“We went through the war without a uniform. We were lucky to keep our bottoms covered. When I got into the war, we wore overalls, and when we surrendered in 1865, 1 didn’t even have a pair of shoes.”
Sutlers are as much a part of the re-enactment scene as the re-enactors themselves. During the Civil War, sutlers followed the armies (mostly Union) wherever they went, and, when the armies went into camp, they set up right alongside them. A sutler was nothing more than a civilian purveyor of goods — sort of a traveling general store. They offered all the goods and creature comforts that the soldiers were used to having in their civilian lives. Goods offered by the sutlers ranged from clothing to whiskey to tobacco and everything in between. Like any other businessmen, some were honest, while others were deceitful and dishonest, and their only aim was to separate the soldier from his pay. Often, the goods sold were of very poor quality, overpriced, and grossly misrepresented. The sutlers were, however, a necessary evil.
“While captured, and in the rear of the Union lines, I saw a sutler dispensing lemonade, beer, ice cream, and other luxuries, all especially enticing in the oppressive Georgia heat.”
The sutlers today who follow the re-enactment hobby are, of course, trying to recreate the sutlers of old who followed the armies through the war. Modem-day sutlers are, however, honest and fair, and offer a wide-ranging array of goods and equipment to the re-enactors. Some specialize in weapons, some in uniforms, some in boots and shoes. Some cater strictly to the ladies’ trade. Most re-enactors depend on these sutlers to provide them with their re-enacting needs. (A list of approved sutlers is provided later.
When you are told never to go to a sutler’s tent by yourself, this is no reflection on the sutler’s honesty or integrity. It is more a reflection on your lack of knowledge and experience. A sutler will gladly sell you anything you ask for, whether you really need it or not. And, he will sell it to you even if it is incorrect for your impression. That’s your problem, not his. It’s fairly typical for a new recruit to go to the sutlers row and go on a shopping spree, without even the slightest idea of what he really needs. The end result usually is that you wind up with a lot of expensive equipment, uniform items, and accessories that you can’t use. And, not all goods are the best quality, or they might not be totally period-correct. You need to be an educated shopper. Buyer beware!
“Here they were, then, the real truculent and unmitigated rebels, in butternut of every shade, from the dingy green to the tawny brown and faded tan ... butternut, mixed with a dull characterless gray. There was no uniformity, yet there was something common in the dress of the whole company, a faded look...”
Shell jackets, which come in a wide variety of styles and colors, were manufactured at several different “clothing depots” such as Columbus, GA; Richmond, VA; Montgomery. AL, etc. These jackets were distinctively different from one another, although most all were of wool or jean wool material Most shell jackets can easily be identified as Columbus, Richmond, Atlanta, etc., by the obvious details of the jacket, such as the number of buttons. collar style, trim, cut of the jacket, pockets, and so forth. Colors ranged from a dark gray (almost black), blue gray (almost blue) to butternut. Butternut is basically brown or tan, and the dyes used to make these jackets varied from depot to depot. Thus, there are an endless number of butternut shades. There is not any particular shade of gray or butternut that is mandatory for your impression in the 7th Texas Cavalry. Just as a matter of interest, the Texas State Prison at Huntsville, TX, was a major supplier of jean wool uniform material used in the manufacture of uniforms by many Confederate clothing depots.
“We were a motley-looking set, but as a rule, comfortably dressed. In my company we had about four different shades of gray, but the trimmings were all of black braid.”
When purchasing a shell jacket, you must bear in mind that you are portraying a Confederate cavalry trooper (mounted or dismounted) in the Trans-Mississippi Department. Probably the most common shell jacket worn in the Trans-Mississippi was the Columbus Depot shell, made in Columbus, GA. A Richmond shell or a shell from the Atlanta depot would not be as accurate for your impression. Typically, a cavalry trooper in the western theater (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas) of the Trans-Mississippi Department would have black trim on the collar, sometimes on the cuffs. Texas State Militia also used black trim. Yellow trim for Confederate cavalry is mostly an Eastern theater convention, seen primarily in the Army of Northern Virginia. It is not recommended for an accurate impression in the 7th Texas Cavalry. Yellow trim, if any, should be held to a minimum. Yellow trim includes hat cords, trouser stripes, and collar and cuff trim on shell jackets. Take a close look at your pards and see what they are wearing; also, ask your NCOs or officers for recommendations. If you do not do some research before buying your shell jacket, you will very likely wind up looking like a VMI cadet rather than a Texas cavalry trooper in the Trans-Mississippi. Worse yet, you will have spent a fair amount of money for a shell jacket that you will not be able to wear. As noted in the introduction of this guidebook, never go to a sutler to make a major purchase without first asking an NCO or officer for guidance.
