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Uniforms, Equipment, and Arms of the Army of Tennessee

With particular reference to
the 1st Tennessee

by K.C. MacDonald & Gordon Turner (both ACWS)

"The men were good-sized, healthy, and well-clothed, but without any attempt at uniformity in colour or cut; but nearly all were dressed in either grey or brown coats and felt hats. I was told that even if a regiment was clothed in proper uniform by the Government , it would be parti-coloured again in a week, as the soldiers preferred wearing the coarse home-spun jackets and trousers made by their mothers and sisters at home. The Generals very wisely allow them to please themselves in this respect, and insist only that their arms and accoutrements being kept in proper order." (Fremantle 1864: 155):

This quote from Fremantle's Three Months in the Southern States concerning his impression of the 1863 Army of the Tennessee speaks volumes. There was indeed a great deal of variability in uniform -- but there were certain limits. In the text which follows we will attempt to set certain guidelines for every element of kit, noting from the best available sources what was common what was rare, and what is simply wrong. We hope that as members replace kit that they will find these guidelines useful in giving a truer impression of the appearance of the great and honourable Army of the Tennessee.

1) Jackets

There is currently, in the words of Richard Beardall, a move "away from the romanticised tramp with a gun look and more towards a generic soldier, the typical Johnny recently re-equipped with a depot jacket in the period mid to late 1863." (Sutlers Stores Catalogue 1999, pg.3). This movement has been championed in the Camp Chase Gazette by Lee White. However, we are somewhat sceptical. First there are Fremantle's observations which were made on June 1, 1863 (see above). Second there is an interesting quote from William Watson's recollections of life in the Army of the Tennessee in May 1862:

Summer clothing arrived to be distributed... This did not come from the army bureau, through the quartermaster's department, but from the home's and family's of the men themselves. This consignment was greatly augmented by "ladies' associations," which had now become a powerful factor in the administration of the war... Nothing seemed too good for them to sacrifice. Beautiful silk dresses [and other materials] had been cut up to make tunics for the soldiers. (Watson 1887, 1995 reprint, pg. 381)

This is one of several indications that home-made uniforms, or more generically distributed relief from ladies' associations, were every bit as common as depot issues.

Third, White (n.d.) notes that 263,922 jackets were manufactured by the Columbus Depot between Summer 1862 and Summer 1863. If we assume a certain amount of wastage (jackets left to fester and/or burn in warehouses, say 20%), issues to Eastern theatre troops and the Army of the Mississippi (say 10%), then we have about 184,745 issued jackets. Given the total number of troops in the Western theatre in 1863 (including garrisons) of ca. 100,000+ that means each soldier could have received about 1.8 jackets over two years of service. While it's hard to know the average use-life of a jacket in full campaign conditions, we would judge this quantity insufficient.

Finally, if Columbus Depot jackets were as dominant as some now suppose why are they not more evident in the few existing campaign or captive photos of the Army of the Tennessee, and why are they so little represented by surviving relics? These, rather than depot records should really be our guide.

From the 4 surviving jackets of Tennessee infantry regiments (Army of the Tennessee) exhibited at the Carter House Museum (Franklin) in 1995 (Bassett et al. 1995), and from a single Tennessee jacket displayed in Time Life's Echoes of Glory (1996), we can derive the following catalogue of authentic garments:

Colour & Cloth Cut Facings Buttons Unit
Grey wool kersey
'Cadet' grey
Shell Jacket, 7 button front with two exterior slash pockets, cotton twill lining black collar & cuffs US Enlisted
no backmarks
24 Tenn
Grey wool kersey
'Cadet' grey
Shell Jacket, 8 button front with one interior pocket on left breast, white cotton lining (sleeves and body). none US Staff
'Superior Quality' backmark
3 Tenn
Grey wool kersey
'Dark' grey
Shell Jacket, 10 button front with one interior pocket on left breast, brown & white striped cotton lining none US Eagle Cuff
'Waterbury' 'Extra Quality' backmark
20 Tenn
Brown Jean Civilian Tail Coat, 9 button front with two interior pockets [one on each breast], red & white striped calico cloth lining 3/4" wide red band around collar Brass Coin Buttons 'Warranted Rich Orange' backmark 6 Tenn
Brown Jean 'Butternut' Shell Jacket, 6 button front , no exterior pockets, white cotton lining none US Staff 4 Tenn

