CPrivate Iron Brigade Service Dress

The private of the 20th Maine illustrated wears the ordinary fatigue uniform, but with the official regulation dark blue trousers; the regiment was one of the few to adhere to the original trousers rather than adopt the light blue ones authorised in December 1861. The figure shows the regulation infantry equipment, consisting of a waist-belt and small cap-pouch to the right of the brass plate, and a shoulder-belt supporting the cartridge-pouch on the right hip, the pouch having a tin liner and often a brass plate. On the left hip was worn a black waterproofed canvas haversack on a belt of the same material, and a tin water-canteen covered with buff, grey or blue worsted often with the letters 'u.s.' stencilled on, or left in the plain metal state. The black canvas haversack was often abandoned on campaign, its contents being carried rolled over one shoulder in the blanket, providing an extra protection against sword-cuts. A similar set of equipment was prescribed in Confederate regulations but the severe shortages and the individual preference of the Confederate soldier resulted in much simpler equipment being almost universal in the Confederate army.

The Iron Brigade was perhaps the most famous unit to fight in the Civil War. Originally consisting of the 2nd, 6th and 7th Wisconsin and the 19th Indiana Regiments, the brigade was organised in October 1861 from small-town volunteers from the Western states, a small majority being native-born Americans, about 40 per cent Irish and Scandinavians, and a few English, Canadians and Germans. The brigade lost 33 per cent casualties at Second Bull Run, fighting five battles in three weeks and losing a total of 58 per cent of its original strength; joined by the 24th Michigan prior to the Antietam campaign, the formation gained its appropriate nickname of 'The Iron Brigade', coined by a war correspondent. After Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the Brigade entered the Gettysburg campaign as the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, I Corps. At Gettysburg the Brigade lost 1,200 men out of 1,800 engaged (the 24th Michigan 399 out of 496 - 80 per cent) which, on top of previous high casualties, destroyed the original Western Brigade; it was never as effective again when other troops were drafted in. But history records few formations to equal the consistent superb record of the Iron Brigade of the West.

The original uniforms of the Brigade were of the typical volunteer grey; the grey uniform of the 2nd Wisconsin caused considerable confusion at First Bull Run when the regiment was forced to retire in disorder, having confused the Confederate army with their own! The 6th Wisconsin mustered in civilian dress: 'a few wore broadcloth and silk hats, more the red shirts of raftsmen, several were in country homespun, one had a calico coat, and another was looking through a hole in the drooping brim of a straw hat*. They received a grey uniform similar to that of the 2nd, though many arrived in Washington with their 'uniform' consisting only of 'grey hats trimmed with green', One company being so un-drilled that they were allowed to amble along at their own pace. In August 1861 the 19th Indiana arrived in Washington clad in 'grey doeskin cassimere and carrying Enfield or Minié rifles'.

By September 1861 all the grey costumes had been replaced by dark blue frock-coats, 'Hardee' hats, light blue trousers and white gaiters; thus originated their nickname of 'The Black Hat Brigade'. This was the classic uniform of the Brigade, though the ravages of campaigning soon took their toll: by 1863 the frock-coat had been replaced by the fatigue-coat in perhaps half the brigade, though photographs show the two being worn even within the same company. The unpopular gaiters were soon thrown away, as were the hat-ornaments, this item becoming progressively more battered and shapeless. Some officers preferred the képi, but most of the Brigade clung to the 'Hardee' hat as a jealously-guarded unique distinguishing feature. The 24th Michigan, the last to join the brigade, wore the ordinary fatigue-coat and képi.

The Iron Brigade of the West should not be confused with John Porter Hatch's Iron Brigade, consisting of the 2nd, 24th, 30th and 84th New York and the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, which was broken up in May 1863.

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