“Since the battle, I have regretted that I ever ordered a blue uniform; it is just like that of the enemy. I have no desire to be killed by my own friends by mistake, though many of our officers wear the blue coats all the time.”
Trousers also come in an endless array of styles, cuts, materials, and colors. Like the shell jacket, there is no single correct style or color of trousers. However, the first pair of trousers you buy should be those referred to as “sky blues.” The all-wool sky blues were the most widely worn trousers in the Civil War. They were standard issue in the Union army and were commonly worn by Confederate forces as well. The major advantage to buying sky blues first is that they can be worn for both a Union and a Confederate impression. Mounted troopers wear sky blues the same as the dismounted troopers, but a reinforced seat distinguishes their trousers, and the legs are tapered for a neat fit in the standard cavalry boot. So, when you buy your sky blues, you will automatically have half of your Union uniform, too. This makes the sky blues a very economical first pair of trousers. You will need more than one pair of trousers, but this will be a good start. Other trousers can be made or purchased as you see fit.
“Thousands were ragged as they could be ... some with the bottom of their trousers in long frazzles, others with the knees out. One had the seat of his trousers patched in bright red, and his knees patched in black...”
The most common materials are wool, cotton, light canvas, and jean wool. Colors vary, just as they do with shell jackets, but try to stick with more conventional colors, such as brown, gray, black, etc. An excellent pair of trousers that is period-correct in appearance is available in many western wear stores. They come in buff, and also in black, under the brand name WAH of Arizona. These are very popular with the mounted troopers, but dismounted can wear them as well. WAH also makes period-correct shirts, but they are expensive. Most sutlers who deal in clothing carry some WAH of Arizona shirts and trousers. Sutlers carry all kinds of trousers, but stay away from the cavalry trousers that have either yellow piping or yellow stripes on the legs; they really aren’t correct for our western theater/Trans-Mississippi impression. All period-correct trousers should have a button-fly (no farby zippers!) and should have buttons on the waistband (front and rear) to accommodate period suspenders.
Although most troopers in the 7th favor wearing suspenders, there is very little evidence to show that suspenders were commonly worn in the original The 7th Texas Cavalry. Early-war photographs, tintypes, and Daguerreotypes of Texas cavalrymen show that, rather than wearing suspenders, they are shown most often with just a wide leather waist belt to hold up their trousers. This belt was also useful for holding an extra pistol or knife. Whether you choose to wear suspenders is up to you. However, it is a more historically accurate impression if you leave the suspenders off.
Suspenders come in an endless variety of styles, materials, and colors. Typically, all suspenders have leather tabs on the ends to button the suspenders to the trousers. Try and stay with white canvas, or leather suspenders. Avoid loud or otherwise modem-day colors. Other materials used in suspenders that are period correct include mattress ticking and linen. In the interest of an accurate impression, try to avoid elastic suspenders. Suspenders of all types are commonly available from most sutlers. This will be one of your cheaper purchases.
Period-correct shirts are easily obtained from most sutlers. They come in a wide variety of patterns, colors, and materials. Most shirts were cotton, muslin, linen, or wool. Plaids, stripes, checks, and solids are all period correct; however, there are some physical characteristics that are required if a shirt is to be authentic. Full-button-front shirts (as we have in modem-day shirts) did not exist then. Most shirts were “pullover” style, and you put them on by pulling them over your head, much like a T-shirt. There were usually three or four buttons, which were made of pewter, glass, wood, and other materials. Collars were typically small, while some had no collars at all. Pockets were also the exception, rather than the rule, and the sleeves were very full.
“We could tell the rebels when we came across them, for they have no uniforms ... only citizens’ clothes.”
One early-war period shirt was known as the battle shirt. These shirts were usually white or buff, featured piping around the neck (no collar), piping around two large front pockets and around cuffs, and had large “puffed” sleeves. There were usually three or four buttons, made of wood, bone, pewter, or glass. The battle shirt was often worn as a “shell jacket” over a regular shirt. This was certainly cooler and more comfortable than a wool jacket. There is photographic evidence of NCOs with their chevrons actually sewn on their battle shirts. You can order an excellent battleshirt, hand-sewn, from Glidewell Forge, P.O. Box 212, Perrin, TX 76486 for about $20. This is an outstanding value for a very authentic early-war shirt.
The bib-front style of shirt is also suitable for your impression, although bib-front shirts came on the scene late in the war and were not that common.
Some prefer to either make their own shirts or have them made by a knowledgeable seamstress. Ask around within the 7th. There are several well-known seamstresses who sew shirts.