This listing deserves detailed comment. Beginning with fabrics, kersey was a type of medium weave wool cloth no longer produced in the west (thread count of 21 threads to the inch). Thus, most conventional wool cloth available to sutlers has a weave which is far too dense and 'pills' too easily. To approximate the looser weave look of kersey, many re-enactors wear different varieties of jeans cloth. The brown jean is self-explanatory, and in the examples pictured is of a darker tone.

Of the uniforms listed above, three are in fairly dark blue-grey or dark grey colours. For reasons of unit identity we have long worn butternut, although it is apparent that dress within units was both grey and brown. We may wish to consider whether some members (say 25 to 50%) might begin to choose to wear grey to more accurately reflect the visual impression of the Army of the Tennessee.

As to jacket types there seems to have been a wide variety of cuts of shell jackets, with everything from 6 to 9 buttons. Going on all surviving, shell jackets from all state units in the Army of the Tennessee, exterior pockets were most commonly single (usually on left, but sometimes on the right breast), next most commonly absent, and only occasionally double (Bassett et al. 1995; Editors of Time Life 1996). A common 'type' is without doubt the Columbus Depot jacket, but there were many different contractors and it does not appear to have been highly standardised in cut. White (n.d.) notes at least two variants: an early type with a 5 to 6 button front and no exterior pockets, and a later variety with a 6 to 7 button front and a single exterior pocket. He further asserts that all were of jeans cloth with medium to dark blue kersey or flannel facings on collar & cuffs but this is based on limited evidence. However, it can be stated with more confidence that belt loops and epaulettes are either rare or absent on surviving Army of the Tennessee shell jackets. White (1997) claims that a few late war Alabama Depot jackets are known to have had a single belt loop on the left hand side, but this is the only known occurrence of this feature. Epaulettes are visible in some early war portrait photos of Louisiana and Mississippi regiments -- but these features are early war and 'Gulf State' -- not Tennessee (see Daniel 1991; and Moneyhon & Roberts 1990). In these four examples the epaulettes are the same colour and cloth as the jacket.

Other documented Army of the Tennessee enlisted & NCO jacket types include sack coats, civilian coats (usually some shade of brown in colour), and single-breasted frock coats (Bassett et al. 1995; Editors of Time Life 1996). Most jackets were lined with either white cotton or striped cotton/calico material (except sack coats which were often left unlined). Single or double interior pockets in the lining were common.

Facings on all jacket types in the Army of the Tennessee were rare -- and became more rare as the war went on. We have made the following count on the basis of surviving uniforms and photos of enlisted infantry men's jackets (shell, sack & frock), Army of the Tennessee, all states:

absent30or 61%
collar only black (or dark)4or 8%
collar only blue (or light)1or 2%
collar only red1or 2%
collar & cuffs black (or dark)5or 11%
collar & cuffs blue (or light)4or 8%
piped collar, cuffs & midline4or 8%

It should be noted however that all photographs or examples of piping are known to be early war (Spring 1861 to Spring 1862), thus any such jackets present in 1863 would be rare survivals.

One of the greatest illusions perpetrated by sutlers is that I & CSA buttons were standard issue. They were in fact fairly rare, the latter much more so -- thus their extortionate price on the collectors market today versus Union buttons (say hundreds versus tens of dollars). Government issue buttons were even more rare outside of the Army of Northern Virginia. On surviving Army of the Tennessee enlisted & NCO jackets, the only Confederate-made buttons we have been able to document are Infantry I buttons (rare), and state buttons (although the Tennessee button available from sutlers today was never issued -- there was a different design featuring storm clouds, the sun, and a landscape which was locally made, and very rare). By far the most common buttons were standard US (Union) buttons -- enlisted men's, officers' & staff buttons (Bassett et al. 1995; Editors of Time Life 1996). These fell into Confederate hands in great quantity with Federal arsenals, and were also probably plucked from dead or captured Yanks. Also very common (but difficult to come by today) were flat brass 'coin buttons' -- essentially featureless solid 1p size brass discs with a loophole hook soldered to the back. Round wooden buttons are also documented, especially on sack coats. CSA buttons are not documented with the Army of the Tennessee and should not be worn.

