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The Confederate Officers Uniform Coat

A Micro History

A lot has been written and discussed about enlisted men's uniforms but virtually nothing has been written on the attire of officers. This article aims to take an overview on coats worn by Officers.

The Prussian Artist Nicola Marshall is given credit for the basic design of the officer's coat. In April 1861 the C.S. Congress turned to him to draw up a plan. Marshall was impressed with a group of Austrian Sharpshooters he saw in Verona Italy in 1857, they wore a short grey tunic.

Marshall's design was instituted into regulations which were published on 6th June 1861.

General order No 9 called for officers to wear a double breasted tunic of cadet grey (a grey tending toward blue rather than brown).

Despite regulations after 1861 the tunic virtually disappeared as officers took to the favoured frock coat with a longer skirt. In fact new regulations published in 1862 specified a longer "Frock Coat".

Marshall also devised the sleeve and collar insignia. The collar insignia was also copied from the Austrian Army. Generals of all rank were to have 3 Stars surrounded by a wreath and three gold embroidered stars on each side of the collar for a colonel. One on each side of the collar for Major's going down to gold embroidered bars for captains and lieutenants.

Regulations called for branch of service trim around stars and bars to be worn if the collar of the coat is unfaced in the branch of service colour.

The French Army took sleeve braid, even though they were called Austrian Knots. These gold metallic "Austrian Knots" were regulation one row for a lieutenant, 2 for a captain and major, 3 for a colonel and four for a general (all grades).

Although not all officers followed regulations Captain William Stores of the 32nd VA wore a single strand of gold braid in a pointed cuff.

General George Pickett wore no sleeve braid just intricate embroidery on a blue cuff. As officers were required by Regulation to buy their own uniforms it usually depended on how much that officer could afford.

Some Senior General Officers took to the none regulation button spaces on coats to distinguish between grades copied from US Army Regulations. Buttons arranged in three's would indicate the rank of Major General and buttons arranged in two's indicated a Brigadier General.

Frock Coats from S.C. probably made in Charleston differed from coats made in other parts of the confederacy. These coats had wide flared skirts, a tall stiff collar and were lined in branch service colours. They had the lower buttons placed closely together, widening out over the breast before coming closer together again at the top.

The buttonholes are the French types made up of welts in the hole rather than a stitched buttonhole. Materials for officer's coats at the early war period were usually of the regulation cadet grey although any type of grey wool could be used. As well as satinette and even jeans again depending on the wearer's wealth.

But as officers in their double breasted coats with gold lace stood out in the heat of the battle from the ordinary troops in their short drab coloured jackets. And as casualties mounted in the officer corps a new regulation passed on 3 rd June 1862 ordered officers to dispense with collar and sleeve insignia in the field. Some men tended to wear an enlisted mans jacket, with just a sword to distinguish his rank. A practice that in some cases would last to the end of the war.

As the war carried on and cloth for both enlisted and officers uniforms became increasingly scarce Major JB Ferguson who had been a purchasing agent for the South earlier in the war, was sent to England in September 1862 as the official purchasing agent, taking over from Major Caleb Huse of the Ordnance Department.

Ferguson secured the services of sixteen woollen mills in Yorkshire and in the autumn of 1863 vast quantities of blue grey wool started to arrive in Southern Ports.

While based in Manchester, Ferguson had a Frock coat made for himself of blue grey wool he also had a coat made for General R E Lee made from the same bolt of cloth. This is the coat that still exists in the museum of the confederacy and is strongly believed to be the coat Lee surrendered in at Appomattox.

Due to massive inflation in the Confederacy an average price for a coat was about $350. The QM Department started to look into supplying officer's uniforms.

On March 6th 1864 General orders No 28 would allow all commissioned officers to buy privates clothing at cost price.

A special Congressional Committee looking into Officers clothing was set up. QM General A R Lawton informed the Committee that affordable Officers Uniforms 1,000 in number were being made up in Montgomery, Alabama for officers in Lee's Army. Provision was made for 6,000 other officers in the second half of 1864; from now on officer uniforms would be supplied by the QM Department.

A few private tailoring firms still continued to make officers uniforms, one such coat was bought from a shop in Richmond in the winter of 64-65 by a Major Conway Howard who paid $700. The coat was made from blue grey kersey probably of English manufacture.

However most line officers who could not get hold of QM issued coats and couldn't afford to buy one. Therefore most officers wore enlisted dress so by Appomattox most officers were hardly distinguishable from the privates under their command, apart from perhaps a gold star or a strand or two of gold lace on their collars.

Sources:-

  • Confederate Industry - Harolds Wilson
  • Catalogue of Uniforms - Museum of the Confederacy
  • Echoes of Glory - Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy
  • Regiments and Uniforms of the Civil War - Don Troiani

By David Burt 18th VA

The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, Spring 2006