I originally did this posting for the Monterey Pass Battlefield Institute, a living history organization for early war uniform research, but decided to share this with the War Returns to South Mountain blogger viewers. At South Mountain State Battlefield during our interpretive programs, I always receive questions regarding the uniformity of the Confederate soldier. Since my research is endless on the uniforms of the Confederate soldier during the Invasion of Maryland, this post may not answer all of those questions. I do encourage those interested in the subject to explore the topic on their own. I wish their was a single book out there that deals with Union and Confederate Uniforms during the 1862 Maryland Campaign that I could recommend, but there is none that I am aware of at this time.
During the 1862 Maryland Campaign, many eyewitness accounts about the Confederate soldier were recorded by the citizens of Frederick, Maryland. The only known photograph of Confederate soldiers was taken while the Confederates occupied of the city of Frederick. The photograph contains many great details, and provides some much needed insight on the average Confederate soldier during the Maryland Campaign. There are others taken on the Antietam Battlefield of dead Confederates, where close shots of the dead bare witness to their uniforms and equipment. One thing to keep in mind is that the majority of the Confederate army fought hard during the summer of 1862. However, there were several newer brigades of soldiers that did not see action at Manassas. General Thomas Drayton’s brigade of South Carolina and Georgia soldiers were still wearing the uniforms that were issued to them in June, while in Charleston, South Carolina. They had not seen any combat with the Army of Northern Virginia since their arrival to Richmond. This would soon change.
During this period of the war, the Confederate soldier was receiving clothing from three main sources. The Commutation System, where the soldier was reimbursed for his uniform, the Clothing Bureau, known as the Depot System, based out of Richmond, and you also had states such as North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia issuing clothing to their own troops. With no standard regulations across all three of these sources, this caused the Confederate soldier to lack an appearance of uniformity. In addition to these sources manufacturing garments other factors in the variance of uniforms were that some were made as frock coats and others, shell jackets. All were made of various materials such as jeans-cloth, cassimere and satinette, and in addition to that different patterns were used in the manufacture of the garments. What unit the soldier was with and where he was at the time determined the type of garment that the soldier received. For the most part, the Confederate soldier was well armed and equipped. These soldiers bare scars from a season of hard campaigning, and if you carefully study the photographs from the Library of Congress, in some you will see where the sleeves are shredded to pieces from wear.
After their stunning victory at 2nd Manassas in Virginia, Lee turned his attention northward, and plans for the Maryland Campaign began. As the Confederate army forded the Potomac River on September 4th-7th, they began marching toward Frederick, Maryland. William Judkins of the 22nd Georgia described the march from the Potomac River to Frederick, Maryland: “We marched through several towns in Maryland and through fine farms and stopped at Frederick City, Md., on the Monocacy river, remained there one day and washed our clothes in the river and put them on wet. We were trying to drown some of the lice of which we had plenty. We had not washed our clothes in about a month, and the bugs were getting unbearable.”
Confederate soldier David E. Johnston wrote about his uniform during the Maryland Campaign. “A musket, cartridge box with forty rounds of cartridges, cloth haversack, blanket and canteen made up the Confederate soldier’s equipment. No man was allowed a change of clothing, nor could he have carried it. A gray cap, jacket, trousers and colored shirt – calico mostly – made up a private’s wardrobe. When a clean shirt became necessary, we took off the soiled one, went to the water, usually without soap, gave it a little rubbing, and if the sun was shining, hung the shirt on a bush to dry, while the wearer sought the shade to give the shirt a chance. The method of carrying our few assets was to roll them in a blanket, tying each end of the roll, which was then swung over the shoulder. At night this blanket was unrolled and wrapped around its owner, who found a place on the ground with his cartridge box for a pillow. We cooked but little, having usually little to cook. The frying pan was in use, if we had one.”
The first portions of the Confederate army marched into Frederick on September 6th. Several pro-southern citizens of Frederick could not believe that the victorious Confederate army that they heard about was so poorly clad. Many of the stunned citizens just turned their backs on Johnny Reb. Because of the hard campaigning in Virginia, the veteran Confederate soldier of the Army of Northern Virginia had not had time to take care of himself with regards to hygiene, or be issued a new uniform. Many storekeepers could not bare the stench that came from these soldiers. An unnamed citizen of Frederick City noted: “I have never seen a mass of such filthy strong-smelling men. Three in a room would make it unbearable, and when marching in column along the street the smell from them was most offensive… The filth that pervades them is most remarkable… They have no uniforms, but are all well armed and equipped, and have become so inured to hardships that they care but little for any of the comforts of civilization… They are the roughest looking set of creatures I ever saw, their features, hair and clothing matted with dirt and filth, and the scratching they kept up gave warrant of vermin in abundance.” Another observer described the Confederates simply as “a lean and hungry set of wolves.”
