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The familiar blue uniforms donned by the Union army and grey coats belonging to the Confederates couldn’t always be seen on the battlefields during the Civil War. Until uniforms were nationalized by the war department at the end of 1861, Union soldiers suited up in anything from red-trimmed outfits to deer-tailed hats.
Many of Philadelphia’s 11,000 firemen enlisted in rakishly-attired regiments called “Fire Zouaves.” Youthful, full of spunk, but often with little discipline, these soldiers earned high accolades for their élan and courage. The Fire Zouaves wore dark blue uniforms trimmed in red, reminiscent of their antebellum firemen’s service.
Private John B. Cook (21 years old), Company E, 95th Pennsylvania, enlisted in 1861, served with his regiment throughout its toughest engagements, re-enlisted in December 1863, received a promotion to sergeant and fought until the end of the war. Cook was wounded in one of the war’s last battles, Sailor’s Creek, Virginia, on April 6, 1865. He spent the next few months in a federal hospital. (GNMP)
In April and May 1861, Colonel Thomas L. Kane and others raised the 1st Pennsylvania Rifles (sometimes known as the 42nd Pennsylvania or the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves). Kane recruited his volunteers from rafts-men and hunters in Pennsylvania’s “wildcat district”: Cameron, Carbon, Chester, Clearfield, Elk, McKean, Perry, Tioga and Warren Counties. Armed with rapid-firing, breech-loading weapons, the Model 1859 Sharps Rifle, the 1st Pennsylvania Rifles became widely known for its marksmanship. Most distinguishing, each member wore a deer tail in his hat, earning the regiment the nickname, “The Bucktails.” In 1862, one of Kane’s trusted officers, Major Roy Stone, raised two additional Bucktail regiments, the 149th and 150th Pennsylvania. All three regiments served with the Army of the Potomac and fought in its some of its most desperate battles.
Private Robert B. Valentine, Company B, 1st Pennsylvania Rifles. Valentine, a 21-year-old mason from Perry County, survived the war and mustered out with his regiment in June 1864. In this photograph, he proudly wears the bucktail that gave his unit its name. (Ronn Palm)
Captain Alfred Newlin’s Company G, 114th Pennsylvania, in 1864, known as “Collis’ Zouaves.” (LOC)
A number of Pennsylvania regiments adopted the traditional uniform of the French-Algerian light infantry, the Zouaves. They wore dark blue jackets, trimmed in red with light blue cuffs. Red pantaloons, white leggings, a light blue sash, a red fez and a white turban completed the unique ensemble. Although gaudy, these uniforms proved highly popular among young recruits.
Before heading into combat, most Union regiments took only what they considered necessary or comfortable, shedding needless garments and supplies. Most Pennsylvania regiments wore the fatigue blouse, or “sack coat,” complete with forage cap and kersey trousers, when they embarked on spring and summer campaigns.
The “Dare Guards,” or Company C, 110th Pennsylvania, in April 1863, days before it embarked on the Chancellorsville Campaign. (GNMP)
Pennsylvania cavalrymen generally wore the standard federal uniform for mounted troopers: a short, dark blue shell jacket trimmed in yellow braid, kersey trousers and a forage cap. Cavalrymen carried three weapons with them: a saber, a pistol and a carbine.
Private Charles H. Masland, a 19-year-old Philadelphian who enlisted in Company E, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, in 1861. Masland survived the war but fell ill shortly before he mustered out. (USAMHI)
Independent Battery E, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery, on the battlefield of Antietam, a few days after the fighting ended. The officer mounted at right is the battery’s commander, 25-year-old Captain Joseph M. Knap of Pittsburgh. (LOC)
Most Civil War battles involved light artillery batteries. Typically, a battery consisted of six guns, and under campaign conditions, it was usually manned by about 100 men pulled by an equal number of horses. Some batteries deployed for battle “unlimbered,” unharnessed and detached from its limbers.
In June 1863, Pennsylvania’s Governor Andrew Curtin opened “Camp William Penn” at Chelten Hills, Pennsylvania, a training facility for the commonwealth’s new “United States Colored Troops” (U.S.C.T.). Eleven regiments constituting nearly 12,000 men, with all black rank-and-file, trained there.
Sergeant Major Thomas R. Hawkins, an Ohio-born black Philadelphian, enlisted in the ranks of the 6th U.S.C.T. in the summer of 1863. Hawkins won the Medal of Honor for gallantry at the Battle of New Market Heights, where he rescued his regiment’s colors during a daring charge against Confederate breastworks. (LOC)
A cohort from Captain Robert McClure’s “Quaker City Guards” (Company B, 4th Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry) during the summer of 1861 when the regiment set up camp at Tennallytown, just outside of Washington, D.C. Of this company’s 88 officers and enlisted men, eight died of wounds or of disease during the war. (USAMHI)
Early in the war, many Pennsylvania regiments received uniforms from the commonwealth’s clothing depots. According to prewar regulations, Pennsylvania militiamen had to wear tight-fitting, gray jackets and trousers. Thus, many regiments left the commonwealth wearing a color adopted by the Confederacy. Not until the winter did they begin to receive blue uniforms from federal clothing suppliers.
This image was taken in early 1864, just after the regiment had received a new shipment of frock coats and trousers. Note the formal dress headgear: black felt Hardee Hats and unblemished, white gaiters. Only a few weeks later, this entire company was captured during the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864. Of the soldiers shown in the photograph, 10 died at a prisoner-of-war camp in Andersonville, Georgia. (LOC)
By the war’s second summer, most Pennsylvania regiments received regulation dark blue uniforms from federal clothing contractors. Quartermasters issued new uniforms once a year, but sometimes more often than that, depending upon the rigorousness of recent campaigns. This photo depicts the soldiers of Second Lieutenant Jacob Heffelfinger’s “Cumberland Guards” (Company H, 7th Pennsylvania Reserves) in their winter quarters near Culpeper, Virginia.
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Information for this section was contributed by Timothy Orr, The Pennsylvania State University.
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