Trans-Mississippi Confederate Uniforms
(part 2 of 3 -- April 1861 through October 1862)
Early war impressions have not enjoyed a great popularity amongst authentic units, partially because of early war anachronisms/lack of standardization (making difficult the accurate portrayal of a 'common soldier'), and partially because the 'best' or 'most critical' baffles in the East and the West occurred in 1863-64. However, the study of early impressions in the Trans-Mississippi is rewarding because 'most decisive' actions there occurred between 1861 and mid- 1863 (with the exception of the Red River Campaign). Furthermore, I would argue that there were common 'looks' for the early war Confederate (even if only 'civilian with accoutrement - style' or 'commutation jacket - style').
The database which I draw on is comprised mostly of period photographs (from the Portraits of Conflict series, the Confederate Faces series, and the various Time-Life's series) and secondarily from original soldiers letters, diaries and sketch books. Other sources include Ron Field's excellent American Civil War Confederate Army (1996), and information picked up via US museum visits, and via the Internet.
The elaborate fatigue and battle-shirts so often visible in Confederate portrait photos of 1861/1862 get very little representation in UK re-enacting. Perhaps this is because they are not 'off-the-shelf items, or maybe its because they look to modern eyes a bit 'over the top.' However such shirts had a long currency in the South, particularly so in the Trans-Mississipi and would be 'right' for any Trans-Mississippi impression -- especially 1861-63. Remarkably, in studying portrait photos of Trans-Mississippi enlisted men, there appears to have been some uniformity in these homemade shirts. Perhaps mothers & sisters were working to some common store-bought patterns. Or perhaps there were common ideas about what 'soldier's shirts' should look like. Take, for example, these journal entries of Pvt. Randolph Howell, Co.C, 5th Texas Cavalry:
May 2, 1861
Ma agrees to make my "soldiers" shirts on the morrow
May 3, 1861
I superintend the making of said soldier's shirts
(Thompson 1990: 55).
I have observed some common 'types' of soldier's shirts which may be frequently seen in photos of men from the states which concern us. The units listed after each type's name are those from which photo id's have been made. I have placed photos of individuals wearing the first three (most common) types on the photo page at the end of this article.:
1) The Military Shirt
3 Ark ST, 2nd Miss Cavalry, 8th, 14th, & 16th Miss Inf, Jefferson Artillery (Miss.), Missouri State Guard, 1Texas (late 1861), 3 Texas Cav, other unidentified Texas units.
This was one of the two most common 'soldier's shirts.' It was invariably made of light-weight grey wool flannel or linsey-woolsy (wool cotton blend). In cut it was similar to a typical pullover civilian shirt with a two inch drop collar. However, it differed in having dark velvet, (sometimes flannel or velveteen?) facings. In photos these always appear to be black, but some on darker grey shirts only, appear to have been dark red or blue. The collar of these shirts seems always to have been made of the facing material, as was the centre-line button hole placket (which usually extended down as far as the bellybutton and was one to two inches in width). Optional facing areas were: bands on pocket tops (of which there was usually one, and rarely two); cuffs (usually); and epaulette lines (not real epaulettes, but facing cloth sewn on as shoulder reinforcements). The neck opening featured 3 to 4 cloth-covered, china or brass (coin or ball/zouave) buttons, with the sleeves normally having one or more matching cuff buttons.
Pvt. William Schadt, 1st Texas Infantry
Photo Backmarked, Galveston Texas 1861
The Check & Tape Shirt
3 Ark ST, 11 Ark Inf., 3 Mo Inf, Waul's Texas Legion, 7 Texas Mounted. Rifles, and the 7, 10, & 16 Texas Cavalry.
This was the other common 'soldier's shirt.' It was often made of a bright 'checkered' (cheque or plaid) cotton or linsey-woolsy cloth, cut like a normal civilian shirt (pullover or button-up), and trimmed at points with narrow one-half inch or inch wide tape. This tape was equally likely to be light (yellow/buff) or dark (red/black). The tape location was very individualistic, but here are a few ideas:
Brothers Pvt. Thomas Duval & LT William Duval 3rd Missouri Infantry.
