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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Painting Civil War miniatures part 2

Old Glory 2nd Generation Union infantry marching at Shoulder Arms

Okay so you want to know what an average Union infantry soldier wore and what color was it? Remember, this is geared towards the MOST Union soldiers by mid-1862 until the end of the War. This probably makes up 99% of ALL Union soldiers. Again let me remind you that the US Government issued clothing and equipment to all troops unless they provided their own equipment. Those early benefactors ran out of money or patriotism very fast so they stopped shelling out the big bucks to re-issue fancy uniforms. Zouave and Chasseur regiments were the exception but even many of these early regiments went to the Government issue when the private funds dried up.

One last cautionary tale… farby reenactors (these are guys that will wear whatever they like because it might suit their fancy regardless of facts) will explain to you why they wear such and such a piece of equipment or clothing. They will get very defensive and explain… and here’s their reasoning… ‘well they COULD have worn it or MIGHT have worn it.’ Well okay… instead of driving my car to work I COULD fly a helicopter or MIGHT fly a helicopter to avoid heavy traffic. Sure! It makes sense to avoid traffic so… I think I will. It’s just plain bullshit. It will never happen. Okay so if you want to paint your toy soldiers in non-historic ways/colors then go ahead but don’t defend your actions. Just tell everyone, ‘I like colorful looking models regardless of history so I don’t care what you say.’ I’m actually fine with that! Really!

Forage Caps and Slouch hats. Pick one based upon your best guess but not Kepis… not Kepis. The Forage caps is the same color as the Sack coat (dark blue) and the bill of the cap/false shin strap was black. The strap was attached to the side of the cap with small brass buttons. The Slouch hat is a civilian styled hat worn by the men before they became soldiers. The colors could be black, grays and browns. Rarely would they be white, mostly black or darker colors. The Forage caps was Government issue and the Slouch hat was not. Eastern armies mostly wore the Forage cap and the Western armies mostly the Slouch hats.

Don’t paint all sorts of colors on the Forage caps, don’t. I sometimes see gamers with colored bands around the bottom of the cap or on the top round piece, the crown. Don’t do this! If there were men wearing something like this it would be rare. It is and was not U.S. Government issue. By mid-1862 you would probably not see any of these for re-issue by even privately funded regiments.

Caps and Hats had cloth linings on the inside. If you have an officer or soldier waving his cap or hat paint some kind of subdued color for the inside lining.

Sack coat (or Fatigue Blouse). This was a standard issue coat with 4 brass buttons made of dark blue wool. It had no piping or other colors, even on the color and cuffs. This coat was very popular with the men. It was somewhat baggy and roomy.

Frock coat. Even though you don’t see the Frock coat portrayed very often with CW sculptors it was actually a Government issue item. Most regiments were issued them but many chose not to wear them in the field. They were tighter fitting so in the summer heat you sweated a LOT more wearing this coat. The coat had 9 brass buttons down the front and was made of dark blue wool just like the Sack coat. There was sky blue piping around the collar and the sleeve cuffs. There were also 2 or 3 brass buttons on the sleeves.

If you search the pictures taken during the War long enough you see the frock coat worn. One thing I found intriguing were several photos of NCO’s wearing their Frock coats and all the privates dressed in all Sack coats! I have 3 pics of different regiments dressed this same way. You might want to do this if you feel so inclined but don’t over do it.

Shell jacket. I hate to even mention them for Union soldiers. These would have been worn by States purchasing them from contractors. These were NOT U.S. Government issue so the percentage here was very low. Some States supplied them early on but over time the States usually discontinued this issue. Bottom line; skip this unless you are painting a particular regiment in a particular time frame. Do some research for find out more about them for Union infantry.

Shirts and Underwear. The Government issued a shirt that was an off-white color item. I’m not going into the fabric or styles here. Since it was given to the soldiers they wore that most of the time. Since it was not always the most comfortable or the best fitting some soldiers wore shirts made and sent from home or purchased from Sutlers in the field. The colors for non-issue shirts is almost limitless but would not be overly too bright and crazy.

