One aspect of the hobby that will increase both your knowledge and enjoyment is tailoring your impression to the specific campaign or timeframe of the Conflict. This allows you to learn more about the material culture as well as giving the public a better vision of the troops of the period.
Often when one reaches, aspires or retrieves a sword from the stone, and assumes the mantel of command, there are many items they need to tend to, from the transition of giving orders rather than receiving them to the responsibility the position demands on and off the field.
It is key however, that officers do not neglect their impression, as in the hobby we all lead by example, and if we wish the men to properly illustrate the Common Soldier of the War, as officers we must strive to do so as well.
Doing a proper officer impression is far more demanding than that of a common rear rank number two. There are far more considerations in the impression, since officers were never issued anything until 1864, when they could draw uniforms from the Quartermaster Department. In 1862 they bought their own uniforms and gear, and the quality and style thereof would often reflect the financial situation of the officer.
The exact rank would also come heavily into play. Line officers would often be less well to do. This, as well as the inability to carry spare uniforms and gear, and the hard use of their gear contributes more to their impression than the impression of a staff officer.
I have tried below to give some guidance in an officer’s impression for 1862. However nothing will make up for true research on the campaign and the officer portrayed.
The Common Line Officer during this year traveled light and looked hard. They, like the men, still would have been covered in road dust, and their clothing and equipment would show hard use. However, they still were easily identified as an officer in 1862, as the quality of the clothing, the cut and details would separate them from the common infantryman. Also as a general rule, the officers tended to come from a higher social class, and as such would strive to appear more “ soldierly” than the men in the ranks.
Field Grade Officers tended to have the luxury of spare uniforms, and while still dusty and traveled, overall the impression of an officer that would have been mounted requires less filth than that of the line officer who was down in the clouds of road dust with the men. Their coat skirts, trousers and shoes however would have been in that “cloud” and would show such. Also keep in mind when viewing photographs, that the pictures were often of what they wore TO war, and possibly not IN the war.
Brigade and Higher Staff Officers would have been even more striking, as compared to the soldiers they led, in the fact they were mostly clean and their uniforms in good repair. Combine that with the fact most were politically connected early in the War, and that should lead you to conclude in most cases a clean and well clothed impression is the norm.
Keep in mind as well, with their better economic stature, officers would be in a better position for adapting their uniforms and gear to represent the State and or Unit they were commanding.
There are many choices, and your decision should be based upon what rank, State or unit you are portraying.
Choices could be:
Kepi- Most common with appropriate braid and a bound brim. The body could be manufactured out of jean, satinette, broadcloth or Kersey, again determined by economic stature. You can see good examples of these in the Confederate Version of Echoes of Glory.
CS “McDowell” caps, with or without braid, and having a bound brim.
Properly blocked and lined Civilian Hats were often common during campaign, and if you decide to wear a hat cord, be sure that is a correct Civil War period design.
Taken as a whole, in 1862, Confederate Officers highly favored the double breasted frock coat over the regulation tunic, with its short skirts. Depending on the rank held, and the economic factors, the cloth and details would have been different, but as a general fact, the double breasted gray frock is the most common garment seen in photos and accounts of 1862 officers. The use of “Old Army” blue frocks lessened with each month, so that by the end of 1862 they were quite rare. Also the use of Federal shoulder boards waned, and the Confederate insignia replaced straps. However early in 1862 one still saw officers using shoulder straps, sometimes with the Confederate collar insignia for good measure.
In 1862 line officers still could also be wearing a single breasted frock coat, with our without sleeve braid, and with either shoulder straps, Collar insignia or both. Cloth choices would be the same as for a double breasted frock.
One under represented garment is the Officer Blouse. There is one pictured in this article. Essentially an officer’s Sack, with pockets for small books, watches (which every officer should have), writing kits, pipes, pistol cartridges… etc… These tended to be very utilitarian in nature, not tailored exactly to the body, and were seen with or without piping, or Austrian Knots; still produced in a quality manner. Rank was often displayed on a lay down collar. Material can be broadcloth, jean, satinette or cashmere.
Many officers were seen in 1862, and for the length of the War, wearing high quality Civilian coats for field use. This was not the most common coat, but was represented in numbers high enough that it should be portrayed. These should reflect the finances of the Officer in cloth and construction.
Finally, some officers had private purchase shell jackets made, and these would be seen occasionally, but as a whole, they were not as common in 1862 as they will be moving into the later years of the War. Be careful if you decide to adopt this impression, as a private’s poorly constructed shell jacket made of slave cloth (jean) would not have been used commonly at all by officers; higher quality manufacturing with either satinette or broadcloth is the way to go.
All in all, a double breasted frock coat is your best purchase, with or without facings and or Austrian Knots. You then can determine the approximate financial standing of the officer you are representing, and can choose your cloth (Jean, Satinette, Broadcloth) based upon those factors.
A note on buttons. The majority of buttons found on extant Confederate Officer coats tends to be of Federal Manufacture, such as Federal Officer I buttons, or Federal Staff Buttons. One can, in 1862, continue to use State buttons if they wish, and some Confederate Officer Buttons, but these are in the minority.
