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English Supplied Uniforms in the Army of Northern Virginia

By Eric Mink, 4th Virginia

​The most perplexing of the Confederate soldier’s outfit seems to be his uniform. As we struggle to come to some understanding of the clothing of the Confederate soldier, I felt I would contribute a few items concerning the usage of imported uniforms from England.

Beginning in late 1862, and continuing through the last years of the war, the Confederacy imported both wool and finished uniforms from Great Britain. The finished uniforms, as well as the imported wool, were kersey of blue-gray color. The uniforms are most often referred to as “Peter Tait” jackets, after the Irish clothier who supplied them. The jackets were similar in style to that of the Richmond Clothing Bureau in that it was a shell jacket with epaulets. The supply of wool was turned into uniforms in the Confederate Depots and followed their respective styles. For existing examples of these jackets, refer to Echos of Glory, pages 136-139.

English blue-grey kersey jackets and English cloth trousers as worn by members of the Stonewall Brigade.

​The first large shipment of British goods appears to have arrived in the South in late 1862. A Texan writing from Culpepper, Virginia in mid-November of that year asked his sister to send him a “horseman’s overcoat . . . to be made of the heavy bluish grey cloth now at the Qr. Mrs. Clothing depot in Richmond.”[1]

​We know of the issuance of these English blue-gray uniforms to the Stonewall Brigade in late May of 1863. In a letter written by Alexander Tedford Barclay, a member of Company I, 4th Virginia, dated May 26, 1863, Barclay wrote to his sister that: “as I was getting tolerably ragged, the brigade secured a supply of English clothes. So as I was one of the needy ones, I am rigged in a splendid suit of blue.”[2]

Although references to English cloth or uniforms appear in late-1862, these uniforms seem to really have been issued in large quantity during the last year of the war. Luckily for us, one of General Meade’s staff officers during the 1864 Campaign was rather naive and literate, thus recording almost everything he witnessed. On May 12, after the initial Union success along the “Mule Shoe” at Spotsylvania, this Yankee officer got an up-close view of Confederate division commander Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson. In describing Johnson to his wife, the impressionable officer stated that the Confederate General “was dressed in a double-breasted blue-grey coat.” Almost a month later, during a truce at Cold Harbor, this officer spoke with some Tarheels from A.P. Hill’s Corps and described them as “the most gipsy-looking fellows imaginable; in their blue-gray jackets and slouched hats.”[3] Unfortunately, as he became more accustomed to army life, the Federal officer’s descriptions grew shorter and shorter with less detail.

​In late 1864, a Georgian from Hill’s Corps wrote home to his wife describing the clothing he was receiving. He talked of drawing clothing that was “a blue in color, but not like the Yankee blue.”[4] Interestingly, he complained that his pants and jacket did not match, which makes one wonder, which part of his uniform was of this non-Union blue?

​I found another letter in the Manuscript Collection of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. This letter was written by George L. Slifer of Company G, 2nd Virginia on January 7, 1865. In this letter, Slifer reassures his uncle that: “since we have bin down here we have bin supplied with clothing” and that he “drew a new inglish suit, so you can see I want nothing but piece and our independence.” This letter, as well as Barclay’s letter would indicate that at least twice during the last two years of the war members of the Stonewall Brigade were issued uniforms of English origin.

[1] D. Giruad Wright. A Southern Girl in ’61: The War-Time Memoirs of a Confederate Senator’s Daughter. New York: Doubleday. 1905. P. 113.

[2] Ted Barclay, Liberty Hall Volunteers: Letters from the Stonewall Brigade. 1992.

[3] George R. Agassiz, ed. Meade’s Headquarters 1863-85: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman. Salem:Ayer. pp. 111, 152.

​[4] Henry Vaughn McCrea. Red Dirt and Insinglass: A Wartime Biography of a Confederate Soldier. Privately Published. 1992. p. 522.

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