The French Army had originally introduced chevrons in the mid-18th century as a mark of long service for soldiers. The British adopted chevrons as badges of rank in 1802 and the American Army began using them shortly after the end of its second war with Britain in 1817. Chevrons were first worn by cadet military officers at the West Point Military Academy and in 1821 the United States Army authorised them to be worn by commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Around 1830, chevrons were banned for officers and from then on were worn by noncommissioned officers only.
A proper chevron system in the United States Army began in 1851. With some exceptions like the chevrons worn by United States Marines, chevrons pointed down and were in the cloth of the sergeant's branch of service. They were worn on the upper arms and had a small space between the seams. Diagonal pattern half chevrons were also authorised to be worn on the lower sleeves marking each period of five year service a soldier may have attained.
In the Civil War, these chevrons were issued to soldiers whose terms of service had expired but who had re-enlisted voluntarily in the army for another tour of duty. Sometimes these veterans wore their chevrons in the shape of an inverted V on their left coat sleeves.
Sergeant majors' chevrons were three stripes with an arc of three stripes above. Regimental quartermaster sergeants had three stripes and a tie of three stripes, ordnance sergeants had three stripes and a star, first sergeants had three stripes and a lozenge, sergeants had three stripes and corporals had two stripes. Sergeants and corporals of the 5th New York, Duryee's Zouaves, had particularly gaudy chevrons, with gilt on the stripes.
The epaulettes worn by this cavalry or artillery sergeant do not have shoulder scales but appear to be cloth boards with metal crescents and worsted fringes. They are certainly non-regulation. David Scheinmann.
Union Artillery, Malvern Hill, July 1862.
The painting opposite shows one of the gun crews in the massed Union Artillery at Malvern Hill, lined up to fire across an open plain about 400 yards wide, which proved to be devastating against Confederate troops woefully under-supported by their own artillery in this battle.
Unlike the variety of uniforms found in the Confederate Artillery, such as the Washington Artillery of New Orleans who began the war wearing blue frock coats, there was never the same variety of dress with Union field artillery. Ramming home a charge in the Napoleon cannon, the artilleryman, in the centre of the picture, wears a typical artillery shell jacket trimmed red. Artillerymen were also proud of the red stripe on their regulation kersey trousers. Other crew members are dressed similarly, but in the background an artilleryman can be seen in his waistcoat and shirtsleeves. Firing and moving artillery pieces rated amongst some of the most strenuous work on the battlefield and it was not unusual for artillerymen to remove their jackets in the heat of combat.
The days of the light artillerymen's spectacular looking Ringgold caps are long gone. Such elaborate headgear would have proved impractical when moving cannon around and the men in this picture wear ordinary forage caps with brass crossed cannon insignia marking their branch of service. Like the infantry, a considerable variety of kepis and slouch hats would be found in an average artillery regiment.
In the event of their battery being overrun artillerymen were often extremely vulnerable. A short sword, which looked like the swords carried by Roman Legionnaries, had been adopted for artillery in 1832 and was regulation until 1870, but they never saw widespread use in the Civil War. Officers carried ordinary swords, but enlisted men would have little to fight back with, apart from their artillery rammers and any other pieces of equipment that quickly came to hand.
The artillery officer on horseback wears a regulation frock coat and his kepi has gold embroidered crossed cannon insignia. Many artillery batteries during the war were short of men and in some cases made do with hastily trained infantrymen who either volunteered or who were pressed into service. The Union artillery may not have had the same panache that it developed before the War and its uniforms might not have had quite the same character, but it performed admirably. Painting by Chris Collingwood.
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