During this period every man in America wore long-john type underwear from head to toe all year-round. Yes… even during the summer with long sleeves. It was the custom and actually it went right into the early 1900’s as well. If you read personal accounts from the soldiers you read that some soldiers wore only their undershirts and did not wear shirts over this. Of course it really does not change how you paint the colors too much because for the most part this would be another off-white item. I’m just adding this for your enjoyment and/or reference.

Trousers. These were wool pants in a sky blue color. Government contractors felt the established color was very hard to match and complained often. They claimed that there would be a color shift even within the same dye lots. The trousers were held up by canvass or leather Braces or suspenders as we call them now.

Socks. They were made of wool and there were a whole slew of colors but mostly in the earth-tone family of colors. Soldiers liked to get ones made at home since they lasted longer, were better made and fit better. The soldiers liked to tuck their trouser legs into the top of these socks and this was called “Blousing your trousers.” It was not the sort of thing to be done during dress parades or even photographs but in the field it was popular. It kept bugs from crawling up your legs and also helped during the colder temperatures to keep your legs warmer. Try it next time you go hiking to help prevent tick bites. It works!

Shoes/Brogans/Jefferson Bootee. They all were the same black shoe but were called different names. These shoes were actually made with the rough side of the leather on the OUTSIDE. Consequently these shoes are nearly impossible to polish to a shine. In this case shouldn’t use a shinny black color, a dull black is perfect. The laces should be mostly black or brown leather. Note that because of they rough side-out they get very dirty and dusty easily… like in minutes after walking with cleaned up Brogans.

Leather goods. This category applies to cartridge boxes, cartridge box slings, waist belts, bayonet scabbards and cap pouches. All of these are black leather. There are brass plates on the cartridge boxes and the sling that are made of brass. The waist belt also has a brass oval belt buckle. The black leather should be somewhat shinny but over time it does get duller. The bayonet scabbard had a brass tip (or ferrule) on the bottom and some had a brass throat at the top as well.

Canteen. No, they are not called water bottles but they do hold water. The U.S. Government issued canteens with smooth or ridged (called Bulls-eye) sided canteens made of tin. They were issued with wool or wool/cotton mix material covers and the colors varied. There was no standard color for this item but generally they would be; gray, brown, sky blue or dark blue. Safest colors to go with might be grays and browns. Some times the cover ripped off or just fell apart over time so you can also paint the canteens in their ‘naked’ tin color. The canteens were issued with slings made of canvass in an off-white color. Some soldiers bought or made their own with a brown or black leather with a roller buckle. There was a cork stopper which either tied to the canteen with string, leather or a chain.

Haversack. This was a bag which held all their food, coffee, plate and utensils. It was made of either plain white canvass or painted black. The soldiers joked that after a few months in the field they ALL turned black, dirty and greasy from the salt pork stuff inside. They had either a black leather roller buckle or a button to close the flap.

Tin Cup. This was a tin cup that was used to boil coffee and it was usually attached to the Haversack not the canteen. It started out a bright tin color but after a few times in the campfire would turn the outside very black.

Knapsack. For the most part Union soldiers were issued a double bag knapsack. It was made of canvass painted black. It had black leather shoulder straps and black leather chest straps to hold it snuggly to your body. On top of the pack are black leather straps that could hold a rolled up Greatcoat, blanket, rolled up Dog tent (shelter half), blanket/Great coat with a Gum Rubber blanket rolled around it or nothing at all. Sometimes you would see camp hatchets, shovels, frying pans or tin pots attached to the back of the pack.

Blanket. The most common type would be the medium gray rectangular woolen blanket with black stripes across the short ends and sometimes “US” stitched into it. There were also brown blankets but these were less common.

Sometimes the blanket was strapped to the top of the Knapsack and sometimes it had personal items rolled inside it, twisted, folded in the middle and tied at the ends with leather string or rope. This was worn over either shoulder instead of a Knapsack. It was often seen this way with Confederate soldiers but Union soldiers did wear it this way as well. It was also worn tied like this OVER the Knapsack, so you wore both at the same time. This was useful in case you were ordered to quickly drop your Knapsack and move on. If you dropped your pack there was a good chance you’d never see it again so having the blanket separate insured you at least retained something for the cooler evenings when sleeping.

