The American Civil War: Federal and Confederate Uniforms

Figure 1.--This unidentified sixth-plate tintype portrays two brothers. The one on the left is wearing what appears to be a home-made butternut type collarless shell jacket. The buttons do not appear to bear a military emblem but appear to be plain. The boy who sits solemnly to his left is most probably his younger brother. The image is crystal sharp and in a full gutta-percha case that is split at the seam. I am describing this item as being a young Confederate based on the nature of his jacket; the younger boy is obviously in a more civilian type jacket. He is presumably too young to serve. Could it be a jacket that simply resembles a military one? That is a possibility. I only know that I have seen many variants of home-made butternut type Confederate jackets, and the one that this youth is wearing appears to be one or resembles one.

Both Federal and Confederate soldiers had similar uniforms, only in different colors, blue and grey/beachnut respectively. There were variaions as to service units (infantry, artilery, cavalry), over time, mustering diferences, and other factors. The uniforms were especially vried at the beginning of the War because the soldiers were uniformed by states, towns and wealthy individuals rather than the Federal and Confederate governments. Thus we see quite a varied collection of styles and colors worn by both Confederate and Federal soldiers. A stanadrd blue uniform soom became estanlished for the Federal soldiers. The situation for the Condereacy was more complicated.

Federal Uniforms

The Federal or Union soldiers were almost always well uniformed as a result of the better funded northern war effort and more industrialized northern economy. The Uninted States did not have a very large stabding army when Lincoln issued the first call for mustering units. As a result the states, cities, and wealthy units that answered the call, uniformed the soldiers in a variety of ways. Realtively quickly as the U.S. Army acted to regularize the unifirm, Federal soldiers were uniformed in standard blue uniforms. There were differences among Federal units. Federal soldiers were issued "sackcoat". Arsenal made coats were lined. Army Regulations called these "Recruit Coats". Many commercial contract blouses were unlined. Arsenal made blouses were typically made from 12 oz wool flannel, while contract blouses were made to the specifications given by the Army to the contractor at time of order. Army sutlers sold commercial grade blouses to soldiers who preferred not to take the Army issue clothing.

Confederate Uniforms

Confederate uniforms were much more varied than Federal uniforms. There were differences, for example betwen the eastern and western armies. Many Conderate soldiers infact fought without standard uniforms. Like the Federal army, the first units were formed by states, cities, and wealthy individuals. Thus there was considerable variation. The Confederate Givernment was never able to standardize uniforms like the Federal Government. This as in prt because the induvidual states were very zealous of their perogatives. Also the Confederacy was never as well finaced as the Federal Government and did not have access to the clothing industry which was primarily located in the North. The bais uniform was grey, but butter-nut brown was also very common. Actually many southern soldiers fought without a real uniform, but attempted to wear grey or butternut colored uniforms. This became increasingly the case as the fortunes of the Confederacy flgged in 1864. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to be sure in some cases if period portraits actually show Condederate soldiers or not.


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Created: 12:49 AM 3/11/2006
Last updated: 12:49 AM 3/11/2006