By Bret Sumner, 4th Virginia
The purpose of this article is to provide a brief summary of preliminary research findings for the uniforms and equipment of the Virginia volunteer companies originating from the Shenandoah Valley in the Spring of 1861 that later formed part of the First Brigade under General Jackson at First Manassas. This article is by no means an exhaustive research paper; rather, its purpose is to provide general guidance for an appropriate impression for June/July 1861.
At the start, I would like to note that it seems to me that there has always been a notion that a civilian impression is entirely acceptable for Virginia volunteer troops at a First Manassas event (plus, another attraction is that the financial outlay for a basic civilian impression is minimal). While a civilian impression is probably most appropriate for certain companies raised in the deep south and then hastily transported to Virginia, I personally believe that the Virginia volunteer soldiers where fairly well uniformed and that there was a certain level of uniformity on the company level at the time the company was formed in the spring of 1861.
As this news article excerpt notes, the civilian population of the Shenandoah Valley appears to have taken great efforts to produce uniforms for their new soldiers:
“The ladies of Staunton, and especially the pupils of the different Female Institutes here, have entwined their brows with glorywreaths of evergreen, which beautifully reflect the fresh and buoyant courage of their hearts. For days they have been busily engaged in making the uniforms of the new volunteer companies, scarcely permitting twenty four hours to pass after the order had been placed in their hands, ere the full uniform, neatly made, was presented to the young soldier. What a touching evidence of the affection of these fair daughters of Virginia and the South for the sunny clime of their nativity. The sweet heart caparison her lover, and with a smile and a tear bids him go and dare and do, and then return for his reward in the gift of the hand that fashioned the badge of his calling God bless the sweet girls, and God speed and protect the brave boys.”
The Vindicator, April 26, 1861, p.2, c.4 (Staunton, Virginia).
In a memoir, John Newton Lyle, a first lieutenant for a company from Rockbridge county, explains how the members obtained their first uniforms:
“The ladies of Rockbridge county . . . sent word that they would equip and send us forth as their special knights to do battle for their dear old mother, Virginia . . . And right royally did our ladies fair prepare us for the camp and march. Each lad was provided with everything a fond mother might dream her son might need, even to a needlebook, buttons and thread, linen gaiters, a havelock to screen his neck from the rays of the sun, and a red flannel waistband towear next to the skin to keep off the diarrhea. They made our uniforms with their own hands. To do this work, they employed a tailor to cut out, whilst they formed a circle and did the sewing in one of the public halls of the town”
Another news article describes the appearance of a newly formed company, the Augusta Riflemen, and discusses the cost for equipping them:
“. . . . . . Capt. Harman’s company has appeared in full dress parade, presenting an attractive and truly soldierly appearance. The soldiers themselves are not only Augusta men, but the cloth from which their uniforms were made was manufactured at the Wollen Factory of Messrs. Crawford & Co. at this place. The County Court made an appropriation of $3,000 to equip the company, but the actual cost will not amount to more than from $300 to $500. Such an example of economy is worthy of imitation. Augusta can well trust such with her credit and her honor.”
The Vindicator, April 26, 1861, p. 2, c. 2 (Staunton, Virginia)
These materials suggests that soon after Virginia’s secession in April 1861, uniforms were being made at a fairly rapid pace for the new volunteers.
Furthermore, while I cannot offer documentation (which I recognize as a crime even for an amateur historian like myself), I do believe that, while there was a great rush and patriotic fervor to go off to war, most volunteers wanted to “look the part” and wear the uniform of a soldier and that most newly formed companies attempted to fashion some form uniformity amongst themselves. As the above materials may suggest, I believe that many volunteer infantry companies from the Shenandoah Valley had their first uniforms made at home fairly quickly and received support at the county level to procure the necessary fabric and garments.
