Civil War Uniforms of the United States Military
The dress of U.S. infantry volunteers varied greatly at the start of the Civil War and no effort was made to enforce conformity until after the First Battle of Bull Run. In that battle Union troops fought in French Zouave dress, tartan Scots caps and trousers, and cadet-gray outfits matching many Confederate designs. Several Northern prewar militias with strong ethnic rosters adopted military dress styles from their homeland. The Garibaldi Guard of New York City wore an Italian-style uniform featuring a broad flat hat adorned with chicken feathers. A unit made up mostly of French immigrants wore an Algerian campaign uniform. The 79th New York wore kilts on parade. This same variety was found in Confederate States uniforms.
Though volunteer units were not forbidden distinctive dress in 1861 and 1862, by mid war field hardships had forced most to abandon their original uniforms and adopt the dress prescribed for U S Regulars. This allowed easier communication in the field since Regular Army uniform regulations made rank and service affiliation recognizable at a distance.
Infantry officers and enlisted men wore dark blue frock coats hanging to mid thigh; majors, lieutenant colonels, colonels, and all general officers coats were double-breasted. Those ranking lower wore single breasted frock coats. Major generals coats were distinguished by 9 buttons in each row, the buttons grouped in threes. Brigadier generals wore 8 buttons to a row, grouped by twos. Colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors each wore 2 rows of 7 buttons, equally spaced. All others wore a single row of 9 equally spaced buttons.
Further distinctions of rank were indicated with shoulder boards for officers and sleeve chevrons, on non-commissioned officers and enlisted men. On their shoulder boards major generals commanding armies wore 3 stars, the center star being larger than the others. Major generals wore 2 stars; brigadier generals, 1 star; colonels, an eagle; lieutenant colonels, 2 silver embroidered leaves; majors, 2 gold embroidered leaves; captains, 2 groups of 2 gold bars; a 1st lieutenant, a gold bar; and 2nd lieutenants wore boards with no insignia.
Sergeants wore 3 chevrons, corporals 2. Regular enlisted men were distinguished by 1 stripe on the lower sleeve for each 5 years of faithful service. Artillerymen and cavalrymen wore the same badges of rank on waist-length jackets. The different grades and duties of sergeants were distinguished by cloth or worsted devices on chevrons.
Infantry members and general officers wore Jefferson boots, and in cold weather all soldiers wore dark blue overcoats with a short cape extending to the cuff on commissioned officers and mounted troops, and to the elbow on all others. General officers, ordnance officers, and all privates wore plain dark blue trousers, except in the light artillery, where trousers were sky blue. Staff officers wore a gold cord on the outer seam of each leg. Sergeants, ordnance sergeants, and hospital stewards wore a 1 ½-in. stripe down each outer seam; corporals wore a 1/2-in. stripe. The color of the stripe denoted an affiliation with a particular branch of the army: yellow for cavalry, scarlet for artillery, sky blue for infantry, emerald green for mounted riflemen, crimson for ordnance and hospital personnel. Individuals further identified their affiliations with corps badges.
Through the Hardee hat was popular at the outset of the, it was widely replaced in by the kepi. Loose-fitting forage caps, some with the crown thrust far forward, and expansive fatigue blouses were the usual field wear. Cavalrymen and field artillerymen wore knee-high boots on campaign.
Uniform regulations were extensive and also addressed the proper design and wear of buttons, vests, sashes, gloves, cap insignia, spurs, knots, epaulettes, belts, swords, cravats, and neck stocks. Trimming, braiding, and design on many of these items, denoted rank or affiliation. Proper wear and design are detailed in the U.S. Army Regulation.
Regulation uniforms of U.S. naval officers approximated those of the army. Dark blue, double-breasted frock coats were worn; vests were expected; trousers were white in summer or when sailing in the tropics; caps featured a round, flat crown; and straw boaters were permitted for summer or tropical wear. A fouled anchor insignia was worn on the cap. Epaulettes, appropriate knots, and a cocked hat were to be worn on formal occasions. In ascending rank, the shoulder boards for ensign, master, lieutenant, lieutenant commander, and commander were the same as those for army officers from 2nd lieutenant to lieutenant colonel, except that each from master to commander also featured a silver eagle. A naval captain wore the silver eagle and fouled anchor, a commodore the eagle and a star, and rear and full admirals a fouled anchor and 2 stars. Uniforms of seamen and boswain mates approximated modern naval dress in the ranks; rank insignia was worn on the right sleeve among hands and on the left sleeve for those ranking boswain's mate and above. Petty officers wore waist length jackets. Seamen and boswains wore black neckerchiefs under a long collar draping down the back and a cloth "square-rig" cap, with a ribbon around the outer headband that draped down the back of the neck; white was worn in summer or on tropical duty.
U.S. Marine uniforms were approximately the same as those or U.S. Army Regulars, except bandsmen wore brilliant red coats. The shako (discontinued for army artillery and cavalry units), regulation marine headgear in the early war years, was replaced by the kepi. Marines were distinguished by their cap insignia, a bugle with an M in the center.
Source: "Historical Times (Illustrated) Encyclopedia of the Civil War" edited by Patricia L. Faust
This page last update 02/28/06