Headgear (hats and caps) is probably the one item of a trooper’s uniform that truly expresses his personality. Thus, you rarely see two hats or caps exactly alike. If you do see two identical caps or hats, they will almost always be distinguished by the owner’s preferred crease, brim treatment, ornamentation, or some sort of personal “hallmark” that stamps that hat as belonging to a certain individual.
“...received a new hat. It was turned up on one side, and fastened with a gold star and a black silken loop and tassel. The hat was greatly admired by everyone.”
The two most common styles of hats and caps worn in the 7th Texas Cavalry are the slouch and the kepi. This is true, whether doing a Union or Confederate cavalry unit impression. The so-called slouch hat is a wide-brimmed hat with a medium-to-tall crown, usually made of felt, wool, beaver, or other composite materials. The preferred color is black, as it can be worn for both a Confederate and a Federal impression. It is similar in appearance to what is today called a western or “cowboy” hat. In spite of these similarities, a modem-day cowboy hat should not be worn “as-is” as a substitute for an authentic slouch hat. However, a “blank,” which is a hat that has not been formed or shaped, can be made into a presentable slouch hat with a little work. DO NOT give your slouch a modem-day western crease, and do not roll it up on the sides. The edge of the brim on most slouch hats of that period was flat and trimmed with ribbon that matched the hatband (usually a material called grosgrain). A hat cord is usually worn on the hat. Black would be best; yellow is acceptable, but avoid artillery red.
The only hat brass, if any, should be period correct, crossed sabers. DO NOT buy Indian Wars crossed sabers; they are incorrect for our Civil War impressions. DO NOT put a lot of brass on your hat; that is a purely Eastern Theater convention, most common in units of the Union armies but seen in some Confederate units. It is definitely not correct for the Trans-Mississippi Department. Do not “junk up” your slouch with company letters, regimental numbers, etc., unless you are an extra in a Hollywood movie.
The second type of approved hat (cap) is the kepi. The kepi is a French military design that the U.S. adopted for use by all branches of the service. It is characterized by having a short, flat, square-ended bill (similar to a baseball cap) of leather or patent leather. The body of the hat is usually made of wool and is round or oval in shape, high in the back, and sloping down toward the front. Most kepis are trimmed in colored wool around the outside of the “hatband” to indicate branch of service. Kepis come in a wide variety of materials, workmanship, and quality finish. Again, avoid colored trim, especially bright yellow. No trim at all is a better choice if black is not available. As with the slouch, avoid the use of a lot of hat brass. Period-correct crossed sabers is all that should appear on the top of the kepi, although a Texas brass star would be a suitable and correct ornament for either a slouch or a kepi. Secession ribbons are also suitable for wearing, either on hats or jackets, if you are doing a very early-war impression.
There are, of course, other types of hats worn in the 7th that are period correct. As you look at your pards, you will see a variety of hat styles. Some favor the Mississippi broad-brimmed straw hat, and others prefer a small-brimmed black hat resembling a bowler or a derby. There is no hard and fast rule about hats in the 7th except that they must be period correct and suitable for a Trans-Mississippi impression. Your first hat purchase should be a black slouch, as you can wear it for either a Federal or Confederate impression. Later on, as your budget permits, you can add a Federal kepi, and other hats to change your look from time to time and also to improve your impression.
The forage cap (or bummer) is also a suitable cap for your impression in the 7th. It is similar in appearance to a kepi, but it is distinguished from the kepi by having a taller, fuller look because of the extra material used in its construction. It is quite tall in the back, with the top falling forward or slightly off to the side. These hats are sometimes mistakenly called slouches. Stonewall Jackson wore a forage cap; it can be seen in most paintings depicting him in full uniform. Historians have referred to his “slouch,” but his slouch is actually a forage cap. The forage cap/bummer saw extensive service in the Federal forces. The Union cavalry adopted the forage cap as the standard cap for its troopers in mid-1863. If you look around, you will see that some of our mounted troops sometimes wear forage caps.
The Hardee hat should not be worn by anyone doing a Trans-Mississippi Texas cavalry impression. The Hardee is a black hat that looks similar to a slouch that has been “hardboiled,” with one side folded up flat on the side and pinned with a decorative eagle. This hat was widely used by Union officers and NCOs, but it saw limited service in Confederate units.
“The hats were neither useful nor ornamental. They were made of black felt, high crowned, with a wide brim turned up on one side, and fastened to the crown by a brass shield representing an eagle with extended wings, apparently screaming with holy horror at so base an employment ... later on, the hats mysteriously disappeared.”