They fought at Wilsons Creek, Iuka Corith and Vicksburg
Circus Rider Shirt
10 Tex Dismounted Cavalry, 3rd Texas Cavalry, Texas Good's Battery.
The loudest common soldier's shirt going, it looks to have been restricted to Texas units. It consisted of solid, dark wool, button-up, collared shirt with the addition of three vertical lines of white, dark red or black tape (the outer two slightly lines slightly converging). The centre line held the buttonholes of which there were 9 to 11. The outer lines held false buttons at a matching spacing. The buttons were of a small coin or ball/zouave type. This shirt is so farby looking that it might even be cool. There are photos of it which must have been taken in mid 1862, so its not just an early war aberration.
2nd LT Alf Davis, Good's Texas Battery
Who Fought at Wilson's Creek & Pea Ridge
4) The Bushwacker Smock
[3 Ark ST, various Missouri Irregulars]
As far as photographs show, this distinctive type of garment was limited to the northern Trans-Mississippi. The origins of the 'Smock' or 'Overshirt' are as a New England Workmens garment in the early 19th century, however, they seem to have continued to exist in the west after their decline in the East. One such garment, made in wool, was recovered from the wreck of the steamboat Arabia which sank near Kansas City, Mo in 1856 (Brown 1999). In structure they were long and loose, usually with an open neck to show off a regular shirt and cravat underneath. In effect they fulfilled the function of a jacket, and were always worn outside the trousers, being belted in at the waist. Some beautifiul and convincing reproductions of this style of shirt may be seen in the recent film 'Ride With the Devil.'
5) Fireman's Shirt
[1 Texas (late 1861), 2 Ark]:
A shirt that sutlers sell too many of, as there are relatively rare in period photos. The commonly used material looks to have been solid heavy cotton or light wool flannel. Plastrons were large, covering the chest to within 2" of the sides and extending to the top of the bellybutton. They had 4 to 5 large buttons on either side (bone, glass, or brass coin).
Of the Trans-Miss origin units wearing these shirts, a good portion served in the ANV and Army of the Tennessee. The 'Military,' 'Check & Tape', and 'Fireman's' styles can also often be seen in early war photos of Virginians, Carolinans and Tennessean troops, so they would all be safe for generic early war impressions (hey, Wilson's Creek, Shiloh, & Seven Days Battles all in one shirt -- they could be useful). As to sources, Richard Beardall is willing to custom make such shirts at a reasonable price (ca. £40-£50), with most visible sewing done by hand. I received an impeccable 'Military Shirt' from him last year. Send him the specifications, he will make to order. Alternatively, I can make them for you entirely by hand at a dearer price (Ca. £65) and a 3 to 6 month wait...
Remember that homemade soldier shirts, excluding smocks, were usually worn tucked-in over plain white undershirts. I have never seen suspenders over the top of these shirts, whether tucked in or left out (good evidence that suspenders were not always worn). Again, for much of the war in the Trans-Mississippi they were an alternative to formal military jackets.
Early Campaign Dress: the first fights in Missouri & New Mexico
The Southern troops in the First Missouri Campaign (June-Oct 1861, including Wilson's Creek) were predominantly Missouri and Arkansas State Troops. Except for rare militia uniforms (blue or grey frock coats), the troops were dressed almost entirely in civilian clothes -- especially Civilian Sack Coats and 'soldier's shirts.' Square and oval Militia belt plates are visible in many portrait photos on white waist belts. Indeed, such belts are a nice touch for any early war impression. Interestingly the 3rd Arkansas State Infantry, who fought at Wilson's Creek had a 'marching order' group photo taken in June, 1861 which survives (in two versions! one published in Field 1996, another in Roberts & Moneyhon 1987). Of the 72 men in the photo (from what can be distinguished), at least 4 men wear 'military' shirts, at least two wear 'check & tape' shirts, and at least two wear 'Smocks', although the majority wear civilian sack coats (at least 10 of these are clear). Also of interest, 15 wear cravats, at least 22 wear white canvas knapsacks (with white shoulder straps & a cross-strap,) and only 6 have shoulder-straps for cartridge boxes visible (as we will see in the next article of this series, cartridge boxes were most commonly worn on the waist belt in the Trans-Mississippi).
