Do You Hear What I Hear?

Loud noise travels a long way, and I’m sure you’ve experienced this in some situation. Fireworks and artillery practice on military bases are some of the best examples I can think of.

Okay, so what’s this got to do with Back To Gettysburg on Tuesday? Well, I thought it’d be interesting to share some of the long range reports of the fighting at Gettysburg. Just how far away were those cannon blasts heard? Continue reading

By The Banks Of Rock Creek

Rock Creek is a stream to the east of the town of Gettysburg. Reading historical accounts sometimes leaves a researcher with the impression that Rock Creek was omnipresent. (It’s not, it just happens to meander all over the east part of the battlefield zone.)

A tributary to the larger Monocacy River, Rock Creek became a semi-important landmark and high-dangerous enemy during July 1863. From peaceful stream to battlefield landmark to dangerous floodwaters, let’s explore some historical details of Rock Creek and how it was incorporated into my recent historical novel. Continue reading

Cloudy With A Chance Of Battle

sun and cloudsWhat was the weather like in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during July 1863? Good question. And I found that – much like time – there are different reports in primary sources.

A good rule to keep in mind is that it can be dark and stormy in one place and just a few miles away the sun may be shining. (Also, a person’s written thoughts on the weather may be effected by their positive or negative feelings.)

So how did I interpret a variety of recorded weather conditions when I was writing my historical novel? Continue reading

“What Time Was It?” – A Historian’s Challenge

I glance at the clock. I’m on the west coast of the United States, so I calculate a three hour time difference between my location and the library I need to call on the east coast. That’s not hard: 10am in California is 1pm in Virginia.

1859 Pocket Watch (Photography by suebun, via Wikimedia Commons)

1859 Pocket Watch
(Photography by suebun, via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m reading a Gettysburg primary source. The soldier says the fighting began at daybreak. When’s daybreak? Reading on… What time did the Eleventh Corps break lines and retreat? What time did Pickett’s Charge begin? Oh, easy – “Captain Rob Smith” said it was at 3:00. How do you know Captain Rob Smith’s watch was accurate?

Here’s a few things I learned about “time past” during my Gettysburg research for Blue, Gray & CrimsonContinue reading

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Union Blue

Move over, Confederate Gray!

This week we explore some details about Union blue. Before we start, though, let’s clarify – the guys in blue during the American Civil War were almost always from the Northern states. (Unless it was the very beginning of the war when the armies wore whatever they wanted, unless we’re talking about guerrilla fighters, or unless it’s Confederates in captured uniforms…but I digress.)

For details of men’s clothing in the Civil War era, please see this blog post. The same rules of practicality based on job/position and clothing layers apply in the military setting.


  1. Blue Ain’t Anything New

Dark blue had been the standardized color of the United States Army for a long time. The more “traditionally uniformed” regiments of the American War For Independence wore blue (often with white and red facings) and it stayed the color of choice for the regular army through the War of 1812, Mexican-American War (1846-1848), and the Conflicts in the West.

2. Union Blue Was Officially Standardized

When the state militias and volunteers organized at the beginning of the Civil War, the soldiers in different units tended to wear whatever they liked (or whatever their moms, wives, or girlfriends had designed)…and it wasn’t always blue. Some Union guys went onto the early battlefields wearing gray, and that was a complete disaster – often involving friendly-fire.

General McClellan was appointed to organize the Union Army in Washington D.C. in the second half of 1861, and he worked vigorously to get all his soldiers in standardized blue uniforms. While McClellan was not a brilliant battlefield fighter, he was a good organizer; he transformed the Union Army from a disorganized, undisciplined group into a modern army…with blue uniforms.

Photo of a New York Zoauve Uniform (Photography by Matthew G. Bisanz - found on Wikicommons Images)

Photo of a New York Zouave Uniform
(Photography by Matthew G. Bisanz – found on Wikicommons Images)

3. Some Units Kept Their Special Uniforms

The 11th New York Regiment (nicknamed “The Fire Zouaves” because they were originally recruited from the city’s fire department) marched to war in unique and flashy uniforms. The outfit was patterned after the garments worn by French soldiers, fighting in North Africa. While it probably wouldn’t win a prize for practicality, it was an iconic uniform and some of the other New York regiments adopted the costume. The jacket was blue, so it passed inspection!

