The Uniform of Longstreet's Corps at Chickamauga
Longstreet's troops had recently been newly uniformed, consisting of a dark-blue round jacket, closely fitting, with light-blue trousers, which made a line of Confederates resemble that of the enemy, the only difference being the "cut" of the garments—the Federals wearing a loose blouse instead of a tight-fitting jacket. The uniforms of the Eastern troops made quite a contrast with the tattered and torn homemade jeans of their Western brethren.1
Thus did Augustus Dickert, veteran of the 3rd South Carolina Infantry of Kershaw's Brigade, describe the appearance of Longstreet's men upon their arrival in Georgia in September, 1863. Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee was outnumbered and facing imminent battle with the Union Army of the Cumberland, under Major General William Rosecrans. The decision was made to reinforce Bragg with two divisions of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Two of Longstreet's divisions, those of Lafayette McLaws and John Bell Hood, were selected to go, along with Micah Jenkins' South Carolina brigade, formerly of Pickett's Division. The Confederates began boarding trains near Richmond on September 9th, but the time required to move all 12,000 troops resulted in a large portion of Longstreet's command, including all of the artillery, missing the great battle of Chickamauga on September 19th and 20th. The brigades that did arrive in time to participate were those of Kershaw and Humphreys, of McLaws' Division, and Law, Robertson, and Benning, of Hood's Division.2
As soon as Longstreet's men began to arrive at the front their appearance made an impact on the soldiers of the western army. On September 19th an Army of Tennessee artillerist recorded in his diary: "Our first impression was partly caused by the color of their uniform, but more by its uniformity, and the superior style of their equipments, in haversacks, canteens, and knapsacks. The contrast between them and Gen'l Bragg's motley, ragged troops was striking in the extreme."3
The Yankees, too, noticed and were confused by the appearance of Longstreet's men. At Chickamauga the men of the 125th Ohio hesitated to fire on Hood's advancing troops because of their uniforms. A veteran of that regiment wrote, "Those moving battalions did appear to wear blue, dusty blue, and probably they were clothed in blue jeans. The were Longstreet's men, just arrived from Virginia. We had never seen a Confederate clothed otherwise than in butternut or gray."4
Even General Ulysses S. Grant experienced an embarrassing encounter when he arrived in the area weeks later. "General Longstreet's corps was stationed there at the time, and wore blue of a little different shade from our uniform. Seeing a soldier in blue on this log, I rode up to him, commenced conversing with him, and asked whose corps he belonged to. He was very polite, and, touching his hat to me, said he belonged to General Longstreet's corps. I asked him a few questions—but not with a view of gaining any particular information—all of which he answered, and I rode off." Such cases of mistaken identity were likely compounded by the fact that many Union soldiers of the western armies wore short jackets and civilian hats.5
Uniforms from North Carolina?
The nature and source of this distinctive uniform has been unclear since the war. 20th century historians reading these accounts found them difficult to digest. The prevailing idea at that time was that the Confederacy was incapable of supplying its soldiers and that after the early-war period the men were on their own in procuring clothing. But what was known even then was that the state of North Carolina did supply large numbers of uniforms. Historians therefore naturally assumed that North Carolina must have had something to do with the very "un-Confederate" uniformity observed among Longstreet's soldiers. For example, in his 1976 book Chickamauga: Bloody Battle in the West, Glenn Tucker wrote:
"But perhaps the most elating development for the corps was that Zebulon Vance, the energetic North Carolina governor who was emerging as one of the dominant civilian figures in the Southern struggle for independence, sent up, especially for Longstreet's men, 14,000 new uniforms made from the ample stocks of cloth he had accumulated from the new textile mills he had helped establish in North Carolina, and from blockade runners that plied with impunity into and out of the Cape Fear River at Wilmington."6
Tucker's book was no doubt influential in spreading the idea that Longstreet's Corps wore North Carolina uniforms in Georgia, but a look at his citations shows no evidence that he had reason to date such an issue to this time. North Carolina did send 14,000 uniforms to Longstreet's troops (which is how Tucker arrived at his figure), but that was late in the hard winter of 1864, when they were isolated in the hills of East Tennessee and greatly in need. It is hardly conceivable that Governor Vance would have made a similar offer six months earlier, when Longstreet's Corps was with the main army close to Richmond, well within the supply lines of the great clothing depot in that city. We may safely dismiss the idea that the uniforms worn by Longstreet's men in the fall of 1863 were of North Carolina origin. How, then, do we explain the descriptions?7
