Civil War Uniforms


During the early days of the civil war a greater variety of uniforms were worn on both sides. This was due to presence of different militia units in both Union and Confederate sides, who wore their own uniforms. Some even wore civilian clothes. Primarily, Union forces wore blue and Confederate forces wore grey colored uniforms. Some units in Union army wore grey and some in Confederate army wore blue, thus resembling their enemies on the battlefield. Later on the uniforms were standardized to a greater extent. Many units on both sides wore uniforms that borrowed designs from the ethnic backgrounds of the very units wearing them. For instance some Scottish troops even wore ‘kilts’. Design and materials used were also different for different units.

Uniforms Cause Confusion:

Non standard uniforms were a big cause of confusion on battlefield. During the earlier skirmishes, similar uniforms on opposing sides led to fratricidal incidents. Often soldiers on both sides killed their own men after mistaking them for enemy owing to confusing uniforms. This made military on both sides to pursue the objective of standardizing the uniforms.

Union Uniforms:

Union uniforms were standardized in 1862. Union soldiers wore dark blue coat and light blue trousers. The coats had bright colored buttons that depicted the rank of the person wearing them and were normally mid thigh long. In addition to buttons, special insignias depicting rank were also worn on the uniform. General officers wore more formal double breasted coats Union uniforms were mostly made from wool, which provided relief from cold weather but was not very comfortable during summers, especially when there was no breeze.

Union soldiers also wore ankle high shoes made from leather called ‘brogans’. For headwear, Union soldiers and officers either wore ‘Hardee Hats’ or ‘Kepi’ caps. Artillery men on both sides wore red ‘kepis’ and had red stripes on their trousers. Cavalry riders had yellow stripes that distinguished them from others. Leather belts, holsters and cross belts were also worn. Some special units wore completely different colored uniforms, like Berdan’s Sharpshooters, an infantry unit of snipers wore ‘rifle green’ coats. This was to provide camouflage to the snipers.

Confederate Uniforms:

Confederate forces wore more non standard uniforms till their uniforms were standardized in 1863. Most of the ex-US servicemen wore their old uniforms which created a lot of confusion as they were still worn by Union troops. Units in Texas had a great supply of uniform they seized after raiding federal facilities and wore them as late as 1863. However, later on Confederate forces mostly wore waist length grey coat and light blue trousers. Like Union uniforms, Confederate uniforms also had buttons and insignias that depicted the rank.

In the later years of war the dwindling Confederate economy meant that Confederate soldiers never had adequate clothing. Some even fought without shoes. Confederate forces chose grey dye for their uniforms because it was much cheaper than the blue dye used by Union military. Confederate uniforms were mostly made up of cotton, a material abundantly available in Confederate states. Just like Union military, Confederate artillery also wore red ‘kepis’ and had red stripes and Cavalry men wore yellow ‘kepis’ and had yellow stripes along their trouser seams.