A final note on hat and cap decorations: avoid such awful additions as ostrich plumes (unless you are an officer) and other overly large feathers (especially peacock!) unless you are an extra in a “Three Musketeers” movie. Only Jeb Stuart could wear an ostrich plume and get away with it. A trooper in the 7th Texas Cavalry would only look silly. Do your research, and keep it simple and homespun looking. Parsons’ troopers were nothing like Stuart’s Black-Horse cavalry troop of Virginia gentlemen.
“I am barefooted. A good part of our marching is on mountain roads, made of sharp-cornered broken stone, or through the open wastes on the side of the mountains, where the briars and blackberry bushes cut my feet at every step. But I have plenty of company. Almost half of us are barefooted now.”
The most common footwear in the 7th Texas Cavalry is the standard-issue cavalry boot. It comes to just below the knees, has squared toes, and a fairly low, flat heel. The leg or throat of the boot is fairly large so that uniform trousers can be inserted or “stuffed” in the boot tops without difficulty. Metal heel plates are standard, as they are with brogans.
It is understood that not everyone can afford a nice period-correct pair of cavalry boots when they first join. A pair of boots is a sizeable investment (over $200) and beyond the budget of many new recruits. When they can be found, surplus East or West German military boots make a good temporary substitute (at a distance). They are usually too short, and the toes are rounded. They certainly don’t stand up to a close inspection, but, as an interim pair of starter boots, they’ll be OK.
Do a lot of shopping around and research when considering buying a pair of cavalry boots. If you buy a pair of cheaply made “bargain” boots, you will just be throwing your money away. Check with your pards in the outfit. Just about anybody can steer you onto a good (not necessarily cheap) pair of boots. Most sutlers carry cavalry boots; some are better than others. Custom-made (made-to-measure) boots are, of course, the best, but the price is usually prohibitive for a new trooper. Unless you are doing a mounted impression of a cavalry corps commander or trying to look like Blackbeard the Pirate, do not buy the Jeb Stuart-style, over-the-knees cavalry boots. Again, like the ostrich plume in the hat, you’ll just look silly.
The correct spurs for these boots are also
easily obtained at most sutlers. The design is a standard U.S. military-issue
brass spur that
was worn by both Union and Confederate cavalry.
This design has been around since the Mexican
War. Higher-ranking officers often wore fancy,
custom-made spurs, befitting their rank. Avoid
this. You are a dirt-poor trooper, not a
rich Union officer. Also avoid western-style
spurs, especially Mexican spurs with the huge rowels. It is true that many Texas
cavalry units rode off to war wearing
the same gear they wore every day, including Mexican spurs. Terry’s Texas Rangers is a good example of this. In the 7th Texas Cavalry, wear the plain military-issue brass spur. Even if you are portraying a dismounted trooper, wearing spurs is not incorrect.
Many troopers could not get remounts and fought on foot. Other mounted troopers held the horses of others when the fight started. Even though they were on foot much of the time, they wore spurs. It’s up to you as an individual whether you wear spurs.
If you want to avoid the problem of having to buy expensive cavalry boots, or if you need to wait a while and save up for them, consider wearing brogans. The brogan is the standard-issue infantry shoe. It comes to just above the ankles, has a square toe, and is tied with a leather thong that is laced through about a half-dozen holes or eyelets. The brogan’s heels are fitted with heel plates, just like the cavalry boot. The brogan is perfectly acceptable for mounted or dismounted cavalry and is historically accurate. Also, when you galvanize as a Union infantryman, it looks more correct than wearing cav boots. Just as there are cheaply made boots, there are poor-quality shoes.
“We wore ‘hide’ shoes, which were made up from the green hides of cattle, killed for food, sewed up with thongs or strips, the hair side being inside, next to the foot.”
Research this carefully before buying. Most sutlers carry brogans, but the quality varies widely. A cheap shoe or a poorly fitting shoe will raise a big crop of blisters in a hurry and make your life miserable. If you can’t wear them, they’re not of much use to you. Buyer beware!
A scarf or a tie is a good period way to dress up an ordinary trooper’s uniform. Again, the key word is period. Be advised that western-style bandanas did not appear until well after the Civil War. It is not uncommon to see re-enactors wearing bandanas, but it is NOT CORRECT for that period.
There are scarves available that are similar to a bandana that are period-correct. They are typically of European origin and have very detailed patterns in them. These scarves are usually quite a bit larger than a modern bandana, approximately 20 X 20 inches. Some sutlers carry these scarves, and they are fairly inexpensive.
The best and easiest tie or scarf to find is a simple black silk or cotton scarf. These were fairly large (wide) and long, and were tied loosely around the neck, usually in a large bow.
Officers’ ties, worn with a dress uniform, are similar to a present-day bow tie. The size of the bow varied, but, almost without exception, the ties were black.
Regardless of the style of tie or scarf you choose to wear, black is recommended. Avoid any loud modem-day colors or materials. Keep it simple. Keep it period.
This is a word that we borrowed from the French military. It simply refers to the accessories or equipment that we wear and typically includes the canteen, haversack, knapsack, all leather gear, (which includes waist belt, cartridge box, cap pouch), and pistol or saber.
“My canteen banged against my bayonet, both tin cup and bayonet badly interfered with the butt of my musket, while my cartridge box and haversack were constantly flopping up and down - the whole, jangling like loose harness and chains on a runaway horse.”
For a more authentic look when doing a Federal impression, it is best if all of your leather accoutrements are black. However, brown is acceptable, or even a mixture of black and brown. For your Confederate impression as a member of The 7th Texas Cavalry, any color is acceptable. A mixture of colors and styles was common, as some members came from different militia units or state guard units, and some troopers equipped themselves with Federal battlefield pickups.
When you hear the command given to “cooter up,” it means that you are to put on all equipment that you normally would wear when falling in formation or preparing for battle.
All of the accoutrements described here are readily available from most sutlers. There are also numerous sutlers and re-enactment suppliers with web pages on the Internet.
“I went to where I fired last and three of the devils were lying there. I got me a good Yankee zinc canteen which fortunately was filled with water.”
Some will argue that the canteen, next to your rifle, is the most important piece of equipment you can carry on the battlefield or in drill. Some will even go so far as to say that it is even more important than your rifle. One rule in re-enacting that reinforces this point is that no one will be allowed on the battlefield without a full canteen. This goes for the drill field as well. There are many different varieties of canteens from which to choose. Almost without exception, they will be made either of wood or tin. Stainless-steel canteens are available, but they are not period correct. With a wool cloth cover over them, they are passable. Some prefer to buy a canteen that works with either a Federal or a Confederate impression, and that canteen is the tin “drum” canteen, usually with a blue wool cloth covering. It was widely used by both sides throughout the war. For an authentic Confederate impression, a wooden canteen is a popular choice. Many canteens (especially wooden ones) have a plastic liner or bladder that holds the water. This eliminates the possibility of leaks and avoids the metallic taste water sometimes has in tin drum canteens. There were also several styles of Confederate-made tin drum canteens, some with unique markings or stampings in the tin. Shown (above right) is a typical Confederate canteen made in Germany under contract with the CSA.
“I was besieged by thirsty soldiers all along the route, some half dead from thirst, offering as high as a dollar, and some, a drink of whiskey in exchange for a drink of water.”
“Echoes of Glory” is an excellent source for researching the many varieties of canteens. In the end, it’s a personal choice. Just try and make it as period correct as possible and correct for The 7th Texas Cavalry. And, always remember: there is not a more useless piece of gear than an empty canteen. Keep it full at all times.
The cartridge boxes for both Federal and Confederate impressions are basically interchangeable. Most Confederate cartridge boxes were patterned after the standard U.S. military issue, which had been in service since the Mexican War. Confederate leather goods, such as cartridge boxes and cap pouches, were made at and distributed through the various Confederate arsenals, such as Richmond, Selma, Atlanta, etc. Confederate-made cartridge boxes did not have a brass “plate’ on them, unlike their Union counterparts; brass was simply too scarce.
“...my case knife in the bottom of my haversack turned two bullets off me, and my tube wrench and screw driver in my cartridge box was broken by another.”
The infantry-style cartridge box, which is made of heavy bridle leather, closes with double flaps and a brass finial. Union cartridge boxes had a tool pouch for gun tools, with a flap on the cartridge box face, under the main flap. More often than not, Confederate boxes had no tool pouch; it was just an extra expense. The cartridge box can be worn on the waist belt or attached to a leather strap and worn over the shoulder. Over the shoulder is preferred. Each cartridge box holds 40 musket cartridges. The cartridges are actually contained in two tin inserts that fit inside the cartridge box. The upper part of the two tins holds 20 cartridges, while the lower part holds an additional 20, which can be transferred to the top of the cartridge box when the first 20 rounds are used.
In the Civil War, on both sides, ammunition was issued in paper-wrapped packs of 10 cartridges, called arsenal packs, which also contained 13 percussion caps. The two tins have space below where the two arsenal packs would fit neatly. The purpose of the tins is twofold: to hold and store the rounds securely and to protect the cartridges from sparks or other sources of ignition. The cartridge boxes were actually sewn in such a way that, if one should explode, the stitching would give way, and the force of the explosion would be directed out and away from the body, minimizing injury. When participating in a re-enactment, or even drilling on the field, your cartridge box must have proper tin inserts. This is a safety precaution, and it will be strictly enforced. Mounted troopers carry a smaller cartridge box that attaches to the belt and closes with a flap and a brass finial. These cavalry-style cartridge boxes do not have tin inserts.
Cap Pouch (Rifle or Pistol)
The cap pouch for both Federal and Confederate impressions is also interchangeable. Like the cartridge boxes, the Confederate cap pouches were patterned after the U.S. models and were made in and distributed through the various Confederate arsenals. Most leather goods like this were stamped with the name of the arsenal where they were made. Cap pouches for both muskets and pistols are very similar in appearance. The cap pouch is also made of heavy bridle leather, with a flap that is secured with a brass finial. The most noticeable characteristic of the cap pouch is the sheepskin/fleece lining. This keeps the caps secure in the pouch and prevents them from bouncing out during battle.
As the name implies, this is the belt that goes around your waist. It not only holds your trousers up, you can hang pistol holsters, cap pouches, cartridge boxes, and all kinds of gear from it, as needed. The typical waist belt was made of heavy bridle leather and was mostly brown, black, buff (white) or russet (reddish brown). Many Confederates just used the belts they were wearing when they were mustered into service. They were of every size, color, and description, but typically, were anywhere from 1-1/2 to 2 inches wide. Good-quality belts are available from most sutlers, and there are some mail order companies, such as Dixie Leather Works, that have a wide range of leather goods, from belts to holsters, and even boots.
In the 7th Texas Cavalry, stick with either black or brown. It’s a good idea to have one of each color, and it’s not a major expense. When doing a Federal impression, black is more authentic for a belt. In fact, black is more authentic for all of your accoutrements when galvanizing.
Belt Plate (Buckle)
This is the other critical part of the waist belt. There were an incredible variety of belt plates worn by troops in the Confederate service. Some were issued by state militia units, home guards, and privately raised regiments, in addition to the many different types and styles of belt plates issued by the Confederate Army. Belt plates issued to troops were different from one theater to another. Belt plates issued to the Army of Tennessee were different than those issued to the Army of Northern Virginia. Even within one army, belt plates were different. For example, belt plates in western Tennessee were often unique and different from those issued in eastern Tennessee. One of the most common belt plates used by officers (both Union and Confederate) was the U.S. Model 1851 “eagle and wreath” variety. It was especially popular with mounted troops equipped with saber belts.
If you look at your pards in the 7th, you will see a large assortment of belt plate styles. The best buckle for a Texas Cavalry regiment would be one with a Texas “flavor.” Many different belt plates were worn by Texas troops that featured the lone star of Texas. Some were oval, some square, some rectangular, and some were a two-piece “spoon and wreath” interlocking design. Some of the belt plates featured raised block letters, either CS or CSA, with lead-filled backs. Most buckles were secured, using either a single- or double-claw hook. The most common buckles in use, however, were ordinary open-frame brass buckles. Many civilian buckles were also worn, as well as Union battlefield pickups. Research this on your own, or ask around in the 7th. Again, “Echoes of Glory” is a good source and shows many different Confederate buckles worn in the war. Steer clear of any buckle that is an obvious Eastern theater buckle, Army of Tennessee buckle, etc. The buckle you choose for your waist belt should reflect what was actually worn in service in the Department of the Trans-Mississippi.
“...I was hit in the buckle with a spent ball, which knocked me out for a while. The boys thought I was gone and dragged me behind a tree, but I come to after a while. Next day I was sick at my stomach and very sore.”
Another good period look is a brass belt buckle known as the Georgia frame buckle. It looks like a conventional rectangular frame buckle, but, instead of a tongue that inserted in holes, the Georgia frame had two fixed “teeth” that were inserted into a double row of belt holes. This was one of the most common and widely used belt/buckle combinations in Confederate service.
Another type of buckle was the roller buckle. It is very similar to a conventional modem-day buckle and features a roller, over which the belt “feeds.” General Robert E. Lee’s pistol belt featured a roller-style buckle, rather than an ornate officer’s buckle, as might be expected.
The bottom line is, as with all of your purchases, do your research. Your impression is that of a Texas cavalry trooper in the Department of the Trans-Mississippi. All of your articles of uniform and accoutrements should reflect this. If you don’t have time to do a lot of research, the simplest solution is to just ask your NCOs or officers for advice.
What’s a cav trooper without a big Colt or Remington pistol, or even two or three pistols? The choice of a holster is pretty much a no-brainer. The most common and widely used holster by Federals and Confederates was a standard U.S. military issue. It featured a large flap that secured with a brass finial and could accommodate a variety of military pistols.