Sources: Passable (third generation castings...) militia belt plates can be had from Winchester Sutler (Virginia) or pay a bit more for the 'real thing' (or darned near to it!) from Hanover Brass (also in Virginia). Narrow & full-width White Buff waist belts, as well as cartridge box slings are sold by Jamigans. Some good civilian sack coat patterns are available, and most of the better sutlers (including myself, ahem!) will make them (brown jean or satinette is a good bet for fabric). Trousers should be civilian pattern, brown or blue cottonaide or jean work trousers, or black or brown wool 'Sunday-go-to-meeting' trousers. Former militia units had sky or dark blue kersey trousers cut like regular US Army issue. Accoutrements should be either old US army issue/militia, or civilian/'home-made.'
It is unlikely that living historians in the UK would ever portray the Confederate Army of New Mexico (1861-62), to begin with you need a good desert to do it in, but I will mention it briefly for the sake of interest and completeness. Troops dressed either much as they did in Missouri at the time (probably with greater quantities of soldier's shirts, always popular with Texans), but with a much higher input of US Army goods current in 1861. This was due to the total capture of US arsenals in Texas at the beginning of secession and the early captures of fort depots in west Texas. Clothing rolls of the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles (September 1861 - February 1862), and soldier's diaries, note that the Confederates drew Federal kepis, cavalry felt slouch hats with tassels[!], broadcloth cavalry jackets with brass buttons, greatcoats, issue shirts, and trousers (Adolphus 1996:180; Frazier 1995: 96; Alberts 1993: 124). One wonders how they told themselves apart from their Federal opponents... Still, most contemporary sketches of the Army of New Mexico by soldier artists show that a degree of admixture rapidly crept in, with Federal cavalry shell jackets being coupled with common slouches, and blue kepis worn with 'soldier shirts', indeed A.B. Petticolas self-portrait drawn at the end of the campaign shows him in a tattered plug hat and a typical 'military type' soldier's shirt (Alberts 1993; Thompson 1991).
Clothing in the Trans-Mississipi Just Before and After Shiloh
For the February-March 1862 Pea Ridge campaign a good number of Texas & Indian troops joined the old, mainly Missouri & Arkansas, command of Price to form the 'Army of the West' (commanded by Van Dorn). At this time the uniform of the 'orphaned' Missouri troops was probably little different from that worn in the First Missouri Campaign. However for the troops of other states the benefits of the commutation system, by which states were reimbursed by the CS government for supplying uniforms to troops, had begun to show.
Nowhere was this change more evident than with the crack 3rd Louisiana Infantry, the only Louisiana unit to have been with Price's army at Wilson's Creek. In September, 1861 they received one of their states first commutation issues [not in early 1862 as given in error in Part I]. Sgt. William Watson, a Scot serving with the 3rd, recorded that he encountered a newly resplendent member of his company:
"But I see you have got a new rig -- where did you get that?" said I referring to a new suit of clothes I saw he had got on. "Oh." said he "you don 't know about that yet. A whole wagon of things has come from Baton Rouge to us with new clothes, shoes, stockings, and shirts...
(Watson 1995 reprint: 248,)
The nature of this new uniform was described by Orderly Sgt. W. H. Tunnard:
This clothing was manufactured in the State Penitentiary, and was of a substantial material known as jeans, being of greyish-blue color, with the exception of Company K, which was dark brown. The outfit.., infused a new feeling and spirit amongst the men.