As with Coats there are many variations you could wear based upon rank, unit and financial stature. The Confederacy mandated originally blue as the color of Officer Trousers, which they then changed to gray.
Officer trouser stripes in branch of service color was also mandated, though seldom actually seen in the field. Piping or gold trim seems to be far more common in extant examples.
Officer trousers of the Confederacy did not as a whole follow regulations, nor did they directly follow trends in the Federal Army, for I have not been able to locate one extant pair of CS officer trousers with hip pockets, though I have seen many Federal examples.
Broadcloth, satinette, jean and kersey are all represented through extant examples, and the choice of cloth would also be a financial consideration.
Civilian trousers were also seen on officers, often with reinforced seats to ease the backside when riding.
The wearing of high quality private purchase shirts is highly encouraged. White Bibbed fronts were very common, French cuffs, and a cravat added to the “style”.
At this point in the War, CS or Civilian Shoes would prove to be the most common, with boots falling out of favor with Line Officers, as marching in a pair for any distance is downright painful. Boots were often seen on Field Grade and Higher Officers, though the common practice was to wear the pant leg OVER the boot unless riding through rough terrain.
Overall a good pair of civilian shoes will serve you best, though if you love your boots, wear them properly.
Private purchase canteens were fairly common with the Officer Corps, as well as Officer Haversacks. An officer haversack did not replace the normal haversack for the carrying of foodstuffs, but rather for the pile of true red tape and forms the officer had to submit each and every day, if not more often. So in fact, carrying TWO haversacks is very correct for line officers. One for food and one for paperwork, manuals, order books and red tape.
Often as well you would see Line Officers with Knapsacks rather than blanket rolls in 1862. Knapsacks worked better for carrying all the officer trappings (such as a sash, clean shirt, socks and, yes, more paperwork).
I am not saying that in 1862 officers never carried their spare gear in a blanket roll, but rather that in this period it was far less common than later in the War.
Field Grade Officers would also occasionally have been seen with Knapsacks, though only when on foot. So if you find yourself without your trusty steed, then this is the option for you.
Sword Belts could be Militia, old Army, State or even Confederate Manufacture. In looking at the collection at the Museum of the Confederacy, the majority tended to be made of “folded” leather, even though you do find extant examples made of heavy bridle leather. Over sword hangers featured a D buckle to adjust the hanging of the sword, with the two piece stud also seen, though in lesser number. White Buff Militia belts would probably see their last widespread use in 1862.
One note with sword belts- very seldom did officers wear a cap pouch and pistol cartridge box on the belt itself. Mostly these were stored in the haversack or pocket.
On campaign often these would not be worn later in the war, but for 1862 you would see them fairly regularly. Even if just stored away in the knapsack or valise. Dress Parade was just that. Dress for the occasion.
HAVE ONE. Preferably with ink and pen.
Your command is your true weapon, and a pistol is the last line for PERSONAL defense. Swords are a mark of rank, and often used to direct “traffic”.
However learning the proper manual of arms for the sword is highly encouraged, and if you decide to carry a pistol, be sure it is “time” correct. Like the “1858” Remington would not be correct for this period as the New Army Model did not show up in Federal Service till 1863.
The carrying of a pistol or revolver is a personal choice, however, if you do decide to carry one, perhaps focus on a private purchase smaller revolver. Lugging a Walker around for 20 miles a day will probably put you in severe pain; they knew that as well.
Like most of the guidelines listed here, the use of tents is determined by rank and also the campaign situation of the event portrayed.
On active campaign the line officer would most likely be camping in the same style as the enlisted men, and often field grade officers like wise. Command staff at the Brigade and Division level would have greater access to Common and Officer Tents, though many accounts of the period find them sleeping, or attempting to in the same manner as the men, And of course often they would find local residents who would allow them to use their homes as Headquarters. Since trespassing is often looked upon poorly, the chance to use a private residence as an officer billet is out of the question at most events.
Keep in mind, even while on campaign and sleeping as such, most battalion and higher commands had a designated HQ area. This would of course be separate from the enlisted bivouac, and a simple fly would suffice.
Brigade and Division HQ can justify common tents in most cases for the higher ranking officers, or at least flies set up to be used as such; this of course being event and campaign specific. If we only had a few wagons…..
Gentlemen, I cannot stress this part of your impression enough. I myself have failed at this before, and have vowed to never let it occur again. The men’s enjoyment of an event can often be tied to the actions of the officer corps of this Division. As such we cannot allow ourselves to be too tired, physically or mentally exhausted, or too ill to be able to lead them properly, or have our judgment impaired.
As such we all need to strive to be in the best condition physically and mentally as we can be. This includes exercising often (cardio is your best friend, though a pain) and getting plenty of rest prior to an event, so we at least start the weekend on a positive sleep vector.
I sincerely hope you find these guidelines helpful and I look forward to seeing you in the field.
S. Christian Anders
At this time: Acting Mj’r Gen’l