Berdan’s Sharpshooters was another uniquely uniformed regiment – they wore dark green.

It should be noted that while blue was the standardized color, there were plenty of other variations to uniforms – coat patterns, hats, boots/shoes. Some units – like the Iron Brigade – were easily identified by their unique accessories.

4. Corps Badges Were Used Later In The War

As the Union Army continued to advance in organizational skills, the corps system of army organization was adopted. Later in the war, each corps was assigned a special symbol – clover leaf, various types of crosses, and other heraldic emblems. These symbols were used on the brigade, division, and corps flags and soldiers might also wear them on their uniforms. Often the corps insignia might be found on the top of a kepi or on the front of the jacket.

Oh, and as a side note – officers’ rank was usually displayed as shoulder bar insignia. (Different than the Confederates, who tended to put rank insignia on the collar.)

5. Uniforms Were Issued By The Quartermaster Department

Once army supply was organized and semi-standardized, Union uniforms (the basic blue ones) came from the quartermaster department which obtained them from Northern manufacturers. Thus – as a general rule – the uniforms were provided by the federal government. (Quite different than the system adopted in the Confederacy.)

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah


5 Things You Didn’t Know About “Confederate Gray”

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve explained the over-simplified rule that during the Civil War the Confederates (AKA – guys from the South, good guys, bad guys depending on your point of view) wore gray and the Union troops (AKA – guys from the North, good guys, bad guys depending on your point of view) wore blue. But…after all that simplification, there are some details about those gray uniforms that are quite interesting.

For details of men’s clothing in the Civil War era, please see this blog post. The same rules of practicality based on job/position and clothing layers apply in the military setting.


  1. Confederate Gray is a “relative” term.

It might not be gray! It could be butternut, cadet gray (which is like a foggy blue/gray), smoky gray…and probably coated with the brown, sandy, or red dust of the region of marching. The different shades of “gray” was part of the not-so-uniform uniforms of the Confederacy. Each state and each unit could have a say in the design process and then it could also depend on the available materials.

2. Each state could design official uniforms.

Remember the state’s right idea? Well, each state got the privilege of designing uniforms for their troops. To an untrained eye, those uniforms in the museums are just gray jackets, but if examined closely slight differences in the cut of the uniform may be observed. A big clue is the check a jacket’s buttons – many of the gold buttons of Confederate uniforms have a state’s “initials” on them which gives clues about the origin of the uniform and were its original wearer might have been from.

3. There were actually uniform factories – or uniforms were made at home.

Yes, a woman could get a respectable job sewing military uniforms…and get paid by the Confederate government (in Confederate money, of course.) For example, a uniform factory near Richmond cut out the patterns and sent them to local ladies who basted and then stitched the uniforms together.

In the beginning of the war, many uniforms were made by the soldiers’ families or the ladies of the local community. This trend also continued throughout the war – part of the un-centralized supply system in the South.

Notice the bar insignia on this young Confederate officer's uniform.

Notice the bar insignia on this young Confederate officer’s uniform.

4. Insignia (typically) goes on the collar if you’re a rebel.

Ever looked at an old photograph and can’t tell if that uniform was gray or blue? If the guy was an officer, then you’ll have a big clue. If the insignia (bars, stars, wreaths) is on the collar of the uniform, then he’s probably Confederate. (The Yankees preferred shoulder bar insignia).

5. A uniform was a fashion statement for a gentleman.

Last week we talked about civilian gentleman’s clothing and how society status was displayed in garments. Well, the same is true with uniforms.

While the common soldier made do with the basic uniform, a wealthy officer or gentleman of society rank would probably use his uniform to make a patriotic fashion statement. A song written by a common soldier criticizes these uniforms: Walking ’round with gold lace plenty, see the happy “brass button” gentry. Solomon in all his splendors, Was scarce arrayed like these defenders, In the war in Dixie.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah