LIVEAUCTIONTALK.COM TURNS ITS ATTENTION TO CIVIL WAR UNIFORMS
Frock Coat; 14 buttons; dark blue wool; belonged to Lt. Col. H. Kellogg; 123rd OVI; uncommon late war frock; sold for $7,800. Photo courtesy of Cowan's.
The American Civil War was the biggest and bloodiest war on our home turf. From 1861 to 1865 a total of 3.5 million men fought for both sides.
The average northern Civil War cavalry recruit had never even been on a horse’s back. The horse soldiers had to be taught how to mount and balance in the saddle. Their rattling sabers often scared, or, worse yet, pricked their horses who reared up and threw, dragged or kicked them.
Unlike the movies where cavalrymen charge effortlessly down the canyon, it took time before Union recruits even learned to stay in the saddle and ride their horses.
“The first thing in the morning is drill, and then drill, then drill…Between drills we drill and sometimes stop to eat a little and have roll call.” That’s how one Union cavalryman described his day.
When the horse soldiers were exhausted and close to physical collapse they sometimes slept in their saddles. They weaved back and forth as their faithful steeds strolled to the head of the column embarrassing them as the horse slowly passed the colonel.
The cavalry on both sides were also good looters. They could get in and get out of town quickly with whatever struck their fancy from books and clothes to heirlooms and ammunition. Whatever the cavalry didn’t take like heavy furniture they destroyed.
“The Virginians say they don’t fear the cavalry…I can only say if they don’t fear the cavalry, I don’t want to see those they do fear,” said Charles Francis Adams, a member of the 1st Massachusetts cavalry.
At he beginning of the Civil War neither side had regular uniforms. Soldiers started out wearing their own clothes. Many wore outfits designed by their wives, sisters and mothers.
In fact, during the First Battle of Bull Run, some Rebel troops were wearing blue. Some Union troops were garbed in gray creating all kinds of friendly fire on the battlefield.
Uniforms came later. And the industrialized North had a much easier time outfitting their troops than the rural South.
Union cavalry dress was much the same as for the infantry. But, the horse soldiers had shorter jackets, boots instead of shoes and pants reinforced in the seat and legs for riding. Cavalry uniforms in the north were also not as colorful as the Confederate.
Northern officers and men had a basic dress code. There were issued a long, dark blue, wool dress coat, and a dark blue jacket, called a blouse. Most men preferred the blouse to the coat. They were also issued light blue pants, a dark wool shirt, socks, drawers and long underpants. The most common hat was a cap called a kepi; it had a visor and round flat top. Another common headgear was a broad-brimmed hat.
Officers fastened rank insignia to their shoulder straps. Non-commissioned officers sewed chevrons to their sleeves.
On Oct. 28, Cowan’s, Cincinnati, Ohio, featured a Historic Firearms and Early Militaria auction. Included in the sale was a selection of Civil War Union uniforms. Here are some current values for uniforms.
Gar (Grand Army of the Republic) Hats; 2; black slouch with gold button wreaths; and kepi with crossed swords; $489.
Militia Belt Buckle; 14k jeweler’s gold; likely from a group in large East coast city like Boston or New York; 1 ½ inches by 2 ¼ inches; $1,150.
Artillery Shell Jacket; 12 buttons; blue wool; with red piped trim; $1,840.
Frock Coat; Lieutenant’s nine button coat; dark blue wool; $2,185.
Frock Coat; epaulets and sash; 14 buttons; dark blue wool; belonged to Lt. Col. H. Kellogg; 123rd OVI; an uncommon late war frock; with fold-down collar; $7,800.
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