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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Painting Civil War miniatures part 3

Lt. Gen. James Longstreet at Gettysburg


The average Confederate soldier during the war had at times the best stuff and at other times was short of everything. As the War progressed the Confederacy just flat out ran out of money. They also had a problem getting goods from where it was made to where it was needed. Sadly some states would not share their abundance of clothing with soldiers from other states. An example is in the winter of 64-65, the Army of Northern Virginia was short of Greatcoats to keep the soldiers warm. North Carolina actually had more than they need for their soldiers and the Governor refused to send the extras he had on hand. His claim was that the Confederate Government could not force them to ship any because of their state’s rights to use as they pleased what they owned. So while North Carolina soldiers kept warm that winter soldiers from other states did not.

The average Reb was not destitute the whole time which seems to be a popular idea. The myth of the “Ragged Reb” has been debunked although some are oblivious to the facts. What is good news for painters is the fact that Rebs did use captured goods for their use. The problem is painters use this in the wrong places.

Certain items were used all the time when they could get a hold of captured goods. The most popular item was actually the common gum rubber blanket/poncho. It was a prized item for the Rebs to acquire because there was no substitute in the Confederate inventory that was so versatile and lasted. The other items were black leather goods such as; waist belt, cartridge box and sling, cap pouch, and bayonet scabbards. They would just remove the box plates, Eagle sling plate and if they could not acquire a new belt buckles they would turn the US belt plate upside down. They also used Federal knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, shoes and blankets. Using Federal clothing (coats and trousers) was a particular no-no. The Confederate armies issued orders from time to time specially stating that no soldiers should be wearing Union uniforms. Did they do it? Yes, it was done. Was it done to any real extent that you would see it in many miniatures you paint? The answer should be no unless you have a specific scenario/period in which you know. The take home message is: don’t have more than one in a hundred models.

Forage Caps and Kepis. The Forage caps and Kepis were worn but not anywhere near the frequency in which Union soldiers did. The colors for Forage caps would be just about any color within the shades of grays and browns. 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 Kepi was worn but it was probably the most expensive to produce so as the war progressed fell out of use. Many gamers like to paint the Forage caps and Kepis either all blue or parts blue but this, if and when it did appear was an early war variation. Certainly blue on the Kepi was a fancier cap but… it is WAAAAY too overdone with gamers to a startling degree. I sometimes see colored bands around the bottom of the cap or on the top round piece, the crown. Don’t do this!

Slouch hats. The Slouch hat is a civilian styled hat worn by the men before they became soldiers. It is also the most common for the Rebs. The colors could be black, grays, and browns. Rarely would they be white, mostly shades of the other colors. Instead of white use a very light colored gray as the Rebs wore this more than their Yankee counterpart. Both Eastern and the Western armies predominately wore the Slouch hats. Most of your models should be wearing this and the least should be a Forage cap.

Hats usually had hat bands around the base of the hat. These were generally black or some similarly dark color. Most good sculpts already show this. Some hats have hat cords added by the soldiers themselves. These can be the color of the branch of service so for infantry it would be blue. The entire cord would be the same color.

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.

Shell jacket. This isn’t the place to write a dissertation on the Confederate Shell jackets. There were many and different varieties during the course of the war but unless you are sculpting it really doesn’t matter too much. Basically, on anything between 8mm to 25mm a Shell jacket is a Shell jacket. Early war jackets might have blue or black colored cuffs and collars. Some might have piping as well. The mid-war and late war Shells would have very little other colors than the main colored cloth. Paint the Shells grays and browns (mostly grays). Many gamers seem to have the false impression that the Rebs were always in ripped and ragged clothing. Yes, at times they did suffer this fate but mostly this is not true. They were issued new clothing and when issued it would all be the same color so an entire regiment would look identical. You’d see more similarities than a wide range of colors.

Sack coat (or Fatigue Blouse). This was not a common issue coat with 4 brass buttons for the Rebs. This style should be seldom seen in your armies. It had no piping or other colors, even on the color and cuffs. It was somewhat baggy and roomy. Paint the Sack grays and browns.

Frock coat. This was worn more than the Sack coat but by the war’s end it might not be seen at all. It required so much more material to produce and more time consuming to sew than the Shell jacket so contractors stop making them for soldiers. They were tighter fitting so in the summer heat you sweated a LOT more wearing this coat. Paint the Frock coats grays and browns.

Shirts and Underwear. The Confederate Government had a hard time producing shirts and underwear so most Rebs got them from home. I’m not going into the fabric or styles here. 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.

Trousers. These were wool pants in grays and browns. Gamers seem to think it was common to strip the dead of their Union sky-blue trousers. This wasn’t really the case (unless perhaps in winter if your trousers were blown out) and the Confederate Government was adamant about NOT doing this. It was supposed to be the standard color (sky-blue) but that idea went out the window when they could never produce enough even in the VERY early days of the war. 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. See Union section.

Shoes/Brogans/Jefferson Bootee. See Union section.

