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American Civil War Life: Union Infantryman – Life in Camp Ii

Updated on October 27, 2018
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I'm a Sr. Financial Analyst from Long Island, NY and am an American Civil War buff and Living Historian (Company H, 119th NY Volunteers).

Tools of the Trade: Issuances of Clothing and Equipment

Following are the items and descriptions of the clothing, accoutrements, other equipments, and weaponry that were issued to the infantry Volunteers. Some of this was similar to the items owned by, or issued to, the Militia:

Clothing (Uniform)

Long Button-Fly Drawers (Undergarments; Fig. 1) – these were high-waisted, loose fitting, long undergarments. Drawers were generally made of canton flannel, a soft cotton material, with a fleece nap on one side only. White was the common color. Draw strings at the ankles helped the wearer make sure the legs of the drawers didn’t slide down far enough to show below the trouser legs. Other draw strings at the waist allowed the wearer to adjust the drawers for a more comfortable fit. Buttons in front were used to close-off bodily areas that were better kept unseen! Drawers were issued once per year.

Fig. 1: Long Drawers (undergarments)
Fig. 1: Long Drawers (undergarments)

Pullover Shirt (Fig. 2) – these shirts were made of flannel, woolen, or muslin material, with two or three buttons for adjusting the collar and cuffs. White was often the color. Shirts were issued once per year, though many men preferred shirts sent from home!

Fig. 2: Pullover Shirt
Fig. 2: Pullover Shirt

Woolen Socks (Fig. 3) – these came to the height of about mid-calf, were often white or gray in color, and were issued once per year.

Fig. 3: Wool Socks
Fig. 3: Wool Socks

Woolen Button-Fly Trousers with Braces (aka Suspenders; Fig's. 4 - 5) – these trousers were usually either dark blue (early war) or sky blue (mid-war and beyond) in color and were made to wear from over the bellybutton down to the tops of the feet. Zippers hadn’t been invented yet, so the fly was kept closed by three small, metal buttons on the interior lining. A leather string through the back buttonholes at the waist allowed the wearer a small degree of adjustment. Suspenders, anchored on buttons, were used to keep the trousers in place. Some suspenders were elastic.

Fig. 4: Kersey Trousers
Fig. 4: Kersey Trousers
Fig. 5: Trouser Braces (Suspenders)
Fig. 5: Trouser Braces (Suspenders)

Black Leather Brogans with Leather Laces and Metal Heel Plates (Footwear; Fig's. 6 - 7) - the tops of brogans were roughly at the same height as today’s basketball sneakers. Laces were leather, and the metal heel plates helped prolong the life of the sole. The soles had no traction; they were merely layers of hardened leather pegged onto the ankle coverings.

Fig. 6: Brogans
Fig. 6: Brogans
Fig. 7: Heel Plates for Brogans
Fig. 7: Heel Plates for Brogans

Canvas Gaiters (Leggings; Fig. 8) – these were coverings for around the ankles, shins, and calves, normally white or black in color. They covered the tops of brogans and the open trouser-legs, which helped to prevent pests from crawling up the pants. They were secured in place by leather straps and buckles on the outside part of the calf and anchored by other leather straps that ran underneath the brogans and buckled in place at the bottoms of the gaiters. Gaiters were sometimes made of leather instead of canvas.

Fig. 8: White Gaiters (Leggings)
Fig. 8: White Gaiters (Leggings)

Woolen Sack Coat (Fatigue Blouse or Frock Coat; Fig. 9) – this coat reached to the hips, and was generally dark blue in color. Four or more buttons were fastened in front, up to the collar, and the coat was either lined or unlined. If lined, an interior breast pocket was made available.

A Frock Coat was a bit different from a Fatigue Blouse. A Frock Coat had wider sleeves, reached below the hips, nearly to the knees, and had several more buttons to fasten in front. Frock Coats were standard issue to U.S. Regular troops.

Fig. 9: Dark blue Fatigue Blouse (Sack Coat)
Fig. 9: Dark blue Fatigue Blouse (Sack Coat)

Forage Cap or other Headgear (Fig. 10) - wool or felt were the most used materials for these hats. The forage cap was the “regulation” headgear for Volunteers, and was generally dark blue in color. The forage cap had a flattened top that hung somewhat forward, and had a black leather visor in front. Another strap could have been fastened under the chin, if desired, to more firmly anchor the hat on the head.

However, many wide-brimmed hats came to be used, in various colors, though black was most prevalent. The Hardee Hat, for example, was wide-brimmed and was standard issue for U.S. Regulars. It was made of black felt, and was meant to be worn with the left brim pinned up by a brass decal to the hat’s crown.

