The blue clad infantryman was the mainstay of Union Forces from 1861-1865.1 lis natural successors were the Doughboys of World War I, the GIs of World War 2 and the Grunts who fought in Vietnam. Orders issued on March 13, 1861, prescribed that the Rill dress coat for infantrymen should be a dark blue single breasted frock coat made without pleats with a skirt extending one half the distance from the top of the hip to the bend of the knee. The coats were to have nine buttons placed at equal distances on the chest and a stand up collar which shouldn't be too high and restrict a soldier's neck movement. In practice it seems that many collars proved to be uncomfortable and local tailors were often contracted to lower them.
During the war, the Government purchased no fewer than 1,881,727 dress coats which were also worn by many infantrymen in the field. The collar and cuffs for infantry frock coats were piped with blue cord and each cuff had two small brass buttons; one just below the piping, the other above. The regulations also prescribed brass shoulder scales, but these weren't commonly seen on infantrymen's frock coats on campaign.
This line drawing of a Union sack coat shows the practical and comfortable nature of the standard issue garment. Most Civil War soldiers would have worn sack coats at some time during their time of service. Ed Dovey
This is what the typical Union soldier during the Civil War looked like. The private posed against a studio backdrop and not outdoors in camp, wears the standard issue four button sack coat, and an ordinary forage cap. His cartridge box is suspended from a shoulder belt and his belt buckle is the ubiquitous standard 'U.S.' oval model. The only distinguishing points about this soldier are that he hasn't taken care in aligning his belt buckle in the middle of his stomach to look smart for his photo, and the fact that he's turned up the collar on his sack coat. David Scheinmann.
In the field, some men in a regiment might be wearing frock coats, while the rest would be wearing dark blue sack coats. Sack coats evolved from loose fitting fashionable civilian coats of the 1840s which were unusual for the day because they didn't have a seam at the waist, the upper and lower halves being the same piece of cloth.
Sack coats were adopted by the United States Army in 1857 and not only were they cheap to manufacture costing $2.10 each as compared with the $6.56 manufacturing cost for a single frock coat, but they were extremely comfortable to wear and very popular with soldiers throughout the war. Sack coats had no braid or decoration and just a simple turnover collar. Such coats were done up with four large uniform buttons and had an inside pocket on the left breast.
Recruits received sack coats lined with coarse flannel and thin muslin in the sleeves while old sweats wore unlined sack coats. The jackets were produced in four regular sizes; 36 inch breast 30'/, leg, 38 inch breast 31'/2 inch leg, 40 inch breast, 32'/, inch leg and 42 inch breast, 3 3 V2 inch leg.
From 1858 to 1861 the colour of regular infantry trousers was dark blue but the colour was changed to sky blue on December 16, 1861. Regulation trousers were high in the waist and had full very round legs. Creases in trousers were unknown in those days. Trousers had a modern style button fly and two pockets at the front. Braces attached to buttons on the front and back of the trousers were the universal way of holding them up, belts were not yet much in vogue. Civil War trousers tended to be cut loose and fitted well up over the stomach. A common mistake of many reproduction Civil War trousers worn by re-enactors today is that they hug the hips like modern trousers and the cut, particularly around the crotch, is not baggy enough.
Infant!*)' trousers usually had one inch slits at the bottom to help in getting the straight bottoms over heavy shoes. For size adjustment, a slit was also cut into the back of the trousers at the top and a piece of
twine threaded through which could be tied up or loosened. Manufactured in coarse kersey cloth, infantry trousers could cause the men a lot of discomfort, particularly on the march. These lines from a post war medical report about enlisted men published in 1868, are equally applicable to hard marching Civil War soldiers. 'The undeviating thickness of heavy trousers is a source of severe complaint throughout the entire warm season.'
Soldiers were issued with three shirts a year, made in the style of working men's shirts out of flannel, or coarse wool. The army had stopped issuing cotton
Studying this line drawing of a standard Union issue frock coat, it quickly becomes apparent why many Union soldiers preferred to wear sack coats. Though smart in appearance, frock coats could be uncomfortable to wear, especially with their high collars. Ed Dovey shirts in 1852, but while flannel shirts may have been warm in winter they were extremly uncomfortable to wear and allegedly more verminous than the many cotton civilian shirts the soldiers wore. Soldiers would try and kill off vermin by smoking their shirts over campfires and crushing them in their fingers was also a popular pastime. Shirts had small turnover collars with a row of three buttons leading up to the neck. They were put on over the head similar to a modern T shirt and were produced in a variety of colours and check designs. Distinctive double breasted firemen's shirts were also popular, often worn as an outer garment over another shirt. Firemen's shirts had wide necks and broad collars, and they were often decorated with bone or mother of pearl buttons. Firemen who enlisted as soldiers, like the Zouaves of the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry, had a particular liking for them.
Although only officially authorised for officers, waistcoats because of their comfort and warmth were worn as a personal choice by all ranks. Usually dark blue in colour, waistcoats had up to four slash pockets on the breast. Soldiers were issued underwear, long drawers stretching to the knee and made of flannel. Some soldiers had never worn underwear before and were baffled by the strange garments. One legendary Civil War story claims that old soldiers told these raw recruits that their drawers were a special parade uniform.
Socks were issued in vast quantities by the Federal government during the Civil War but were not of the highest quality and generally wore out pretty quickly. Many soldiers received pairs of socks as gifts from home and we can easily conjure up a romantic notion of mothers and girlfriends sitting by the fireside, knitting socks for their men far away. Often soldiers used their socks like gaiters and tucked their trousers into them. Gaiters were not a regulation part of the Union uniform and many soldiers found them uncomfortable, but many regiments certainly drew white canvas gaiters from stores, especially Zouave regiments.
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