Imported Cloth Uniforms in the Army of Northern Virginia
The combination of a blue-gray jacket and blue pants was not unusual in Lee's army in 1863. As early as October of the previous year, a recently paroled Union officer who had been captured after Antietam told the New York Times, "The rebel troops are rapidly receiving their new uniforms, consisting of dark gray woolen jackets and light blue pants, etc." Confederate uniform regulations called for light blue pants, and while expedience often meant other colors were issued, the government did not entirely ignore the matter. An October 1862 "want list" of items given by the Confederate Quartermaster's Department to their purchasing agents in England called for 300,000 yards of cadet gray (blue-gray) cloth for jackets, and 275,000 yards of blue cloth for pants. That is enough cloth for more than 150,000 uniforms. By April of 1863 quantities of this cloth, a sturdy, durable kersey wool, had been received by the Clothing Bureau at Richmond. Units such as the 4th Virginia of the Stonewall Brigade, the 5th North Carolina Cavalry, and likely many others had already received issues of English wool uniforms previous to Gettysburg in July, and Major General William Dorsey Pender was mortally wounded at that battle wearing a pair of enlisted man's pants of blue wool.8
The service records of several eastern Confederate regiments make specific reference to the receipt of "English" clothing in the weeks after Gettysburg, and it seems certain that issues of imported cloth garments increased in the late summer of 1863, although domestic cloth continued to be delivered to the Clothing Bureau in large quantities as well. The nature of the uniform of Longstreet's forces at Chickamauga was therefore not unusual, but the result of a post-Gettysburg spike in English kersey use. Still, the idea has persisted that some kind of special mass issue occurred in the days shortly before being sent west. Is there evidence for this mass issue, or for complete uniformity?
The Myth of a Mass Issue to the Entire Corps
A survey of the (admittedly fragmentary) records of every regiment that went west under Longstreet reveals no evidence whatsoever of a large-scale issue to the entire corps in the weeks before Chickamauga. Any such issue would have been beyond the capacity of the Richmond Clothing Bureau. The Bureau dispatched clothing to the front almost as quickly as the seamstresses turned it in, and did not stockpile uniforms by the thousands. The clothing was dispatched on a daily basis and was broken down into smaller and smaller batches as it passed down the supply chain, arriving at the regimental level in what one inspecting officer described as "driblets." It is highly unlikely Richmond could have issued more than 10,000 uniforms at once. The only exception to this was when imported ready-made clothing was received by blockade runner, but there is no evidence for that being the case in September 1863. Many regiments do show evidence of drawing small amounts of clothing in the usual manner, often only days before or after Chickamauga.9
As a case study, consider the 7th South Carolina of Kershaw's Brigade. On July 27th, the regiment drew 13 pairs of pants. On July 29th: 3 jackets, 33 pairs of pants (worth three different prices), and 13 caps. On August 16th: 36 pairs of pants. On August 18th: 24 jackets, and so on. Then on October 8th, a mere two weeks after the battle, the 7th was issued 109 jackets and 45 pairs of pants. More were received three days later. Such quantities would seem unnecessary if a single mass issue to all men had occurred in early or mid-September.10
The only brigade that does show evidence of single mass issues is the South Carolina brigade of Micah Jenkins. Left to guard Richmond during the Gettysburg campaign, they took full advantage of their proximity to the Clothing Bureau. For example, on June 25th the 5th South Carolina received a large issue of jackets, pants, and caps that was probably enough for all or nearly all enlisted men. Intriguingly, each company also received several "bunches of braid," perhaps for NCO stripes. On June 30th the 1st South Carolina (Hagood's), and the Palmetto Sharpshooters received the same scale of issue. The Sharpshooters also received a full supply of gaiters in July, with the 5th showing evidence of drawing some as well. Each regiment received further small quantities to supplement this clothing, right up to leaving for the west.11
Considering only the evidence of administrative documents, is seems likely that the common assumption that Longstreet's Corps was fully supplied at once with identical uniforms is incorrect. But what of other forms of written evidence?