Summary of Jacket Recommendations:

  1. Common features: Shell jackets with single exterior pockets and 6 to 9 buttons, or no pockets at all, without belt loops or epaulettes, having either no facings or a blue or black band on the collar only, or collar & cuffs (Columbus Depot Pattern); or sack coats with 4 to 7 buttons with an exterior pocket or pockets; or a civilian coat. Fabric should be loose weave or jean, grey or brown ('butternut'). Buttons should be captured Union types or coin buttons.
  2. Rare but Acceptable features: Shell jackets with twin pockets and/or jacket-coloured epaulettes; single breasted frock coats, without epaulettes but with belt loops; Infantry I buttons.
  3. Incorrect features which should be replaced: coloured epaulettes; CSA or 'Tennessee State' buttons; belt loops on shell jackets; tight weave butternut wool cloth (i.e. individual threads are not easily distinguishable).

2) Belt Buckles & other Metalwork

Smith & Cartwright (1994) made an admirable survey of the belt plates and buckles of the Army of the Tennessee to go along with a Carter House Museum Exhibition on this same theme. Their findings, based upon extensive knowledge gleaned from surviving pieces and dug relics is worthy of summary here. The principal manufacturers of metalwork for the Army of Tennessee were the manufactories of Memphis & Nashville (early war), and Selma, Columbus and Macon (mid to late war). The overwhelmingly most common belt buckle type was the open frame buckle or 'Georgia frame buckle' as it was simple to make and sparing of brass -- as well as highly durable. The most common of these were the 'two-toothed' variety, but variants such as the 'forked tongue' and 'u-tongue' were also produced. Roller buckles were more uncommon, but also occurred in the ranks. Imported British 'Snake Buckles' also occurred (with other imported British Enfield 'kit'), but it is hard to estimate their quantity. They were, however, certainly more rare than locally produced types.

In general enlisted men were most likely to wear the frame buckle, more elaborate types being more often worn by officers or NCO's. The most common decorative plates worn by members of the Army of Tennessee were the "CS" oval shaped (especially common with Tennessee regiments; Editors of Time-Life 1996), the CSA rectangular, the CS clipped corner and sardine lid styles. Pewter (as opposed to CSA rectangular plates were unique to the Army of the Tennessee. Two piece wreath buckles were usually reserved for officers & NCO's.

Otherwise decorative metalwork was kept to a minimum in the Army of Tennessee: cartridge box plates never occurred except as a few early war prototypes, and cartridge belt plates were never manufactured.

With the exception of Texas, Mississippi and Florida regiments, which often affected a metal star pin on their hats or kepis, the wearing of brass ornaments on hats was a rare, early war phenomenon. Such ornaments as are visible on period portraits and camp photos are at the most company letters (never regimental numbers). Since these are almost non-existent as duo relics it is doubtful they were much in use.

Summary of Metalwork Recommendations:

  1. Common features: Open frame buckles ('Georgia Frame Buckles') should be the standard belt buckle of the enlisted man. Those wishing to be more 'flash' might opt for one of the tongue variants, 'Snake Buckles' or a plain, oval CS buckle or the pewter CSA buckle (if you can find one). Officers and NCO's have more freedom of choice (including all types mentioned in the text above).
  2. Rare but Acceptable features: Enlisted men with roller buckles or more elaborate CS,'CSA or upturned US buckles.
  3. Incorrect features which should be replaced: Company letters and regiment numbers on hats or kepis, bugle plates on hats or kepis, cartridge box plates, & cartridge belt plates (except if captured US plates, with the soldier having a wish to die from sniper fire real soon....)