Gum Rubber ground cloth/poncho/blanket. This item was a piece of canvass that had vulcanized rubber fixed to the front or top side. It was ‘mostly’ waterproof but after time the gum rubber would crack and peel off. It was developed by the fledgling Goodyear Rubber Company. It had grommet holes around the outer edges as well. It had many uses, everything from ground cloth to sleep on, poncho to keep you dry, a blanket and also a substitute tent half of sorts. It had a useful life to the soldier. It was one of the most valuable items for the soldier.

Rifle. Regardless of which kind of smoothbore or rifled musket they essentially had the same look for our miniatures. They had brown fine grain wood (usually oak) which was stained medium to dark brown. Even on 40mm scaled miniatures there would be no way to see any grain. Even standing a few feet away from a real rifle it would be pretty damn hard to see. They were not lacquered as modern reproduction muskets are today. The finish would appear like a satin finish. Over the early months of use sweat and dirt would also darken the finish.

Springfield on top and 69 cal. "Pumpkin slinger" below
The barrels were mostly bright steel but some were blued. The most common rifle was the American made Springfield and this had all steel fittings. The imported Enfield had some brass fittings such as the butt plate and trigger guard.

All rifles were issued with slings made of brown or russet colored leather. After time these became darker from the sweat from dirty hands. Some soldiers removed the slings and used them for other purposes.

Bayonet. They were made of steel not always very clean since the soldiers used they for other purposes besides stabbing.

I painted these Iron Brigade Sash and Saber miniatures a year ago. you'll notice piping on the Frock coats.

Refer to my earlier post about the colors for the Sack and Frock coats.

Next up: the Confederate soldier


  1. Thanks for posting! This is very interesting and helpful.

  2. Very good. One quibble. I haven't checked this in years, but my collecting pards would say there were NEVER any white haversacks in the Union army. The paint that made the haversack black was a preservative paint that made them waterproof, so made it a bag that would last with food etc. I've never heard about these being in short supply.

  3. "but my collecting pards would say there were NEVER any white haversacks in the Union army."


    Thanks for leaving comments. It doesn't happen often.

    Actually there were many Ohio regiments that were issued white Haversacks.

    "The paint that made the haversack black was a preservative paint that made them waterproof"

    Yes, that is correct. I never said it wasn't waterproof though. I think I just mentioned that

    "I've never heard about these being in short supply."

    Errrr... I never said they were in short suppy. Which section are you getting that from? Here's the section I think you are referring to:

    "Haversack. This was a bag which held all their food, coffee, plate and utensils. It was made of either plain white canvass or painted black. The soldiers joked that after a few months in the field they ALL turned black, dirty and greasy from the salt pork stuff inside. They had either a black leather roller buckle or a button to close the flap."

    Is this the one?


  4. William,

    If you go to this website (Chris Daley's webstore) below he sells the Union issue white Haversack. He provides historical data if you are interested. He does his own research and doesn't mind providing any information. He has more US Government info than me. If you didn't know anything about Chris is he is VERY exacting about historical accuracy... REAL fanatical! He's a REAL nice guy too. :)

    It was fairly common, certainly not as common as the black one though.


  5. Great post! Only thing I would note for Shell Jackets. New York issued them up through 1863, so they would be common with New York troops. I have never seen them modeled correctly on miniatures before. In '63 the Schuylkill Arsenal started issuing an infantry jacket with no shoulder straps and an eleven button front that became more common in late '64-'65. So I guess never say never.

    What I would really like to see is 28mm US Cavalry in sack coats!

  6. Andrew,

    Oh I agree with you 100%!! I'd love to see cav with Sack coats. Also we could get some trousers NOT tucked into boots to go with them. That would be perfect.

    Again, agree with the New York Shells. The 76th NY (in Cutler's brigade) wore them at Gettysburg.


  7. Illinois also issued a lot of its own clothing, including shell jackets throughout the war. (Check out Todd, American Military Equipage) I do share a disgust of white haversacks from my reenacting days, much as you do for calling caps, kepis.

  8. Bill,

    Yeah Forage caps called "Kepis" is a sore spot for sure. :)

    I will check out American Military Equipage. Thanks for the heads up.


  9. Thank you for all this. I'm just getting started, planning a Union force in 28mm, and this is *very* helpful. :)

  10. Anna, Glad you liked it. If there is more information you need or pics just let me know. What miniatures are you using? Are you creating a force for a wargame?