G. Moxley Sorrel, Longstreet's aide, wrote after the war, "Supplies of clothing and shoes had come down from Richmond and the ranks looked decidedly better." Sorrel does not specify when this happened, but his comment is from the chapter of his book dealing with the return of the army to Virginia after the campaign in Pennsylvania, and not in the following chapter where preparations for going west are detailed. Regardless, his account need not be taken as indicating one great issue on a single date.12
In the Texas Brigade, George Todd of the 1st recalled, "We drew new uniforms as we passed through Richmond in route to Atlanta, Ga. These, especially the pants, were almost blue and caused us to be mistaken for the enemy later on the field of Chickamauga." Lest we think this means everyone in the brigade was wearing this uniform, we should consider that during the battle, Harker's Ohio Brigade captured a number of men, probably from the Texas Brigade. Wilber F. Hinman of the 65th Ohio wrote of these men, "It was easy to distinguish them from the soldiers of Bragg's army by their clothing. Most of them wore the regular Confederate uniform, while the dress of the western men was a "go-as-you-please" matter, with every imaginable variety of garments and head covering." Note that Hinman says "most" of the captured Confederates were dressed in the uniform, not all.13
Supporting this observation, John West of the 4th Texas wrote in his diary that in receiving the affections of the citizenry on the train ride west, "Rags and dirt seemed to be a recommendation where gilt and brass buttons failed to excite attention." He also reported having his clothes washed at a stop along the way to rid them of vermin. Such an account seems inconsistent with a new uniform, at least for West. The 5th Texas recorded the receipt of a total of 125 jackets, 310 pairs of pants, and 13 caps during the months of July, August, and September, 1863. These are typical quantities for a three month period when the army as a whole was busily recovering from a campaign, and the number of jackets issued was certainly not enough for every man, even if issued all at once, which is unlikely. In fact, this same document specifies that the pants received were valued at five different prices, and a small number of the jackets were only worth about half the price of a typical Quartermaster's Department product. There is little chance the Texas Brigade was completely uniform in appearance when it arrived in Georgia.14
The sketch above was drawn by Frank Vizetelly, artist for the Illustrated London News, and depicts the wounding of General Hood among the ranks of the Texas Brigade. This is the actual drawing, and not the engraving based on it which was published in the News. Vizetelly was present at Chickamauga, but admits on the back of the sketch that he was unable to sketch anything during the battle. The Texans here are typical Vizetelly Confederate infantry, with oddly uniform blanket rolls, tiny canteens worn on the right hip, cartridge boxes on waist belts, and a strange predilection for putting feathers in their hats. The value of the sketch as a true depiction of the Texas Brigade is questionable. At any rate, Vizetelly shows them wearing a majority of slouch hats with some caps. The enlisted man reaching for General Hood is wearing a frock or sack coat, not a jacket.
We now come to an important piece of information; one that has been interpreted improperly in the past, and which may reflect a lack of overwhelming quantities of English cloth in at least one brigade. W. R. Houghton of the 2nd Georgia, Benning's Brigade, recalled the following in 1912:
Sometimes the government would get a supply by blockade runners of fine English cloth and we would get good uniforms, almost too blue. I remember the Jenkins, S. C., brigade clad in these new uniforms, created a sensation when it appeared in Bragg's army in 1863, so blue did they appear in the distance and some of our scouts lost their lives by mistaken pickets. The writer was fired upon by his own friends more than once whilst trying to enter the picket line."15
Houghton's reminiscences of the war are meandering and not chronological. The quote above is the second half of a paragraph about uniforms during the war, not part of a narrative about experiences in the Chickamauga Campaign. There is nothing to tie his comment about sometimes receiving English cloth uniforms, and his remembrance of scouts mistakenly shot and himself being fired upon by friends, to the remembrance that Jenkins's Brigade wore English cloth uniforms when it went west. He is simply talking about his general experience with these uniforms during the war, not indicating that he was wearing one at Chickamauga. We must ask why, if Houghton's own brigade was fully outfitted in English wool, he singles out Jenkins's Brigade instead of his own as the ones who created a sensation? The obvious answer is that the men of the 2nd Georgia, and perhaps other units of Longstreet's Corps Houghton saw while out west, were not wearing this cloth to quite the degree that the South Carolina brigade was.
Jenkins's Brigade did not arrive in time to participate at Chickamauga, but the account of W. R. Houghton, and the known large issues received because of their proximity to Richmond during the summer, indicate they may have had the most uniform appearance of any of the brigades Longstreet brought west. This effect was probably enhanced by the many caps issued to them. In the Texas Brigade, the accounts indicate the majority of the men were wearing the combination of cadet gray jacket and blue pants, the result of generous but normal issues over the previous few months. The situation in Kershaw's Brigade was probably similar. But what of the other brigades that went west? What of Benning, Law, Humphreys, and Wofford's Brigades? It seems that the known accounts referring to a uniformity of blue-gray clothing in Tennessee refer to only three of the nine infantry brigades that came west. The others may also have worn quite a bit of this clothing. In fact it is likely. But we cannot assume that these brigades made the same impression on observers as Jenkins, Robertson, and Kershaw. No one ever claimed to have viewed the entire corps at once, and when carefully read the accounts we do have make no claim that all 12,000 of Longstreet's men were clad identically. Given the unanimous portrayal in the accounts that the Army of Tennessee displayed no evident uniformity at all, Longstreet's men need not have been totally uniform in appearance to create a striking visual contrast compared to them. Relying strictly on the limited evidence, we cannot maintain the idea that Longstreet's troops displayed total uniformity, or the same levels of uniformity among brigades.