These holsters, like all military-issue leather goods, were made of heavy bridle leather. They were typically black or brown. Black is always a good choice, as it can be used for either a Federal or Confederate impression. It’s not uncommon for troopers in the 7th to have one of each color. There were some holsters made and issued by Confederate arsenals and stamped with the name of that arsenal. They usually closely resembled the standard U.S. military issue.
The standard for both Federal and Confederate armies was to wear the pistol on the right side, butt forward. However, holsters can be bought in both styles: right side, butt forward, or left side, butt forward. This is not a hard and fast rule, unless you are a mounted trooper or an officer wearing a saber. The saber is always on the left; this dictates that the pistol be worn on the right side, butt forward.
If you have a Walker Colt, and you are determined to lug it around, it requires a special holster; the standard-issue holster is not made for large-frame pistols such as the Walker Colt. If you are doing a mounted impression, and you are lucky enough to have a LeMat (you’ll need a horse to carry it!), this will require an even different, and more expensive, holster.
There are many styles and sizes of holsters available from sutlers and other sources, including mail order. Do not buy a holster that fastens with a snap-closure or a holster that is cut-away (no closing flap). These did not exist until well after the war. A period-correct holster should close with a brass finial, have a flap, and be stitched with heavy white cotton thread (not nylon). Also, avoid holsters that are assembled with rivets. Take a look at what your pards are wearing and match their style.
“My haversack was furnished with towel, soap, comb, knife & fork in various pockets, and whatever rations we happened to have, in the main division (of the sack)...”
The haversack will be one of your most useful purchases. A soldier carried virtually everything he owned in his haversack. It was a good place to carry an extra pair of socks (a luxury), a plug of tobacco, letters from home, parched corn, fatback, a candle, needle and thread, an extra pair of drawers, a Bible, a tintype of a loved one back home, extra cartridges, and on and on. It was the soldier’s survival kit and one of his most prized and useful possessions.
The most common type of haversack was made of tarred canvas construction, and was standard issue in the Union army. Many Confederates carried them, having picked them up on the battlefield. They were roomy, but above all, owing to their tarred canvas construction, they were reasonably waterproof. For those Confederates who couldn’t get their hands on one of these, there was an endless variety of military-issue and homemade haversacks. The Confederate-issue haversack was nothing more than a cotton or light canvas bag, roughly one-foot square, with a closure flap, and a shoulder strap. The flap secured in a number of ways, either with ties or a button made of bone, wood, or pewter. The homemade variety of haversack (of which there were many) was made of cotton, canvas, burlap, linen, leather, carpeting, and other homespun materials.
“... my old haversack had a dozen bullet holes in it.”
Haversacks are available through most sutlers. It is recommended that you purchase the tarred haversack, even though it is the most expensive, as it can be used for an authentic Federal impression and a Confederate impression. The homemade style haversacks are fairly inexpensive, so you can have one of each for a different “look.” Many seamstresses in the local re-enacting hobby sew haversacks, as well as uniform items. Check around. See what your pards are carrying. If you see one you like, ask him where he got it. In a short while, you will become just as attached to your haversack as your Confederate ancestors were to theirs.
“... still three miles from the point of attack; it has been a terribly tedious march. The sun comes up and makes the heat so oppressive that many of the boys throw away their blankets, rather than carry them over their shoulders.”
A good blanket is an essential piece of your gear. On a cold night in the field, you will come to appreciate just how necessary it is. There are all types of blankets available from the sutlers. Another good source is any Army-Navy surplus store. They often have good, reasonably priced, foreign-made wool army blankets that are suitable for your impression, usually in gray, brown, or blue. DO NOT buy U.S-issue, olive drab blankets!
Confederate blankets were very diverse in color, material, and size. Many were homemade; quilts were also common, and even a CS government-issue item. Regular-issue blankets for the U.S. cavalry were dark blue with an orange stripe across the ends. This type of blanket was known as a “dragoon blanket.” The Confederate soldier, more often than not, carried a blanket or quilt brought from home, picked up on the battlefield, or taken from a captured Yankee. If you want to be absolutely correct in your Federal impression, the blankets issued by the Union army were usually gray or brown, either pure wool or mixed, and measuring 7 X 5.5 feet, with the letters “U.S.” stitched in black outline.
The poncho and the gum blanket are two very essential items of equipment that are almost identical in appearance. The poncho is exactly what it sounds like — a very early version of a “slicker.” The gum blanket looks just like a poncho, only without the slit in the middle where your head would go through.
