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Old December 26th, 2011, 07:01 AM   #1

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Confederate Gray and Butternut


The common phrase 'the blue and the gray' summarizes how modern people expect the soldiers of the American Civil War to be dressed - Northern troops in blue, Southern troops in gray, but otherwise their uniforms and equipment being identical. This is, of course, far from the truth, both sides (especially the Confederacy in the later stages of the War) having to be very opportunistic to acquire uniforms or weapons at all.

Many colorful militia units, namely the Zouaves who were so popular in the North, added splashes of color other than 'the blue and the gray' to the mosaic, and then we have those brave (if not particularly bright) Federal regiments who marched into battle in gray, as well as Confederates driven (by necessity or otherwise) to don Yankee garb.

As I understand it, a Confederate soldier actually wearing the gray uniform and matching kepi hat was something of a rarity, even before the invading Federals made the South's logistic system a nightmare. Maryland Confederates taken prisoner at Gettysburg actually received a compliment from a Union officer on account of the fine condition of their gray uniforms - it was such a rare sight he felt the need to comment on it.

More common from mid-1862 on was the homespun 'butternut' uniform. It took its name from a community of pro-Southern farmers living in the midwestern states, who dyed their garments in walnut or butternut oil. The crudely-made but durable 'butternut' uniform was cheaply manufactured across the South by sympathetic civilians, and came to represent the face, in practice if not ideal, of the Confederate soldier up to the end of the War.
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Old December 26th, 2011, 05:35 PM   #2

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Originally Posted by Salah View Post
The common phrase 'the blue and the gray' summarizes how modern people expect the soldiers of the American Civil War to be dressed - Northern troops in blue, Southern troops in gray, but otherwise their uniforms and equipment being identical. This is, of course, far from the truth, both sides (especially the Confederacy in the later stages of the War) having to be very opportunistic to acquire uniforms or weapons at all.

Many colorful militia units, namely the Zouaves who were so popular in the North, added splashes of color other than 'the blue and the gray' to the mosaic, and then we have those brave (if not particularly bright) Federal regiments who marched into battle in gray, as well as Confederates driven (by necessity or otherwise) to don Yankee garb.

As I understand it, a Confederate soldier actually wearing the gray uniform and matching kepi hat was something of a rarity, even before the invading Federals made the South's logistic system a nightmare. Maryland Confederates taken prisoner at Gettysburg actually received a compliment from a Union officer on account of the fine condition of their gray uniforms - it was such a rare sight he felt the need to comment on it.

More common from mid-1862 on was the homespun 'butternut' uniform. It took its name from a community of pro-Southern farmers living in the midwestern states, who dyed their garments in walnut or butternut oil. The crudely-made but durable 'butternut' uniform was cheaply manufactured across the South by sympathetic civilians, and came to represent the face, in practice if not ideal, of the Confederate soldier up to the end of the War.
The "Ragtag Confederate" image is a very prevailent myth as far as uniformity is concerned. The south had a depot system in place for her armies as early as 1862. For instance the Richmond Depot provided uniforms primarily to the Army of Northern Virginia. Such as the Ricmond Depot Jacket type I issued early in the war, or the RFichmond type II issued in early 1863, etc. Other depot systems were the Columbus,Atlanta, etc. Also english import uniforms became common place later in the war.Such as Peter Tait & Company out of Ireland. The later accounts during the war of uniform confusion aren't necessarily from captured Federal uniforms ,but the dark blue cloth of the British import uniforms. Such as the case of the 7th Florida Infantry at Chickamauga, who managed to get close to Federal positions on Snodgrass Hill.The Federals believed they were Federal reinforcements coming up. Homespun uniforms were provided to troops in the first couple years of the war through the Confederate Commutation system...

Last edited by Germanyankee; December 26th, 2011 at 06:22 PM.
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Old December 26th, 2011, 09:18 PM   #3

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I always had it figured the Confederates Army of Tennessee was always a bit more haphazardly dressed than the ANV.