The following was published in the Staunton newspaper to provide new recruits with guidance on what to bring with them when they first joined their company:
“The following is a list of articles necessary to a soldier’s comfort bring all of them you can, or the best substitute you can obtain: Two flannel over shirts, 2 woolen under shirts, 2 pair white Cotton drawers, 2 pair woolen socks, 2 pair cotton socks, 2 colored handkerchiefs, 2 pair stout shoes, 3 towels, one blanket (hole in the middle), 1 blanket for cover, 1 broad brim hat, 1 pound castile soap, 2 pounds bar soap, one belt knife, some stout linen thread, large needles, thimble and a bit of bees wax; some buttons, and some paper of pins, all in a small buckskin or stout cloth bag, 1 overcoat, 1 painted canvass cloth, 7 feet 4 inches long and 5 feet wide.”
Staunton, June 7, 1861
Excerpts from Supplemental Official Records – Company Reports
The following uniform descriptions were obtained from my review of April-July 1861 company reports found in the supplement to the Official Records of the Confederate Army. These companies were present at Harper’s Ferry in May 1861 and were soon formed into the regiments that comprised the First Brigade under General Jackson at Manassas.
Mountain Guards – April 19, 1861 – “The company left home with only a fatigue uniform (red flannel shirt and gray pants).”
Southern Guard – “Came into service with gray uniform, [illegible] coat and pants and United States navy cap and blue flannel jackets. Have new checked shirt. All the uniform furnished by the company and Augusta County.”
Augusta Grays – “Uniforms in bad condition of gray woolen goods.”
West View Infantry – April 29, 1861 – “The company uniform consists of one suit viz: gray pants and fatigue jacket.”
Staunton Rifles – “Substantial uniform furnished by Augusta County. Has sixty-nine minie rifles and complete accoutrements. The company has knapsacks and belts furnished by Augusta County.”
The Richmond Daily Whig provided two separate descriptions of the “Grayson Daredevils” – a volunteer company from the backwood mountains of Virginia which later became Company F of the 4th Virginia:
“The “Dare Devils” from Grayson county, arrived on Tuesday. Their uniform consists of red hunting shirts, but they will change to gray before going into service. The men are unfailing marksmen with the rifle, and, if the opportunity offers, will perforate many of that band who so vauntingly swear that the havoc of war a home and country shall leave us no more.”
“The corps from [Grayson] county are said to be perfect nondescripts – they call themselves “Dare Devils” and deep in leggings, moccasins, and other back-woods appliances. There is not a man in the company who is not over six feet in height.”
Pre-War Militia Uniforms:
Numerous pre-war militia units also were organized into regiments under Jackson at Harper’s Ferry. For example, of the 10 companies that comprised the 4th Virginia Vol. Infantry – 4 were Virginia militia units before the war – Company A (Wythe Grays), Company B (Fort Lewis Volunteers), Company C (Pulaski Guards), Company K (Rockbridge Rifles).
The 1858-59 Virginia militia uniform regulations called for gray single breasted frock coats and gray pants. The 1860 regulations called for blue frock coats. This change in uniform regulations could help explain why certain companies included either blue or gray within their company name desigation (i.e. the “Wythe Grays,” the “Smythe Blues,” the “Botts Grays” or the “Hedgesville Blues”).
The following information was obtained from an original document in Richmond titled: Message from the Execttive [sic] of the Commonwealth: with Accompanying Documents, Showing the Military and Naval Preparations for the Defence of the State of Virginia, &c. &c. [Richmond, Va. : s.n., 1861]. 95 p. This document details issuances from the Richmond Armory to Jackson’s troops at Harper’s Ferry from April 1 through June 13, 1861. For the sake of convenience and brevity, I have only listed a representative sample of the total issuances detailed in the document. Webbing is one of the most notable issuances to companies at Harper’s Ferry – it appears that thousands of yards of webbing were issued for usage to make cartridge box slings, baldrics, and waist belts.
Captain J.Q. NADENBOUSCH–Martinsburg,
80 Rifle Muskets
80 Cartridge Boxes
80 Bayonet Scabbards
80 Cap Boxes
80 Sets Plates
450 Yards Webbing
Captain A. KOINER–Augusta.
50 Cartridge Boxes
50 Cap Pouches
50 Sets Plates
300 Yards Webbing
Captain JOHN WELSH–Madison.
50 Cap Pouches
30 Altered Muskets
30 Sets Accoutrements
180 Yards Webbing
Captain JAMES A. WALKER–Pulaski.