These items appeared early in the war as U.S. military issue within the Union army. They are basically of light canvas construction, with a rubber or “vulcanized” finish, and with brass grommets spaced around the outer edges. This was state of the art in the 1860s. They were very popular in the Union army and soon became a coveted prize for any Confederate who was lucky enough to pick one up on the battlefield or “liberate” one from a Yankee prisoner.
“... stragglers kept streaming in, and huddling around the fire, their rubber blankets, dripping wet, thrown over their heads, and looking for all the world like a flock of sick turkeys on a stormy day.”
The poncho is pretty straightforward; it keeps you dry in the rain. But, the gum blanket has many uses, although the primary one is as a groundsheet. When you spread out your gum blanket, roll up in your wool blanket, and then cover that with your poncho, you will stay relatively warm and dry, even in the rain. The gum blanket can also be used as a shelter-half when constructing a “shebang” or temporary shelter. The poncho and gum blanket also can be tied together to make a larger shelter for two. The things you can do with your poncho and gum blanket are limited only by your imagination. In rainy weather, when not actually wearing the poncho, it is folded and hung through your waist belt in back, or rolled, tied, and slung over the shoulder like a blanket roll. If you are a mounted trooper, fold it over the top of your bedroll on your saddle.
Ponchos and gum blankets are available from most sutlers. They are not cheap, but they are hard to do without. They are sometimes in short supply, especially in the rainy season. If it rains at a major re-enactment, all available ponchos and gum blankets will literally vanish overnight, as demand outstrips the available supply. Purchase these items as soon as you can afford them. Later on, you’ll be glad you did.
For the mounted trooper, your saddle and tack are probably the most important purchases you will make in re-enacting. A good, properly kitted saddle makes for a very happy horse and rider. There are many good cavalry sutlers on the market today, but the prices vary, depending on which sutler you go through. If in doubt, check with one of the mounted officers or NCOs before making a saddle purchase.
The 1859 rawhide-covered McClellan is probably the best and most versatile saddle in re-enacting today. You easily can go as Federal or Confederate and be totally authentic with an 1859 McClellan. Some troopers also prefer the Texas Hope or Santa Fe saddle, which has a horn and is similar to the Mexican vaquero saddle. These saddles usually come in black or russet (brown) leather; however, black is the preferred color because it is easier to galvanize as Federal cavalry with a black saddle.
After your saddle purchase, you will need to get some period tack. You eventually will need a black leather headstall, halter, lead line, and link strap. You have the option of using a period breast strap, tie-down, or crupper. Period cavalry bits are encouraged. No shiny, modern bits, please! Period surcingles are also highly recommended! Surcingles help keep your saddle in place if your girth becomes loose in battle.
Your saddle pad should be a solid brown or gray wool blanket. The blue wool with orange stripe “dragoon blanket” is also acceptable. No modern exposed saddle pads, please! These are OK as long as you have them covered with a period blanket.
When you have purchased your saddle and primary tack, you have the option of purchasing one or more of the following items: period saddlebags or valise. You will also want to get a period feedbag or nosebag and a canvas watering bucket for feeding and watering your mount while in camp. Plain WHITE COTTON lead ropes are the best for tying your mount to the picket line.
“...our burnt tin cups serve to cook our meat, beans, soup, coffee, tea, and everything else we cook.”
Although mess gear doesn’t really qualify as accoutrements, your mess gear is a vital part of your equipment. Without it, you’ll have a hard time at mealtime. Your mess gear amounts to nothing more than a tin plate, tin cup, and a knife, fork, and spoon. All of these items are available from most sutlers. However, if you want a really period look for your mess gear, shop around garage sales and antique (junk) stores. First Monday Trade Day in Canton is also a great place to look. Eating utensils and tin ware with an authentic period look are fairly easy to find. Even though most of the “antique” kitchenware you find is only 75 to 100 years old, it doesn’t look much different than it did in the 1860s. This is especially true of knives, forks, and spoons.
“In our squad mess chest we had a dozen knives and forks, two or three butcher knives, a dozen cups and saucers, a dozen plates, several dishes and bowls, a sugar dish and cream pitcher, salt and pepper boxes, assorted spices, a dozen glasses, flour sifter, rolling pin, coffee tin, etc. Besides these, we carried a frying pan, coffee pot, camp kettle, teapot, bread oven ... two water buckets, and a camp axe.”
The most important piece of your mess gear is not your plate; it is your cup. The tin cup has a multitude of uses, limited only by your imagination. The more obvious uses are for drinking (water, coffee), as a cook pot, coffee pot, roaster oven, skillet, etc. Virtually any cooking chore can be handled with a cup. It also makes a fair shovel, if the ground is soft. Your cup is your friend and your constant companion. It is typically hung from the belt or haversack so that it is always within easy reach.
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