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.
- 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.
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.