78 Altered Muskets
10 Bayonet Scabbards
78 Cap Pouches
20 Sets Plates
90 Yards Webbing
16 Cartridge Boxes
Captain J.F. KENT–Wythe.
12 Altered Muskets
12 Cartridge Boxes
12 Bayonet Scabbards
12 Cap Pouches
14 Sets Plates
90 Yards Webbing
Captain P.N. HALE–Grayson.
80 Harper’s Ferry Rifles with sword Bayonets
80 Cartridge Boxes
100 Bayonet Scabbards
100 Cap Pouches
100 Waist Belts and Frogs
100 Waist Plates
90 Yards Webbing
10 Harper’s Ferry Rifles
10 Cartridge Boxes
Major M.G. HARMAN–Staunton.
50 Double Barreled Shot Guns
10,000 Flint Cartridges
2 Kegs Rifle Powder
10,000 Musket Caps
The following uniform descriptions were obtained from my review of April-July 1861 company reports found in the supplement to the Official Records of the Confederate Army. These reports indicate that there was a shortage of accoutrements for many of the companies, particularly bayonet scabbards and cap boxes.
Rockbridge Rifles – “Clothing in comfortable [illegible]. Most of the outfit of the company is quite good, sixty-five minie rifles and accoutrements complete. Tents furnished by the county of Rockbridge.”
Mountain Guards – “We were armed with the Deringer rifle. Shortly after arriving at Harper’s Ferry, we exchanged them for the Mississippi rifle, Model 1842, altered to minie. We had forty-five of these rifles, no bayonets, eighty cartridge boxes without belts, twenty cap boxes, no bayonet scabbards.”
Augusta Grays – “Sixty-three percussion muskets, sixty-three cartridge boxes, sixty-three cap boxes, fifty-three bayonet scabbards, and sixty three belts purchased by the captain.”
Ready Rifles of Augusta County – “Fifty-one rifles, forty-eight cartridge boxes, no company equipage except cooking utensils, no cap boxes, no bayonets, no bayonet scabbards, and no tents.”
Montgomery Highlanders – “It is armed with the Mississippi rifle and saber bayonet, which together with its accoutrement on hand, are in good condition. No bayonet scabbards nor a full supply of camp boxes have ever been furnished them.”
Grayson Daredevils – “It is armed with Harper’s Ferry rifle and saber bayonet, which with their accoutrements are in good condition.”
Rockbridge Grays – “The uniform and general outfit of this company was originally very good, but is now greatly worn. The service it has performed has been exceedingly hard upon the men, clothing, and equipment. No tents have been furnished or shelter, just such as they could put up for themselves. It is armed with cadet muskets. No bayonet scabbards or cap boxes. They have old cadet and cartridge box, which is totally inadequate to hold a sufficient supply of ammunition. The arms are in good order.”
Liberty Hall Volunteers – June 18, 1861 – “Its uniforms and clothing are very poor . [illegible] furnished it and it has been much exposed therefrom. It is [illegible] musket which is in good condition. Has no bayonet, scabbards, and no cap boxes were furnished. The captain furnished them to the company at his own expense of —-. The cartridge boxes are old and indifferent.”
Based on the above research materials, the following range of impressions would probably be most appropriate for Jackson’s troops at First Manassas.
- Pre-War Virginia Militia Uniforms:
Gray or Blue wool single breasted frock coats
Gray trousers with black or dark blue stripe
- Flannel Overshirts or Jackets:
Gray, red, or blue flannel overshirts (aka “battleshirts” in modern parlance)
[black piping optional] – I would recommend the Holliday shirt pattern.
Civilian – or – gray wool or jean trousers
- Woolen Jacket or Coats – [Warning – This is a bit of speculation on my part] Gray wool sack coat w/o lining – or – homespun gray wool or jean “imitation” frock coat
- Generic Civilian Impression:
For a “minimalist” civilian impression – I would simple recommend a civilian coat or frock or even just wearing a civilian shirt.
In terms of Equipage:
Regardless of the uniforms chosen, I would suggest that all troops should obtain, at a minimum:
- White webbing cartridge box sling
- Either white webbing waistbelt or civilian style leather belt
- White linen haversack (no Federal haversacks)
- Tin Drum or wooden canteen (no Federal canteens)