Leather goods. This category applies to cartridge boxes, cartridge box slings, waist belts, bayonet scabbards and cap pouches. All of these are black leather for the most part. There was supposed to be brass plates on the cartridge boxes and the sling that are made of brass. The plates were generally eliminated because of the brass needed for the rest of the war effort so generally you didn’t see them on Confederate produced goods. A popular style for the belt buckle was two pronged style similar as seen even today. It was made of iron/steel. The bayonet scabbard had a brass tip (or ferrule) on the bottom and some had a brass throat at the top as well but... less likely for Confederate styles. Towards the second half of the war you started seeing russet colored leather goods produced in the Confederate states so if you feel the urge you should mix in both black and russet brown colors into your regiments.

Note: as a general rule Union soldiers wore a cartridge box sling for their cartridge boxes and the Rebs did not. All cartridge boxes can be worn without a sling, attached through their waist belt. Usually Union soldiers wore the sling and usually the Rebs did not. I have read a regimental surgeon’s report to his regimental commander stating that the soldiers had not been wearing the slings. He had speculated that the soldiers should be made to put the slings back on their boxes because it would cause the soldiers to get hernias without the slings.

Mississippi Monument
Canteen. The canteens produced in the South ran the gamut of different styles: smooth side tin, a tin drum-like style (not covered with cloth), canteens made entirely of wood and a bunch of other strange looking types. You probably should have all your models reflect the different styles even within a company. All canteens over time leaked so they didn’t last that long in hard service. The tin canteens 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 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. Confederate soldiers probably had a majority of white haversacks. The Union section covers much of the same material since they were very similar.

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.

Knapsacks/blanket rolls/hobo rolls. In the beginning of the war soldier usually were issued a knapsack but this ran out or fell out of favor. They would use captured knapsacks if they liked that particular way of lugging their stuff around. See the Union section for this.

Blanet rolls were popular and could be worn on either shoulder. There was no set rule or rule against using either shoulder. If you weren’t carrying too many extras items it was a little more comfortable to wear as opposed to a knapsack. They would roll all their earthly possessions into it, twist it and tie the ends to hold them together. The twisting avoided stuff slipping out during a long march.

Hobo rolls were similar in concept to a blanket roll but the blanket is not rolled into a long ‘log’ but it is more like a Union blanket, rolled and stored on TOP of the knapsack. With the blanket rolled up you could take a knapsack straps or rope and tie it tight. Next they would use a rifle sling and slip it through the roll and sling it over a shoulder as you would the haversack. You don’t often see this configuration too often on miniatures but it was a popular style (even for Yanks). There is a famous photo of a Union soldier with a hobo roll standing near burned out rail way cars near Manassas.

Blanket. There aren’t too many standard or common types of colors. Soldiers were issued blankets from time to time but their usual source would either be captured ones, ones sent from home and other oddities. In a pinch soldiers used what ever they could get their hands on like parts of rugs. The blanket colors were mostly grays/browns and not so many reds or weird and colorful kinds seen on miniatures painted. Bold colors and styles didn’t exist in anywhere near what painters churn out today for their armies. Homemade blankets had more muted colors and anything with real color would be too expensive so not common at all. Besides, even IF they could acquire them some how they would be so dirty that the color would not be seen bright any more. Sleeping on the ground, outside all the time in the rain and mud had a tendency to do that.

Gun Rubber ground cloth/poncho/blanket. See the Union section for details as they used the Federal issued ones if they could get them.

Rifle. See the Union section for details as they used the same types as them.

Bayonet. See the Union section for details as they used the same types as them.


  1. Thanks for the excellent post, or series actually. Did the research myself last couple of months but this has a lot of insights and can save anyone painting ACW a lot of time while getting historical correct results. Regards, Michael

  2. Thanks! That was my idea going in. I'm holing to help painters correct common mistakes when they paint Civil War miniatures.

    I will probably add some supplemental information as I have had some questions and requests. I'll hold off until I have some more though.


  3. Errr... that should have read, " I'm hoping".


  4. Thank you very much for this very useful guide: I paint ACW figures for decades but it is always a pleasure to see so many infos in one thread.

  5. Franke,

    Thank you for the kind comments. If there is anything else you might need in the way of information or pictures please let me know. I can post it.


  6. Dear Don

    I am in the process of making 84th NY figures: what are the things not to forget in your opinion and do you know any picture source that can answer questions such as " Is it silly to think that a 14th Brooklyn Sergeant may have worn a NCO sword and a sash belt" or "do they have only buglers or some drummers too", etc.....

    Thanks by advance



  7. Franck,

    Are sculpting figures? What scale? I'd love to help you however I can. No one really has Chasseurs and/or the 14th Brooklyn. There is too much to say here. Why don't you email at effinger 2 at hot mail dot com (no spaces).

    I'd love to help!


  8. *arrrrgghhh** That should have read as, "Are you sculpting figures?"

  9. Thank you very much Don: I have the figures made in 28mm by Alan Marsh

    I will send you an email soon



  10. awesome! It's true haven't seen you put much painting up here in a while, but really sweet!

    painters edmonton
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  11. Thanks. I do need to update my painted stuff. I have been very busy and lazy about taking pics. Recently I finished my 20th battery of artillery and have not taken one shot of them. I also started the Iron Brigade. The 6th Wisc. is done already.


  12. Excellent advice and much appreciated. I'm taking the plunge into ACW gaming and to say I've been daunted painting my Confederates is an understatement. Thank you for the immense help with this article.