Uniforms

Pictorial envelope depicting Union soldier joining the ranks.

Uniforms in the Civil War were as varied as the people who wore them. When the Civil War began in 1861, no one expected it to last for more than a few months. The Union army had only 16,000 standing soldiers, and the Confederates had no army at all at first. Both sides held recruiting drives to encourage men to join up. Because neither the North nor the South was prepared for war, the problem of uniforms came up almost immediately. Recruiting posters in the South made it clear to men who signed up that, "Volunteers shall furnish their own clothes," but providing uniforms to soldiers was a problem that affected both sides.

Part of the problem was establishing a consistent uniform style. Some of the men who joined up to fight were already members of their home state's militia, and each militia had its own color and style of uniform, from somber gray or blue to vivid reds and greens, complete with fezzes and turbans. A few soldiers had uniforms dating back to the Revolutionary War, and some had uniforms from the War of 1812 or foreign campaigns, but most men on both sides joined up wearing the clothes they wore every day.

One of the biggest challenges facing both armies was to quickly outfit their troops in standardized uniforms so that they could tell themselves apart from the enemy. Some Southern militias had blue uniforms that looked almost identical to the Union army's blue jackets, and some Northern militia units had uniforms that looked nothing like standard Union clothes. So shortly after the war began, both armies set out rules for what its soldiers would wear.

The Union army's standard uniform was a blue wool suit made from material called "shoddy," with a long jacket (unless you were in the cavalry and then your jacket was shorter). At the beginning of the war, the uniform pants were dark blue, but later in the war the regulation uniform was a dark blue coat with light blue pants. Each soldier also had a belt set that had a cartridge box, a bayonet and scabbard for his rifle, a canteen and canvas backpack, and a blanket roll with a half-shelter, wool blanket, and sometimes a rubber blanket or poncho. Union soldiers kept their socks, toothbrush, writing implements, razors, and other personal items stowed inside their blanket rolls.

The Southern army's official uniform was a short jacket and pants made of something called "jean," which was a rugged blend of cotton and wool, dyed

Pictorial envelope depicting different regimental uniforms.

Pictorial envelope depicting different regimental uniforms.

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Zuzu—Zouaves colors for different branches

One of the ways to tell different divisions apart on the battlefield was by the color of the trim on their uniforms. Different army divisions wore different colored trim, and both Union and Confederate soldiers used the same color coding. Cavalrymen wore yellow trim on their uniforms, dragoons wore orange, mounted rifleman wore emerald green, infantry wore light

I or "French," blue, and artillerymen wore red. Medical personnel wore black trim on their uniforms, and generals, staff, and engineer officers wore buff (cream) colored trim. Officers wore a stripe sewn down the leg of their pants, and the stripe would be in the color of their division.

zouave uniforms

The most popular non-standard uniforms worn by both Northern and Southern soldiers were known as Zouave uniforms. They consisted of baggy, colorful pants that bloused at the ankle, white gaiters worn over their shoes, a wide sash, a short jacket worn over a plain shirt, and a white turban or fez.

gray or brown. Southern soldiers almost never had as much gear as Northern soldiers, mostly because there were so many shortages in the South that the supplies just weren't available.

The Union army had an easier time outfitting its troops, since most of the garment factories were in the North and they could get good-quality material from Europe. However, the army still had a difficult time getting uniforms to its soldiers because of the amount of time it took to make them. All clothing up to the 1860s was custom-made, and a single uniform could take as much as 14 hours to finish. The Union army solved some of its uniform problems by creating mass-produced clothing in just a few sizes: small, medium, and large. They figured that most soldiers would fit pretty well into one of the standard sizes,

Jasa Tomic
Officers of Third Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery in their uniforms, Fort Monroe, Virginia.

and the rest would have to make do. This is the first time lots of clothing was made to fit a lot of people pretty well, rather than making a little bit of clothing fit one person perfectly, and it became the standard way of manufacturing clothing all over the world after the war.

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  • Sophia
    What were the uniforms for fort sumter battle?
    1 year ago
  • Rohan
    What kind uniforms did they were during the fort sumter?
    2 months ago
  • jamie
    What was the unions uniform during the battle of fort sumter?
    1 month ago
  • Andreas
    What color was the unions uniforms in the battle of fort sumter?
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