3) Trousers

Surviving Civil War trousers are a real rarity and it is difficult to give any hard and fast rules. This is understandable, since they would hardly have had the keepsake value of a jacket or a hat and were probably the grubbiest piece of kit. Contemporary diaries/memoirs list brown jean as the most common civilian work-trouser of the time --- often requested by the troops from home. This is borne out by the high frequency of such trouser survivals. The six pairs illustrated in Echoes of Glory are in varying shades of brown, from buff to dark brown. They feature 2 or 4 hole buttons of bone or dull metal (lead or tin). Army issue grey trousers existed, but were certainly more rare. Captured Union blue trousers were probably not so common as is thought for Confederate infantrymen. They were unlikely to have been removed from corpses (upon dying people normally empty their bowels). They would have had to come from the capture of enemy stores (and were thus probably more commonly worn by cavalry raiders) or by infantrymen who tasted victory more often than those of the Army of Tennessee. The wearing of civilian trousers in some shade of brown jeans cloth is probably the safest bet for western theatre Confederates.

4) Knapsacks, Haversacks & Canteens

A June 1862 inventory of equipment borne by the men of the 2nd Brigade of Stewart's Division (Army of the Tennessee) is pretty enlightening (after Daniel 1991: 48):

Regiment Men Knap­sacks Haver­sacks Cant­eens
5 Tenn 326 141 N/A 326
13 Ark 236 187 220 236
31 Tenn 305 223 287 304
33 Tenn 239 143 238 220
4 Term 253 235 226 253

This official record gives the lie to notions that soldiers discarded canteens in favour of tin cups, and that haversacks (back-packs) were tossed away at the first opportunity. These regiments were already veterans of a year's campaigning and the battles of New Madrid & Shiloh when this inventory was taken. Basically from it we can see that more than half of the brigade carried knapsacks, and that most all men carried haversacks and canteens.

No Army of Tennessee haversacks or knapsacks are illustrated in Echoes of Glory and they are not the sort of items that show up in portrait photos -- so it is hard to speculate on types. Concerning knapsacks Confederate issues were usually soft-packs, whilst Union issue (or arsenal captures) were more often hardpacks.

Canteens were highly variable and included wooden Gardner-Pattern canteens, tin drum canteens (some "CS" embossed from New Orleans), and a variety of Union captures. Most were issued with corks but as these wore out they were replaced with carved wooden or corncob stoppers.

5) Cartridge Boxes & Firearms

We have no information on what exact cartridge boxes would have been carried by Tennessee regiments, although we believe they would have varied within units due to different issue times (often incomplete) or replacement times and battlefield captures. Cartridge box types which would normally have been available to the Army of Tennessee would have included: MacGee & George, New Orleans (brown or black, belt or sling suspension) and Baton Rouge Arsenal (black, belt suspension only) both 1861 or 1862 issue; Blivens (black, belt or sling suspension), Selma (brown or black, belt or sling suspension) -- mid to late war. Additionally there would have been some Enfield Cartridge box imports from Britain and some Union M1842 captures (including 1861 depot captures) -- both these types were black and sling suspension only. Later in the war as leather became more scarce with the closing of Mississippi traffic, cloth slings and cartridge boxes (painted black) were experimented with.

Regarding firearms, it is instructive to note from Daniels ( 1991: 45-46) that an April 1863 quartermaster's report for the Army of the Tennessee stated that: 44% (16,570) of Bragg's infantry were armed with .69 cal smoothbores (the mainstay of the army during 1861 & 62 campaigns), 37% were armed with Enfields, 14% with rifled Springfields (all captures), and the remaining 5% with a miscellany of rifled and unrifled weapons (including 450 .70 cal Belgian rifles). Efforts were made to equip companies similarly, but even this was not always the case. The main lesson here is to allow for some variability -- and the continued numerical dominance of old smoothbores even in the mid-war period.