(Tunnard 1997 reprint: 69)
The said jacket was lined in plaid linsey-woolsey and padded at the shoulders. The cut of this first-issue jacket was said to be 'long,' which probably implies a single-breasted frock coat such as Louisiana commonly issued to its troops in the first year of the war (see the Crescent Regiment, below) (Field 1996). The rest of the September clothing issue included per man: one red flannel shirt, one plaid linsey shirt, one cotton undershirt, one pair plaid linsey or flannel drawers, and a pair of jean trousers of a matching material to the jacket (Field 1996: 53).
Meanwhile in Arkansas, newly raised units intended for the Trans-Miss theatre were receiving Commutation clothing from the Little Rock Penitentiary. Field (1996: 84) cites this early (and short-lived) state depot as having produced 3,000 uniforms, 8,000 pairs of shoes, 600 knapsacks and 500 cartridge boxes in Autumn/Winter 1861. The uniforms, which are known to have been in part supplied to the 18th & 23rd Arkansas, are said to have comprised grey/brown frock coats and trousers in a matching shade of jeans cloth, and grey forage caps. The single-breasted frock coats had dark blue faced collar & cuffs and eight or nine buttons. Some production continued up until Little Rock's capture in 1863. The single, known surviving example dates from this later period of production, and full details of it are currently posted on the Frontier Guard's website (the actual coat is curated at Fort Snelling in St.Paul, Minnesota). It is made of light-grey jean cloth with few visible slubs, lined in undyed osnaburg throughout, has nine original Federal Eagle buttons, and a blue flannel collar (like Columbus & Alabama depot jackets, tending towards the shade of the latter).
Elsewhere in the Trans-Miss, units were training and equipping, preparing to join the Confederate Army of the Mississippi at Corinth for their march to destiny at Shiloh. It is worth examining here the uniform of two regiments who were subsequently to return to the Trans-Mississippi theatre.
The Louisiana Crescent Regiment was raised in New Orleans at the beginning of the war but did not see action until Shiloh. One early uniform, which may be seen in Echoes of Glory (pg. 129), was a 7-button single-breasted frock coat. It was made of a light grey jeans cloth and featured epaulettes in the same fabric, with pale yellow piping on the collar, epaulettes, centre line, and cuffs (chevron type). As with most frock coats it has a visible horizontal seam at the hips, where the frock coats wide 'skirt' is attached. The accompanying pair of trousers (also of Pvt. J. B. Phillips, who died shortly afier Shiloh) are pale blue jean or cottonaide of a military cut, with pale yellow piping down the seams and dark metal buttons. This first Crescent jacket is in line with other early 1861 Louisiana issue jackets visible both in photos and other surviving examples (see Echoes of Glory pg. 130). Common features are piping (pale yellow or black), epaulettes, no facings, chevron cuffs, and 7 to 9 buttons (seemingly US Eagles or LA Pelican types).
However, in late 1861 Louisiana had began to issue shell jackets in either the brown or light-blue grey Baton Rouge Penitentiary jean cloth. The cut of these jackets is often referred to as 'Commutation Style' or 'Louisiana Style.' In its long cut it resembled a Richmond Depot I, but differed in being slightly longer, and in sometimes having rounded edges to its low collar. The range of variation may be seen in three contrasting examples: a surviving jacket of Pvt. J. Dimitry (Crescent Regiment, early 1862 issue, Echoes of Glory pg. 132), a portrait photo of Pvt W.H. Martin (7th La, late 1861 issue, Field 1996: 51), and a portrait photo of Pvt. C.L. Van Houton (Crescent Regiment, 1862 issue, Moneyhon & Roberts 1990: 164). The Dimitry jacket is very plain: brown jean, 9 buttons, long cut, low square edged collar, no facings, piping or epaulettes.'The Martin jacket essentially looks like that of Dimitry only with black piping on the collar, centre line, and chevron cuffs. The Van Houton jacket has only 7 buttons, and features a low rounded collar faced in black, with matching black epaulettes and chevron cuffs. To summarise the early war Louisiana Commutation Shell jacket should broadly resemble a Richmond Depot I only slightly longer, with a distinctive low collar (only about an inch & a half wide) square or rounded at the margins, and a chevron cuff feature. Buttons should be 7 to 9 in number with no Block I's in sight (Eagles or Pelicans), piping and epaulettes are optional.
Further to the west, the 2nd Texas Infantry began the war clad in captured Federal fatigue blouses. However, on the eve of the Shlloh campaign in March 1862 the entire regiment received jackets which had been commissioned in New Orleans by the regiment's commander. The outfits received excited much comment at the time, shell jackets in the 'commutation style' and military trousers, but all in white jeans cloth. The 2nd Texas thus entered into legend as those "hell-cats that went into battle dressed in their grave cloths" (Chance 1984: 24). However by the end of 1862 it became apparent that the 2nd Texas were only trend-setters, since white, undyed jean was to become one of the most common cloth issues of the Trans-Mississipi depot system.
Sources: Confederate Yankee offers a 9-button Louisiana style shell jacket which conforms to the type mentioned above (piping and other whistles & bells at your discretion). I can also custom make for you an approximation of any of the jackets described above using County Cloth or material from Family Heirloom Weavers.
Confederate single breasted frock coats in jean look gorgeous, but the trick is finding a good tailor to do one for you at a decent price, Confederate Yankee does one in jean at $323 with hand-done buttonholes & top-stitching. Charlie Childs offers an excellent kit for a fraction of that pnce.
Undyed jeans cloth is a real problem, though it is sometimes available from Charlie Childs or Family Heirloon Weavers.
Any early war impressions in the Trans-Mississippi should feature either state buttons (Texas and Louisiana state buttons were surprisingly common, especially the latter), Federal Eagles from depot captures or Coin Buttons, steer clear of Block I's until mid 1862.
Adolphus, Frederick. 1996. "Confederate Clothong of the Houston Quartermaster Depot," Military Collector and Historian 48: 171-180.
Alberts, Don. 1993 Rebels on the Rio Grande: the Civil War Journal of A.B. Peticolas. Albuequerque: Merit.
Brown, W.L. III. 1999. Thoughts on Men's Shirts in America. 1750-1900. Gettysburg: Thomas.
Chance, J.E. 1984. From Shiloh to Vicksburg: The Second Texas Infantry. Austin: Eakin Press.
Field Ron 1996. American Civil War Confederate Army. London: Brassey's.
Frazier, D.S. 1995. Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest. College Station: Texas A&M.
Moneyhon, C. and Roberts, B. 1987. Portraits of Conflict (Arkansas). Fayetteville: Arkansas U. Press.
Moneyhon, C. and Roberts, B. 1990. Portraits of Conflict (Louisiana). Fayetteville: Arkansas U. Press.
Moneyhon, C. and Roberts, B. 1997. Portraits of Conflict (Texas). Fayetteville: Arkansas U. Press.
Roberts, B. and Moneyhon, C. 1993. Portraits of Conflict (Mississippi). Fayetteville: Arkanas U. Press.
Serrano, D.A. 1992. Still More Confederate Faces. Bayside, NY: Metropolitan.
Thompson, J.D. 1990. Westward the Texans: the Civil War Journal of Private William Randolph Howell. El Paso: Texas Western.
Time-Life, 1996. Echoes of Glory: arms and equipment of the Confederacy. New York: Time-Life.
Tunnard, W.H. 1997 (reprint). A Southern Record: the History of the 3rd Regiment Louisiana Infantry. Fayetteville: Arkansas University Press.
Turner, William. 1993 (reprint of 1983 ed.) Even More Confederate Faces. Gaithersburg, Maryland: Olde Soldier Books.
Watson, William 1995 (reprint). Life in the Confederate Army. Baton Rouge: LSU Press.
The final installment of this three part series will deal with CS Quartermaster Depot issues in and to the Trans-Mississippi.
Return to Article Index