A.C.W.S.
Ltd (UK)
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UNIFORMS OF THE UNION ARMY

On the Road to Malvern Hill

Graham Beattie's excellent article on Confederate uniforms on the Road to Malvern Hill, begs a similar article on the uniforms of the Union Army for the same period. Luckily, the mass-produced nature of the standard Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry uniforms of the Federal soldier does not require alteration of embellishment to match the period. However, there are points, which I think we, as re-enactors should consider in order to match the authenticity of the Confederates.

The Army in General

The Battle of Malvern Hill concluded three months of arduous campaigning for the Army of the Potomac (1). During this period they were operating at the end of a tortuous supply line with often inadequate methods of resupply. Those who had begun the campaign as raw often untried troops ended as seasoned veterans, who had learned their lessons the hard way. However, in the main, while battle-tested, the Union Army still believed in bright brass ware, colourful uniforms, standing in straight lines and "taking it like men". Corps badges may have existed at this time but were unofficial and usually only worn by HQ and Staff officers.

Many of the units represented by the ACWS Union Army were actually not engaged in the peninsular campaign, but that should not detract from our attempts to get the right feel for the period.

Uniforms

Officers - General. Officers' frock coats were of better quality cloth than the enlisted man's and the skirt extended two-thirds to three-quarters of the length from hip to the bottom of the knee (3). Coats were double breasted for Colonels and single breasted for Captains and Lieutenants. Also at this time, many officers wore dark blue trousers, instead of sky-blue, as did US Regular enlisted men.

Enlisted Infantry - General. The majority of Union militia and volunteer infantry wore the floppy forage cap, four button sack coat and sky blue trousers (2&3). That is not to say we all should, "in the field, some men in a regiment might be wearing frock coats while the rest would be wearing dark blue sack coats"(3).

Gibbon's Brigade. The regiments of the Iron Brigade had not yet gained their stalwart reputation, however, under Gen'I Gibbons (2) they had already been fitted out with Hardee hats, frock coats and white leggings. Regulations required the frock coat to have a skirt extending one half the distance from the top of the hip to the bend of the knee (4). All frock coats are made with an unhemmed skirt, as was the case at the time, soldiers hemmed their own coats to the regulation length. Those wearing frock coats should do the same.

69th NYSM. Brassey (4) (p101) describes a variant of the regulation uniform issued to the 69 NYSM in 1859, but it is not clear if this uniform was in use in 1862. What does appear to be probable was that the 69th would have been issued with state supplied dark blue jackets, which reached down four inches below the waist, with eight buttons on the front. This jacket had stand up collars and epaulettes as if they were cut-off frock coats. Waist belt buckles would have borne the legend "SNY" rather than "US"..

Sharpshooters. Photographs (3 & 5) show sharpshooters wearing as much a variety of clothing as other infantry units; frock and sack coats appear to be invariably green; while trousers were usually also green but could also be sky-blue, when green ones were unavailable. Sharpshooters also wore two different types of leggings, light buff leather or darker oiled or waxed leather or canvas; in the field the leggings were sometimes dispensed with. If anything sharpshooters were more likely than most, to dress as they pleased, in part due to their individualist nature and the nature of their preferred form of fighting.

Other Arms. Artillery and cavalry uniforms remained standard, within the usual limits of individual taste throughout the war. Sack coats were also worn, mainly in the light artillery, but with much less frequency. Headgear was also usually less personalised, with most preferring to stick with kepi or forage caps. During this period, the artillery enlisted men often carried their light artillery sabres, usually dispensed with in later campaigns.

Sources:

  1. Army of The Potomac by William Swinton 1866, Copyright 1995 by W.S. Konecky Associates, NewYork, NY 10010.
  2. Don Troiani's Civil War, 1995, First Edition, Published by Stackpole Books ISBN 0-8117-2715-7
  3. Echoes Of Glory, Printed in 1998 by Time Life Books, ISBN 0-7370-3145-9
  4. Brassey's History of Uniforms, American Civil War, Union Army, Written by Robin Smith, Published by Brassey (UK) Ltd 1996. ISBN 1-85753-174-4
  5. Sharpshooter by Wiley Sword, Published by Andrew Mowbrey Inc, 1988, ISBN 0-917218-3 7-X

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