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Civil War Uniforms

Uniforms and clothing worn by Union and Confederate Soldiers During the Civil War

Union Officer Uniform
Union Officer Uniform

The two sides are often referred to by the color of their official uniforms, blue for the Union, gray for the Confederates.

Uniforms at the beginning of the Civil War, however, showed greater variety than would be true later in the conflict. Many men wore whatever they brought from home. Local militia units that had their own uniforms wore them as they came to join the Union or Confederate armies. Some Union units wore gray, while some Confederates were attired in blue. Some groups, influenced by French Zouaves of North Africa, arrived decked out in baggy trousers—usually bright red or striped—and fez hats or turbans.

Primarily, however, regular U.S. Army troops wore their traditional dark blue trousers, jackets and kepi caps. To distinguish the volunteers who comprised the vast bulk of the Federal armies from the professionals of the regular army,

Confederate Uniform
Confederate Uniform
volunteers were issued dark blue jackets and kepis but with light blue trousers.

Confederate uniforms were gray kepi, jacket and trousers. As these weathered and faded, they took on a light brownish appearance, which gave rise to the nickname "Butternuts" for Southern soldiers. "Butternut" brown clothing may also have been the result of dyes used for simple, homespun uniforms.

On both sides, artillerymen had red kepis, shell jackets with red trim and, depending on rank, a red stripe on their pants legs. Cavalry riders had a yellow stripe on their pants and yellow trim on jackets.

There were other uniforms for special units—perhaps most famous were the green uniforms of Hiram Berdan’s Union sharpshooters—but the blue and the gray predominated.

Cavalry Uniform
Cavalry Uniform

The Southern cotton fields allowed for cotton cloth in Confederate uniforms, while the North’s troops wore wool, which was warm in winter and relatively cool in summer—as long as a breeze was blowing.

The rigors of campaigning wore out clothing and shoes fairly quickly, and although the "rag-tag, barefoot Confederate" remains a prominent Civil War image, in truth, Union soldiers could also be found barefoot in threadbare uniforms at many points during the war.

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