Thursday, March 19, 2015

"Uniforms of the Civil War"

Among all the Civil War flag, uniform, kit, and equipment books published over the years, I'm surprised no one has attempted a comprehensive cultural history of Civil War uniforms given all the community, regional, ethnic and institutional variations involved. At least I'm not aware of one with that particular focus. A classic pictorial and text treatment of Confederate and Union uniforms, coats, headgear, footwear, and accessories is Francis A. Lord's Uniforms of the Civil War. The hardcover first edition appeared back in 1970 from Yoseloff and a recent paperback reprint was issued by Dover in 2007.

The author consulted a range of period army-navy official records, general orders, and regulations, reproducing in great detail the strict dress codes of those branches of the U.S. military. But Lord also scoured newspapers, advertisements, catalogs, period magazines, unit histories and other publications in order to discuss the many official and unofficial uniform additions and variants employed by regulars and volunteers alike. Many Union and Confederate regulations are reprinted verbatim and at length. Given the essential nature of photography to any worthwhile uniform study, this one employs both full and half page B&W images that are both crisp and plentiful in number.

State militia uniforms are also discussed in some depth as are many unique instances of regimental dress. For the Union side, the uniforms of all Zouave and Chasseur regiments are meticulously described as are those associated with specialist services like engineers, surgeons, chaplains, sharpshooters, signal and pioneer corpsmen, Marines, and more. The commentary can be a bit odd in places [ex. Lord (inaccurately) opines that Zouaves performed badly as a rule, largely for the reason that the units were often made up of "unstable" societal elements] but the book's true usefulness lies in the descriptive, not analytical, realm so such distractions are minor.

The Confederate sections are quite limited in comparison. Undoubtedly, the great volume of Civil War source material created and discovered during the four decades between original publication and the release of this edition would have been especially helpful in expanding the depth and range of information dealing with CSA and Confederate state military uniforms and accoutrements.

The types of clothing often worn by partisans, bushwhackers, spies, and prisoners of war are also covered. The final chapter offers a brief assessment of procurement issues and uniform allowances. A list of firms that supplied uniforms to Union and Confederate soldiers and some patent information are provided in one appendix, while another considers the Smithsonian's flag and uniform preservation methods. In some senses dated and incomplete, Francis Lord's Uniforms of the War nevertheless retains considerable value as a comprehensive baseline reference tool for scholars, reenactors, modelers, and enthusiasts.


  1. Don Troiani mentioned on Facebook that he's coming out with a Civil War uniforms book this year.
    Will Hickox

    1. Thanks, Will. I didn't know that. He certainly has a large existing body of work when it comes to painting soldiers in uniform.


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