Fig. 10: Forage Cap
Fig. 10: Forage Cap

Woolen Overcoat (cold weather outerwear; Fig. 11) – this heavy, cold weather coat had a detachable cape that doubled as a hood, and was generally light blue in color. Several buttons fastened in front, and hooks and clasps were used to anchor the hood in place. This coat reached down to the knees.

Fig. 11: Overcoat
Fig. 11: Overcoat

Accoutrements (Equipment For Combat)

Black Leather Cartridge Box (Fig's. 12 - 14) – this hard leather pouch had a brass U.S. decal on the front of the top cover. This box held ammunition in the form of cartridges. The front and interior covers helped to prevent cartridges from falling out. Two vertical tins were inside to hold the cartridges. The tins’ top sections each held ten loose cartridges, the bottom sections held one package each of ten cartridges (40 cartridges total). A tool - a combination of a wrench and a screwdriver, used to disassemble the musket - was held in the front pocket, partially secured by a flap and strap in loop. Also held in this front pocket were attachments for the firearm’s Rammer (to be described in the Weaponry section). These attachments were used for musket maintenance. The Cartridge Box was positioned over the right buttock, and was often worn on a Cross Belt that was slung over the left shoulder and secured in place by the Waist Belt. The Cross Belt had a brass eagle decal on it that was positioned at the center of the chest. If not suspended on this Cross Belt, the Cartridge Box was hung upon the waist belt by the belt loops on the back of the box.

Fig. 12: Cartridge Box with Sling
Fig. 12: Cartridge Box with Sling
Fig. 13: Interior of the Cartridge Box, with one of the two Tins to hold cartridges, and the tool to dismantle the musket
Fig. 13: Interior of the Cartridge Box, with one of the two Tins to hold cartridges, and the tool to dismantle the musket
Fig. 14: From the left: the Tompion, to keep moisture out of the barrel, and two Rammer Attachments: The Ball Puller, to screw into the Minie Ball and remove it from the barrel, and The Wiper (not Worm), to work loose any debris in the barrel
Fig. 14: From the left: the Tompion, to keep moisture out of the barrel, and two Rammer Attachments: The Ball Puller, to screw into the Minie Ball and remove it from the barrel, and The Wiper (not Worm), to work loose any debris in the barrel

Black Leather Cap Pouch (Fig. 15) – this small pouch held the brass percussion caps that were used to ignite the ammunition in the musket barrels. The pouch had two leather flaps and wool in the top front of the pocket to help prevent caps from spilling out. A thin metal wire Pick, inserted in the wool, was used for removing debris from inside the firearm cone (to be explained in the Weaponry section). The pouch was hung upon a waist belt (front, right) by its two belt loops.

Fig. 15: Cap Pouch with fur-lined top
Fig. 15: Cap Pouch with fur-lined top

Black Leather Bayonet Scabbard (Fig. 16) – this long leather scabbard was used to hold the Bayonet (explained in the Weaponry section), and was hung from the waist belt (front, left) by its large loop.

Fig. 16: Bayonet and Scabbard
Fig. 16: Bayonet and Scabbard

Black Leather Waist Belt (Fig. 17) – this wide belt was fastened in front by the buckle, inserted into a belt hole, for comfortable snugness. The Belt Holder at the opposite end of the belt was used to keep any excess belt in place.

Fig. 17: The Waist Belt with brass Buckle and Holder
Fig. 17: The Waist Belt with brass Buckle and Holder

Canvas Haversack with Cloth Inner Sack (Fig. 18)– this canvas sack was generally blackened, but white haversacks continued at least for the first two years of the war. The Haversack held food and related items. The white cloth Inner Bag was for holding perishable items (it was removable for laundering). The rest of the sack often contained dining implements, knick-knacks, and anything else that didn’t fit elsewhere. The cover was held down by a buckle and strap (which often served also to hold a tin cup, to be explained later), and the haversack was worn over the right shoulder by its shoulder strap.

Fig. 18: Haversack
Fig. 18: Haversack

Tin Plate, Cup, Utensils (Fig. 19) – these implements were used for dining. All came in many sizes and styles. All came to be used for eating, drinking, and cooking over an open fire. The plate held the prepared food and, with a split stick for an improvised handle, often became a frying pan also. The cup held liquid food, like soups and stews, and beverages. It was also utilized as a kettle, filled with water and placed among the fire’s coals to boil for coffee or tea. A combination tin fork and spoon, along with a knife, was often the regulation utensil set, but was often replaced with more familiar utensils.