But, we aint much for dressing up, and combing our hair, and shining our shoes and all that ole mess, anyway.

Long have I heard it said that the worst dressed armies are probably the best, and the best dressed armies are probably the worst.
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Old December 27th, 2011, 09:58 AM   #4

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from the pictures Ive seen the southern armies looked rather ragtag and remember the battle of Gettysburg started because of the southern need for shoes. but as Richard said looks don't make a soldier
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Old December 27th, 2011, 11:47 AM   #5

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from the pictures Ive seen the southern armies looked rather ragtag and remember the battle of Gettysburg started because of the southern need for shoes. but as Richard said looks don't make a soldier
The story about shoes and Gettysburg is a myth actually. Early's division had already passed through the town on it's way north, it's rather unlikely they would have ignored the supposed "shoe factory" in town.


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I always had it figured the Confederates Army of Tennessee was always a bit more haphazardly dressed than the ANV.
This was certainly true. The AoT and Longstreet's two divisions made a curious impression on each other in terms of appearances at Chickamagua.
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Old December 27th, 2011, 03:35 PM   #6

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I always had it figured the Confederates Army of Tennessee was always a bit more haphazardly dressed than the ANV.
Not necessarrily, there are plenty of accounts that say the AOT were issued uniforms. Especially from the Columbus Depot, Atlanta Depot, etc. Towards the end of the war evidence suggests my ancestors brigade in the AOT were issued Department of Alabama jackets. Or even as I stated before English import uniforms made it to troops in both the ANV and AOT. Now granted there were periods that items were scarce on campaign, however the Confederate armies were predominantly well uniformed...

Confederate POWs from the 20th Tennessee Infantry captured at Missionary Ridge, Chattanooga TN. Note the matching frock coats and trousers...
Click the image to open in full size.

Two unknown Confederates wearing matching Richmond Depot jackets...
Click the image to open in full size.

Picture taken in June of 1863 of ANV Cavalry POWs captured at the Battle of Aldie, Virgnia. Note the predominance of Richmond Depot Type II jackets...
Click the image to open in full size.

A private in the 4th Florida Infantry with an English import belt with Snake Buckle, while I'm not one hundred percent I believe he is wearing an English Kersey import jacket as well...
Click the image to open in full size.
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Old December 28th, 2011, 09:00 AM   #7

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The story about shoes and Gettysburg is a myth actually. Early's division had already passed through the town on it's way north, it's rather unlikely they would have ignored the supposed "shoe factory"


This was certainly true. The AoT and Longstreet's two divisions made a curious impression on each other in terms of appearances at Chickamagua.
well Im certainly glad you cleared up this misconception and every historian that has stated this is wrong after all Viper is the absolute authority on the civil war and im sure you have sources to back it up?
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Old December 28th, 2011, 09:34 AM   #8

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well Im certainly glad you cleared up this misconception and every historian that has stated this is wrong after all Viper is the absolute authority on the civil war and im sure you have sources to back it up?
Indeed I do, my bridge-dwelling friend. The sole contemporary source for the story about shoes is Heth's memoirs; and he obviously had a reason to invent a cause for going to Gettysburg that wasn't looking for a fight. The fact is, Jubal Early passed through the town days previously; if there was a significant stock in shoes there, Early would have taken it. As my below source shows, even a historian who attempts to defend the notion that Heth went to Gettysburg for shoes admits that there weren't actually any there. One does not deploy infantry divisions, coordinate with another army corps, and inform army HQ about foraging for shoes.

Civil War Bookshelf: Lost continents of understanding - part 1

The Romances of Gettysburg – Get Those Shoes | From the Fields of Gettysburg

Romances of Gettysburg – Get Those Shoes, part 2 | From the Fields of Gettysburg

Here's Early's report. http://www.civilwarhome.com/earlygettysburg.htm

Last edited by Viperlord; December 28th, 2011 at 09:39 AM.
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