Jacob Engelbrecht, a civilian wrote that “Many [Confederate soldiers] were barefooted and some had one shoe & one barefoot-they really looked “Ragged and tough.” The first 8 or 10 thousand got a tolerable good supply of clothing and shoes and boots but the stores and shops were soon sold out.” This forced many shops to close their doors. Many of the Confederate soldiers paid for these items using Confederate C-notes, which were worthless in Maryland.
D. Lewis Steiner, who was in Frederick during the Confederate occupation of the city noted: “At 4 o’clock this morning the Rebel army began to move from our town, Jackson’s force taking the advance. The movement continued until 8 o’clock p.m. occupying 16 hours. The most liberal calculation could not give them more than 64,000 men. Over 3,000 negroes must be included in the number… They had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, bowie-knives, dirks, etc. They were supplied, in many instances, with knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, etc., and they were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederacy army. They were seen riding on horses and mules, driving wagons, riding on caissons, in ambulances, with the staff of generals and promiscuously mixed up with all the Rebel horde.”
The above statement may be referring to the soldiers of General John B. Hood’s Division, primarily the Texas Brigade. If you take into account the Spanish ethnic background of soldiers from Texas, plus add the dust of the long march to Frederick, and exposure to the elements of the sun, those factors may have given the writer an incorrect impression of those soldiers. In the distance a Texas soldier who has a dark complexion, and was dirty from the elements may be mistaken as being African-American. Keep in mind that many African-Americans in the Confederate army were drivers, cooks, and servants, and most likely unarmed. Several people of Frederick could not believe the condition of the Texans. One elderly individual looked upon a Texan soldier and simply said “Lord bless your dirty, ragged souls.”
By September 9th, General Robert E. Lee issued Special Orders Number 191 dividing the Confederate army into several sections. With this, almost two-thirds of the Confederate army would besiege Harper’s Ferry. By September 12th, the rear guard of the Confederate soldiers were skirmishing in the streets as they marched out of Frederick.
As the Confederate army marched out of Frederick, many of barefooted soldiers marched upon the National Pike. The macadamized road tore their feet up, forcing many to march along side of the road. Shotwell, a Confederate soldier in the 8th Virginia Infantry, was shoeless and could not keep up with Longstreet’s wing as it marched to Hagerstown. In Funkstown, a civilian offered his boots to the soldier but they were four sizes to big. The soldier gave them back realizing that the oversized boots would make his feet blister and bleed even more.
On September 14th, 1862, the Battle of South Mountain would erupt. During the battle George Fahm, a Georgia soldier who fought at Fox’s Gap, describes the condition of his uniform after the Maryland Campaign. Sergeant Fahm later wrote “the flag, flag-staff, clothing, cap and blanket of the color bearer (myself) showed thirty-two bullet holes, and yet most strangely to relate, I did not receive a scratch in that battle. Surely God was with me in that fearful struggle.” He was the sole survivor of Company E of the 50th Georgia that crossed the Potomac River with sixty-five men. Sixty of that number was wounded or killed within twenty minutes at Fox’s Gap and five others were killed at Antietam. He was later promoted to Lieutenant.
The next day, further to the south at Harper’s Ferry, the guns fell silent and the siege was over. Jed Hotchkiss, Stonewall Jackson’s famous mapmaker recalled the condition of those Confederate soldiers. “Our soldiers are as dirty as the ground itself and nearly the same color. The enemy looked at them in amazement.” During the Confederate occupation of Harper’s Ferry, the stores containing weapons, cloth and equipment were taken. As orders came for the Confederate concentration of Sharpsburg, General A.P. Hill’s Division was left behind to parole the captured Union soldiers. They would arrive on the Antietam Battlefield late in the afternoon of September 17th, many of them wearing Union blue uniforms taken at Harper’s Ferry.
These are just some of the descriptions of how the Confederate soldier appeared. By no means is this a definitive history. As the Civil War progressed, the Confederate soldier would see a uniform that was well made. Some regiments were clothed far better than others. Civil War uniforms are a topic that interests many people when they come to a Civil War battlefield. It helps to complete the story of the soldiers’ experience.
If you go online to the Library of Congress’ web site, you can download several high quality resolution images of Confederate dead at Antietam. These images provide small details of their uniforms and equipment that is considered as a living historian’s most valuable research tool, to which he sets his authenticity standards to regarding the Maryland Campaign. If you study the photographs closely, you’ll notice that the summer campaigning has taken a toll on their uniforms, and in some photographs you will see sleeves that are shredded to pieces from wear. If you have a high speed Internet connection, download the bigger size and you’ll see that a photograph is definitely worth a thousand words.
The Confederate Soldiers in the Streets of Frederick, 1862 (NOT 1864) is from the Frederick County Historical Society
All other photographs LOC