Civil War Fashion

Cheryl Cirelli
Uniform of a Union Soldier

Not only did Civil War fashion depend on rank but whether you were from the North or the South. The Civil War was fought from 1861-1865, a time when the United States was undergoing great change. Material and resources that we're familiar with today did not exist, so clothing was made from what little they did have available to them at the time.

Styles of Civil War Fashion

The Civil War had two sides: the North and the South. The North was the Union and South was the Confederacy. Each side had very different versions of their uniforms.

Union Uniforms

The basic uniform of a Union soldier was made from wool. The downfall to this fabric choice was that it got extremely hot and uncomfortable when temperatures began to rise. Unlike the South, cotton was not an option for the Union soldier's uniform.

The following standard features were typical:

  • Dark blue shirt with four brass buttons
  • Dark blue pants
  • Suspenders
  • Belt holding the following: cap and cartridge box, bayonet, rations, canteen and a blanket roll
  • Shoes were leather and laced up over the ankles
  • Cap made from stiff wool
  • To identify their specific regiment, a symbol was placed on the top of the cap

Calvary men's uniforms were the same as the standard version with the exception of high riding boots and a wider type of hat. The Union Sharpshooters wore forest green uniforms that helped camouflage them. Certain regiments also chose features to help them stand out. For example, the Iron Brigade, known as the black hats, wore Hardee hats with a black feather.

Confederate Uniforms

The uniform of the South differed from the North in what they were made from. Cotton, wool and jean cloth were used. The South did not have as many resources and tools available as the North so their uniforms were of a lesser quality.

Common features of a Confederate soldier's uniform:

  • Uniforms were gray or brown
  • Gray or butternut colored short jacket with a vest
  • Slouch hat
  • Shoes were very poor quality and there was an overall shortage of them

Unlike the North, bedding was not carried on their belt but was rolled in their blanket and slung across one shoulder.

Officer Ranking and Uniforms

Both sides did have one thing in common: the higher the rank of the officer, the more decorated the uniform. The highest ranking officers had the most adornments on their jackets to identify them as such.

Fun Facts of Civil War Fashion

It is believed that one of the reasons that General Lee and his army attacked Gettysburg was to capture Union shoes. His army did not succeed with their mission; not only did they not get the shoes, but they lost the battle.

Final Thoughts

To see some of the fashions worn during the Civil War, you can visit a historical museum where they may have authentic uniforms that have been preserved on display. There are also numerous re-enactments of the war done at battlefields such as Gettysburg where actors dress in replica clothing.

Civil War Fashion