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AN INTRODUCTION TO THE RICHMOND DEPOT CLOTHING MANUFACTORY

During the first year of the war, the various volunteer regiments were operating under the commutation system. It became obvious to the Confederate government that this system would not provide a large army with all the items it required over an extended period of time.

On 6th September 1861 a Clothing Bureau was established in Richmond, Virginia. It was similar in size to others, established at about the same time throughout the Confederacy. Major Richard Waller was in overall command of the bureau.

The bureau had two separate branches. The first, a shoe manufactory under the command of Captain Stephen Putney and a clothing manufactory under O F Weisiger. Weisiger, a former dry goods merchant, ran the manufactory as a civilian until 1863 when he was commissioned a quartermaster captain.

Raw materials were supplied to the clothing manufactory through a central quartermaster department "Depot" in Richmond. The materials were obtained from a number of textile firms.

  • The Crenshaw Woollen Mills of Richmond. Wool jeans & cotton jeans, it also supplied imported clothing such as shirts & drawers. From early 1862 till the summer of 1863.
  • The Danville Manufacturing company of Danville Virginia. Wool kersey, wool-cotton cashmere & wool-cotton jeans cloth. From early 1862 till late 1864.
  • The Manchester Cotton & Wool Manufacturing Co. of Richmond & Manchester Virginia. Woollen jeans cloth, cashmere and woollen broad cloth.
  • The Scottsville manufacturing Co. of Scottsville Virginia. Wool-cotton jeans, wool-cotton cashmere and cotton osnaburg for shirting drawers and lining.

In addition to the larger firms listed above, small to medium size lots of cloth were received from other small mills in Virginia and North Carolina. After the winter of 1863, the Richmond Depot also received large quantities of English made blue-grey kersey, so by the summer of 1864 the clothing manufactory had become largely dependent on this imported cloth for it's manufacture of uniforms.

The clothing manufactory had a staff of about 24 professional tailors, using patterns probably made of tin who would cut out all the various parts and pieces for each garment. The parts were then bundled together along with thread and buttons, these could be described as "kits", these "kits" were issued out to women who assembled the garments in their homes. The women were personally responsible for travelling to and from the depot to pick up "kits" and return the finished garments.

From early 1863, large amounts of clothing were made and issued to the soldiers in the field. Some statistics can be revealed from contemporary records from the last six months of 1864 up to and including January 31st 1865.

  • 104,199 jackets
  • 140,570 pairs of trousers
  • 167,862 pairs of shoes
  • 157,727 cotton shirts
  • 170,139 pairs of drawers
  • 146,136 pairs of socks

These were field issues only, and did not include items issued to the men at posts, paroled and exchanged prisoners or those in hospitals. Field returns for this time period show a maximum strength of 85,000 men including officers in the army of Northern Virginia.

While large quantities of clothing were available, there were other problems the main one being transportation, so while warehouses in Richmond, Lynchburg and other locations had uniforms and equipment in stock, the troops in the field did not always get what they needed in a timely manner and could be left wanting. Even when large amounts of clothing were issued in the field, the soldiers tended to wear them out very quickly. This was especially true during an active campaign.

Emphasis on the "ragged rebel", while certainly truthful at times has come to personify the Confederate soldier for the whole of the war. For southern apologists, it was the perfect image the more ragged and lacking he was in basic equipment, the more glorious his victories and the easier to accept his defeat. But other factors, such as unequal heavy industry, railroads, armament production, and naval power were far more powerful in their effect on the war effort than the clothing on the soldiers back. The "ragged rebel" has stood as a convenient symbol that has obscured much of what the Confederacy accomplished, in it's production and supply of clothing and equipment, and has even diverted attention from other things that went wrong.

Jon Egglestone, 18th Virginia

Bibliography & other research sources: -

  • Leslie D Jensen, a survey of Confederate Central Government Quartermaster Issue Jackets, part 1. 1989
  • Chris White, Proprietor of The New Richmond Depot.
  • Editors of time-Life books, Echoes of Glory - Arms & Equipment of the Confederacy. 1991.

Above article originally published in the ACWS Newsletter, June 1999