By 1864 hats like so many other badly needed items, had to be imported from England to meet demand. Hundreds of thousands were ordered and imported. Thanks to the soldier's reluctance to wear anything else but his beloved 'Old Slouch'.
- Clearwater Hat Corn, Newnata Arkansas
- Dirty Billy's Hats, Gettysburg, Penn.
- Tim Bender Hats, Birdsboro, Penn.
- Bob McDonald - C.S. Slouch Hats, North South Traders Magazine
- Clearwater Hat Catalogue
- Don Troiani - Regiments and Uniforms of the Civil War
- Philip Katcher - A.C.W. Armies - C.S. Troops
- Echoes of Glory - Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy
Article supplied by By David Burt Co G 18th VA Inf