In light of Den Bolda’s great inaugural post on Union uniform coats, I thought I would share a paper I wrote for a class I took on material culture a couple years ago that dealt with Civil War soldiers. Being involved in reenacting since then, I have a greater appreciation for the objects and materials that constituted a soldier’s life and person during the war. On Friday, I head to Fort Sisseton for their history festival, so I will be absent from the blog for the weekend, but will post soon after I return on the fun of the weekend.
Civil War soldiers are commonly thought to wear blue or gray, for North and South; however that was not always the case, especially in the beginning of the war. Although many Northern militia units wore gray uniforms early in the war, a variety of uniforms were issued by federal and state governments. Generally, the federal government issued three standard types of uniform jackets. Those would be the frock coat, shell jacket, and the sack coat. There are too many exceptions to include in this brief introduction, so please know that the information provided here is very basic. This thread will cover a fraction of the uniforms worn by Union soldiers.
The federal frock coat was primarily issued to soldiers in the infantry and heavy artillery. The frock coat has nine buttons down the front, two on the back and two on each sleeve. They had piping on the collar and cuffs which identified the soldier’s job. Red piping meant that the soldier was in the artillery, while light blue piping (shown below) meant that the soldier was in the infantry. The frock coat was the fanciest coat that a Union soldier might be issued. It was considered to be a dress or parade jacket. The frock coat was quilted on the front inside lining. The quilting added weight and bulk to add to the soldier’s prestige. Unfortunately, it also added heat on hot Southern days. It had one inside pocket and two pockets in the tail.
The shell jacket was usually issued to mounted troops, or troops who rode horses. This meant that cavalry and artillery soldiers wore this. Just like the frock coat, it had nine buttons and had trim that identified the soldier’s occupation. The soldier was an artilleryman if the shell jacket had red piping, but the trim would be yellow if he was a cavalry trooper . These jackets were shorter than the frock coat because they were more comfortable to wear when riding a horse. The jacket was quilted on the inside front lining. Also, the shell jacket had two small “pillows” on the back which are very useful for keeping the army service belt in place! It had one inside pocket.
The final jacket mentioned above is the sack coat. This jacket was made to be a fatigue blouse, or a work jacket. It was not glamorous in any way. It was shapeless and made of thin material. Although almost all Union jackets were made of heavy wool, the sack coat was made of much lighter wool. This jacket was supposed to be used by the troops when they were on fatigue duty. By the end of the war the sack coat was used by Union infantry, cavalry, and artillery on all occasions. It became the standard Union army coat. The sack coat did not have any kind of color trim and only used four buttons. It was usually lined with wool flannel or cotton. It had one inside pocket.
One addition that I would like to mention is the state jacket. Many Northern states produced uniforms at their own expense. The state jackets varied in design from state to state but they were all very similar. Many people identify the state jacket with New York, but Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and other states also distributed these jackets. Although they were very common earlier in the war, photographic evidence has shown several examples in service later on. State jackets did not have piping but were usually of high quality. They were made short like a shell jacket, so that they could be issued to mounted and foot soldiers indiscriminately. They were almost always quilted and lined with one inside pocket. State jackets sometimes had shoulder straps.
In light of my recent visit to Ellen Hopkins Elementary School to present on the war, I wanted to take the opportunity to reach out to educators that are likely getting to the Civil War in their history curriculum to ask questions about the war that they would like more information on. Any topic goes.
Teachers, if you are interested in using this site to enhance your Civil War curriculum, please use the comment section of this post to ask your question, or a question from your students. I, or one of my esteemed colleagues, will do our best to answer the question in a separate post. If you are interested in having students do brief writing assignments on the war as guest posts, please let us know and we can make that happen (I will edit the commenting on such posts to ensure safety). We look forward to your questions.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported, which FoxNews.com picked up, that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois are in a quandary over a stovepipe hat supposedly having belonged to Mr. Lincoln. The hat, which is of beaver felt, bore the mark of a Springfield hat maker, and was the same size as Lincoln’s head is disputed over how a farmer came to own the hat. The story holds that William Waller acquired the hat from Lincoln in Washington during the war, but this is not supported by evidence. The other possibility is that Waller received the hat after one of the 1858 debates with Stephen A. Douglas, but there is no evidence to support this.
The hat is part of a larger collection of Lincoln artifacts that the ALPLM acquired several years ago for a significant amount of money and the hat is appraised at $6.5 million. Both articles insist that the hat is not a fake and that the Museum was not duped, but that it needs to be somewhat cautious in how it presents the story to the public, suggesting that both scenarios be noted. Having visited the site a couple of times, I have seen the hat (assuming it is the same one), which also (if I recall correctly) may have had his fingerprints on the brim, which were slightly visible. It is a truly humbling experience to view artifacts related to the man.
Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer doubted the stories, as there is no evidence that Lincoln gave away the hat, but does note that the hat likely belonged to Lincoln, but that increased effort is needed to trace its origins. I have to agree with Mr. Holzer, as, even in that day, a beaver hat was not something casually given away, as it was still a fairly expensive item.
It will be interesting to see where this story goes, but I urge anyone heading to Springfield soon to check out the site and see the artifacts. While the museum itself has a lot of technological aspects that are designed to make it more accessible to the public, which is not my thing, but worth seeing, the library is really worth a stop, as they hold a large amount of wonderful historical items, including manuscripts, newspapers, and other materials for scholars researching on a wide array of topics related to Illinois history, the Civil War, and Lincoln. I donated a copy of my thesis to the library as a thank you for providing assistance and material that went into it.
That this story came out on April 15 is appropriate, as it is the anniversary of the death of Mr. Lincoln in 1865. May he continue to rest in peace.
For much of the last several decades, the accepted figure for the number of dead was 620,000, making the Civil War the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history. Now, that figure is being questioned. Initially reported in September, the December 2011 issue of the journal Civil War History (not affiliated with this blog) has an article dedicated to this subject. If you have access to a library, I urge you to check it out.
Using census data, some historians now believe that the war actually cost more in dead than we have thought, by almost twenty percent. According to these new studies, the number of dead ranges anywhere from 750,000 to as much as 850,000, which is much more staggering than the 620,000 we have accepted for so long.
This poses the biggest historical question, why is this important? First, it is important because it illustrates the problems of how we accounted for our war dead as a nation. Particularly, the case of African-American dead, as around 180,000 served in the war (I am not getting into a debate about black Confederates on this). Second, it brings a whole new significance to the war in American history in terms of its effect on population. That twenty percent or more died than previously believed means that a higher percentage of the population was killed and otherwise affected by the fighting. It also means that if we place such a figure against our contemporary population figures, the death toll becomes even more stark, as the new figures are almost three percent of the wartime population, which translates to roughly nine million dead in today’s figures. Finally, it raises questions as to whether all the dead from the war have been accounted, as while it may not seem important 150 years later, it is important to understanding how the military has handled the dead, both good and bad, from America’s conflicts.
Our understanding of death and the war was greatly aided by the publication of Drew Gilpin Faust’s marvelous book This Republic of Suffering (2008). Faust examined how death and the carnage of war influenced society and is one of the more groundbreaking studies within recent Civil War historiography. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for such findings to become accepted and how long before textbooks change the figures, but if the methods hold up, this will shape how this war is remembered for years to come.
As I have been working this semester on a digital history project on the fiftieth anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library at UND, I decided to take a few moments to consider the applications digital history has for the Civil War. As new technology changes life in many ways, history also must adapt to the faster pace of a digital world.
I have posted on several digital collections devoted to the war in the past, but want to share with you the possibilities that digital history provides for the war. Beyond digital collections placed online by various research libraries and institutions, digital tools provide endless possibilities for those interested in the war and here are some examples:
Omeka is an open-source collection management software that allows users to upload various items onto a digital archive, organize them into collections, and make them available to the world. The cool thing about this resource is that if you have a personal collection of documents and objects related to the war, you can create an online museum devoted to them, with metadata that is useful to researchers.
Using online tools to collaborate with others in the field is one of the best ways digital technology improves our understanding of the war. Search engines allow us to access materials from anywhere, and software, like Zotero, which is a free citation management program, let scholars organize information and retrieve it quickly. I have a bibliography devoted to my thesis topic (Civil War soldiers) that I try and update to keep abreast of new materials. Also, using a Twitter feed offers the chance of posting a question to your followers and receiving an answer quickly.
One of the best ways to use digital tools is blogging, as it allows you to showcase your interests and research and gain a following in the digital world. This is one reason I blog, and there are several other scholars on the war that have blogs (Civil Warriors, Crossroads, and Renegade South come to mind). So, if you are interested, get out there and start a blog, or ask to join one as a guest writer.
I will leave you with a couple great posts by two professors at the University of North Dakota who are much more knowledgeable about this subject than I. Dr. Bill Caraher wrote a post on his blog, which is cross-posted to Teaching Thursday, and Dr. Tim Pasch shared his insights into digital tools as well, which while they are more to improve workflow, they have great uses in researching the war, in terms of organizing information and retaining it. It will be amazing to see how much of a role digital history plays during the 150th anniversary, and who knows what will be going on for the bicentennial. Until next time, keep researching.
Hat tip to my colleague Joe Camisa for making me aware of this new site that links digital Civil War collections from a several prestigious libraries in the South. Civil War in the American South is a project put out by members of the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL), which include libraries at Duke, Clemson, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi State, Virginia, and the UNC system. A cursory glance shows several promising collections on a variety of subjects. I urge my readers to check it out and explore this research tool.