I’ve probably linked 2-3 times to the NY Times Disunion series on the American Civil War, and as usual I feel the need for a disclaimer – my interest is in the broader history that also drives my historical re-enactment project. Sure, I probably do know more than my fair share about military history, but on my bookshelves you won’t find any biographies of generals or gory descriptions of battles, or the sort of books on the minutiae of uniforms or tactics from specialist publishers such as Osprey. That’s just not my thing, and instead you’ll see (highly-readable) classics of academic history like Eric Foner‘s “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War”. That’s my kind of history.
So before you dismiss this article Civil War Uniforms: Blue, Gray and Everything in Between, you can ignore the details of belt buckles and epaulettes:
At the other end of the social spectrum stood the Washington Artillery, a New Orleans militia battalion that had been formed in 1838, fought in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 and functioned as an exclusive men’s club. Prospective members had to apply, pay a fee and be accepted by an examination committee.
The Washington Artillery dress uniform included a dark blue frock coat with red collar, sky-blue trousers (with a gold stripe along the outer seam for officers and a red one for enlisted men), and a red kepi with a blue band and a brass device consisting of crossed cannons and the letters “WA” (augmented with a pelican for officers); enlisted men’s uniforms also had red cuffs. Brass buttons, belt buckles and epaulettes (gold for officers) — emblazoned with various forms of pelican or the letters “WA” or “NO” as appropriate — buff white leather accoutrements (black for officers), and white gloves and gaiters completed the ensemble.
What makes the article particularly rewarding is the insights that uniforms provide into mid 19th century society and the character of the war. Strangely enough – and I promise I won’t be too much of a nerd here – such improvisation and attention to reflect one’s status was very much part of the English Civil War too. I suspect you might argue it’s in the nature of civil wars.