The uniform described in the accounts was one commonly issued during the weeks and months after Gettysburg, a time when the Richmond Clothing Bureau was utilizing large amounts of newly imported English cloth. Longstreet's forces were simply clothed in the common manner for Army of Northern Virginia troops in the late summer and fall of 1863, and it is likely that if Ewell's or A.P. Hill's Corps had been sent west instead of Longstreet, they would have elicited the same reaction from their western counterparts and enemies.
Alfred Waud's sketch of a Confederate assault at Chickamauga. (Library of Congress)
1. Augustus Dickert, History of Kershaw's Brigade (Newberry, SC: Elbert H. Aull Company, 1899), Project Gutenberg, <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/13124/13124-h/13124-h.htm> (accessed 5 January, 2013): 269.
2. Glenn Tucker, Chickamauga: Bloody Battle in the West (Dayton, Ohio: Bobbs-Merrill, 1976): 86.
3. Larry J. Daniel, Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1991): 11.
4. Charles Clarke, Opdyke's Tigers (Columbus, Ohio: Spahr & Glenn, 1895): 107.
5. Ulysses S. Grant, The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885): 320-321.
6. Glenn Tucker, Chickamauga: Bloody Battle in the West (Dayton, Ohio: Bobbs-Merrill, 1976): 172.
7. R.H. Battle, "Leonidas J. Merritt, of North Carolina," Confederate Veteran 6: 267.
8. "Late News from Richmond," New York Times, October 10, 1862, <http://www.nytimes.com/1862/10/10/news/late-richmond-statements-capt-fg-young-lately-rebel-capital.html?scp=8&sq=rebels+new+uniform&st=p>; Frederick P. Todd, American Military Equipage: 1851-1872 (Company of Military Historians, 1977): 424; Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of North Carolina (National Archives Microfilm Publication M269) Record Group 109, 5th North Carolina Cavalry; Henry Woodhead, ed, Echoes of Glory: Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy (Alexandria, VA: Time Life Books, 1991): 107.
9. Richard Waller to A.C. Myers, 24 April 1863, Records of the Quartermaster Department (National Archives Microfilm Publication M410), War Department Collection of Confederate Records, Record Group 109; Inspection Report of Steuart's Brigade, January 28th 1865, Records of the Adjutant & Inspector General’s Department, NARA, microcopy M935.
10. Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of South Carolina (National Archives Microfilm Publication M269) Record Group 109, 7th South Carolina Infantry.
11. Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of South Carolina (National Archives Microfilm Publication M269) Record Group 109, 1st South Carolina, 5th South Carolina, Palmetto Sharpshooters.
12. Gilbert Moxley Sorrel, Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer (The Neale Publishing Company, 1905), Google eBook, <http://books.google.com/books?id=xEG2wGlDHeMC&source=gbs_navlinks_> (accessed 7 January 2013): 185.
13. George T. Todd, A Sketch of History: First Texas Infantry Regiment, excerpts at Texas-Brigade.org, <http://texas-brigade.org/history/sketches.htm> (accessed 10 January 2013); Peter Cozzens, This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1996): 262; Wilbur F. Hinman, The Story of the Sherman Brigade (1897), Open Library, <http://archive.org/stream/storyofshermanbr01hinm#page/n7/mode/2up> (accessed 7 January 2013): 422-423.
14. John West, A Texan in Search of a Fight (Waco, Texas: Press of J.S. Hill, 1901), Google eBook, <http://books.google.com/books id=kfwdAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> (accessed 5 January 2013): 111.
15. W. R. Houghton, Two Boys in the Civil War and After (Montgomery, Alabama: Paragon Press, 1912), from Documenting the American South, <http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/houghton/houghton.html> (accessed 5 January 2013): 62.
Fig. 1: "Vizetelly, Frank, 1830-1883. Frank Vizetelly Drawings, 1861-1865: Guide. Harvard University Library, <http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~hou00067> (accessed 15 January 2013).
Alfred Waud, "Chickamauga," LC-DIG-ppmsca-21066 (digital file from original item), Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, <http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/drwg/item/2004660725/> (accessed 15 January 2013).