Fig. 19: Tin Plate, Tin Cup, Combination Fork, Knife, and Spoon
Fig. 19: Tin Plate, Tin Cup, Combination Fork, Knife, and Spoon

Tin Canteen with Cloth Cover and Cork Stopper (Fig. 20) – the canteen was for water, though many other things made their way into this receptacle (alcohol, for example). The inside of the canteen rusted easily. The outer cloth came in many different colors, though light blue was most prevalent. The man’s Company letter, and some other form of personal identification (such as a number that corresponded to his alphabetical place on the Company roster) was often stenciled onto the cover. It was worn over the right shoulder by the canvas shoulder strap, and was meant to lie over the haversack.

Fig. 20: Canteen with canvas Strap and cloth cover
Fig. 20: Canteen with canvas Strap and cloth cover

Woolen Blanket (Fig. 21) – the blanket was not very long, and often the shins and feet were exposed when lain over top of the soldier. The blanket came in many different colors, which ranged from gray to light blue to even red, and was the top part of the soldier’s “bed”.

Fig. 21: Woolen Blanket
Fig. 21: Woolen Blanket

Ground Cloth (Rubber Blanket; Fig. 22) – this was a waterproof “sheet”, with black rubber on one side, and a canvas lining, and was the bottom part of the soldier’s “bed”. It was lain, rubber-side down, on the ground, and the soldier laid down upon it. In rainy weather, this blanket often became the outer part of the bed. The slit in the middle enabled its use as a poncho when it was not used as a ground cloth.

Fig. 22: Rubber Blanket
Fig. 22: Rubber Blanket

Canvas or Leather Knapsack (Fig. 23) – this was for carrying extra clothing and/or shelter, but many things were stored in it. Two black leather shoulder straps were used for carrying it on the back. Black leather straps on the top allowed for blankets and/or tenting (to be explained later) to be secured. The inner pockets were used for clothing, writing materials, mementos, extra ammunition, etc. They were closed by more leather straps or attached strings. Knapsacks were usually black in color.

Fig. 23: Knapsack, on top of a wool Blanket
Fig. 23: Knapsack, on top of a wool Blanket

Weaponry

Muzzle-Loading Musket or Rifled Musket with Shoulder Sling (Fig. 24) – this weapon was a single shot, shouldered firearm, of which the rifled version was more accurate due to the spiraled grooves inside the barrel. This caused the conical-shaped bullet (Minie Ball) to spin. The spin enabled the bullet to travel straighter and farther since it “drilled” through air friction. Non-rifled muskets ("smoothbores") fired spherical ammunition that was not as accurate and had less range. The Rammer, stored in the groove at the bottom of the musket’s stock, was to push the ammunition down and properly seat it in the bottom of the musket’s barrel. It was also used to clean the barrel. The sling, usually made of brown or black leather, was to enable the musket to be carried behind the shoulder. The most recognizable brands of these firearms were the Springfield, manufactured in the Massachusetts town of the same name, and the Enfield, manufactured in England. Enfields were supplied to both armies, but the Union soon came to prefer the Springfield. The less industrial Confederacy continued to prefer the imported Enfield. The Rebels could not get the Union-made Springfields unless they were procured, via the battlefield, from the dead, wounded, and captured or from those that abandoned their weapons, or from captured supply depots or garrisons. However, both sides purchased firearms from around the world in the attempt to adequately arm their forces. These forces, at the time, were the largest ever seen on the continent, and demand for weaponry outstripped the available domestic supply.

Fig. 24: Musket, with close-up of the Hammer, Cone, and Trigger
Fig. 24: Musket, with close-up of the Hammer, Cone, and Trigger

Bayonet (Fig's. 16 and 25) – this was an edged weapon, made of steel, and was stored in the bayonet scabbard. When needed, it was attached at the muzzle of musket, with the blade usually to the right to prevent interference with the Rammer. The Bayonet was for use in close-quarters combat, and it enabled the musket to be wielded similarly to a pike or saber. It was also used to stack arms. The attached bayonets were interlocked, which allowed the rifles to stand like a tripod.

Fig. 25: Stacks of Muskets with attached (fixed) Bayonets
Fig. 25: Stacks of Muskets with attached (fixed) Bayonets

This website is a ready reference for what I have just modeled for you. It shows the various articles of clothing and equipments and how they were all worn.

Illustration of a fully equipped Union Volunteer and how he wore his uniform and equipment. Not clearly seen, on his right side, are the cartridge box and the cap pouch.
Illustration of a fully equipped Union Volunteer and how he wore his uniform and equipment. Not clearly seen, on his right side, are the cartridge box and the cap pouch.

Afterword

The next article on this topic is called American Civil War Life: Union Infantryman - Life in Camp III; Hold the Fort: Camp in Garrison, and On To Richmond: Camp in the Field.

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