AUTHENTICITY GUIDE

This article is supplied by Chris Sullivan principally for the members of Company C; but would undoubtedly be helpful to the members of the other companies as well as the non-affiliated individual 14th NYSM impressions out there. Chris is solely responsible for its informative, sometimes amusing, often times tempermental content. (LOL!)


WHY

Over the years I have been called upon to put together a document such as this one. New info is ALWAYS surfacing and it is the purpose of portfolios such as this one to get that information into the hands of the membership, old as well as new.

I continue to write these documents for the benefit of the general membership and not because I am looking for any rank, favoritism, special considerations, business customers, someone to buy me a cold one at the Dobbin Tavern, etc. I do it so the regiment, the rank and file, can look as authentic as possible and for the benefit of the guy who would say "no one ever told me when I joined".

 

Do it right

This document is for the guys who want to be as right as possible; guys who are going do the right thing and not cast a sheepish look at someone else to see if they disagree with them; guys who are willing to make their best effort to be as historically accurate for the sake of the original men of the 14th and not go along with the crowd simply because "everyone else is doing it".  Just because everyone else is doing it does not necessarily make it right.

Chris Sullivan
STONY BROOK COMPANY
Civil War reenactor since 1968
Member, Co. C, 14th Brooklyn since 1979

 

SUBJECT MENU

You can scroll down the length of the page or jump directly to these specific subjects by clicking on them:

Thread

Canteen Covers

Masonic Badges

Corps Badges

Buttons

Shirts

Leggings

Greatcoat

Suspenders

Chasseur Cap

Strap lengths

For more subjects CLICK HERE!


THREAD

I was told once that I was "messing up" using dark blue thread on Federal trousers (as well as the red 14th Brooklyn trousers).

Well, here's the straight dope:

As for the use of the dark blue thread as opposed to red, (or any other color) the use of color matching threads in uniforms during the Civil War era was not all that common. I would say that a very large percebrage of all Federal uniforms made either by the government themselves or contracted out to private makers, were sewn in dark blue thread. This would includes greatcoats, frock coats, shell jackets, roundabouts, sack coats and trousers, plus uniforms for the Veterans Reserve Corps, as well as for some hats and chevrons too. This also includes uniforms for zouaves and chasseurs. It did not matter what color the jacket or trousers were - red, blue, green, etc., the use of dark blue thread to sew them together was very common.

The dark blue thread was usually dyed with indigo dye and sometimes logwood dye as well. There was also a tremendous amount of "natural" (undyed) thread purchased by the government during the war too. This "natural color" is very similar to light tan ... not white, but light tan. This was originally purchased by the Feds for use in sewing everything from shirts and drawers, to tentage ... in various gauges of thread thickness of course.

Interestingly enough, logwood dyed dark blue thread actually turned brown, then tan after exposure to sunlight. I have found this to be true even today. I made some trousers using the logwood dyed dark blue thread and after several events, (about a months time), it turned a light tan! This thread was made by Textile Reproductions in Maine using the very same process as used in the 1860's ... and giving the same 1860's fading results today!

I would say that 99% of all reenactors are unaware of Civil War thread matters. But unless it has been a subject of detailed study by them, they cannot be faulted for it.

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CANTEEN COVERS

A long time ago (1976) sky blue canteen covers were selected by the original organizer of the 14th Brooklyn. Why this was done I do not know for sure but given that the impression was set up strictly for Spring/Summer 1861 - and the pattern 1858 canteens were covered (more or less) in sky blue wool - that probably was the basis for it.

Historically, the war time use of sky blue wool for canteen covers was limited. So, WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE? Rather than try to figure out or debate the ratio of sky blue canteen covers used in the original 14th as opposed to dark blue or jean cloth covered ones at any given time, just replace the sky blue covers (or have someone replace them for you) with brown or brown-gray jean cloth which was fairly common in Federal Army once the war began.

Sky blue wool was in demand for uniform trousers and greatcoats not something as trite as canteen covers. As the war progressed manufacturers were covering canteens with a variety of fabrics - even upholstery fabric. While some canteens continued to be covered in sky blue wool, this was was still a very limited affair. Dark blue covers certainly seem to have edged out sky blue but still, dark blue covers as well were far outpaced by jean cloth covers.

Here's another nice little tidbit: if you're doing an early war New York impression with canteens having been issued by the New York Depot, a leather canteen strap would be the way to go. Leather slings were routine until they were discontinued after 1862.

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MASONIC BADGES

I refer to those bullion badges the sutler's sell that a lot of guys wear on their uniform sleeve. If you are a Mason, I believe you need to read House UNdivided which is a history of Freemasonry during the Civil War.  No where in this book will you read about Masons in the War, Union or Confederate wearing those bullion badges such as you find on sutler's row.  In this book you will read about men wearing small jewelers pins with the Masonic insignia or a watch fob with the same.  There is even one gent with the Masonic insignia tatooed on his arm.  However, to mention it once again, no where in the book do you read about men wearing those bullion badges that the sutlers are selling today.  Uniquely, it is mentioned in the book that the wearing of the insignia outwardly in public was frowned upon by the head lodge during this era.

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CORPS BADGES

Corps badges were authorized on  March 21, 1863.  Given the time factor for these to be manufactured and then issued by the Quartermaster Department, corps badges would probably not have seen any large scale circulation until at least April of 1863.

For those doing a 14th Brooklyn impression post-dating this period corps badges are perfectly fine to wear.  However, if the VISUAL appearence of your 14th impression demonstrates an earlier period (red blankets and hardpacks) then the use of corps badges are inaccurate to wear.

Also the guys in the 14th need to be cool about buying those metal discs painted in red enamel paint with the clutchback attachment at the sutlers. These have no place on our uniforms. This is just more junk being foistered on our guys!

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BUTTONS

I speak of buttons for the tunic and the leggings:  Of all the 14th Brooklyn Chasseur tunics I have seen, the tunic button has ALWAYS been around the 3/8" sized round brass ball pattern,  Back in the 1970's and early '80's we used the 5/8" ball button because there was simply nothing else available in the ball button department.  HOWEVER, the more accurate 3/8" (+/-) ball buttons surface on occasion and we strongly encourage all the guys who have the larger sized buttons to grab the 3/8" as you see them and change out your larger sized tunic buttons. If you have the bigger 5/8" ones you can use those buttons as replacements if you pop any off your leggings. Legging buttons appear to have been 5/8" and not the smaller tunic size 3/8.

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SHIRTS

When talking about ARMY ISSUE shirts (civilian shirts are another subject altogether) for the Civil War let's cut right to the chase ... NO MUSLIN SHIRTS and calling them army issue.   Muslin was NOT used to make Army shirts after 1851. The correct fabrics for Civil War period ARMY ISSUE shirts are:

1. Domat flannel: A wool and cotton blend, course and scratchy.

2. Wool/flannel:  Between an 8 to 10 oz. wool/flannel in a regular or twilled weave.

3. Knit: Knitted fabric (wool or cotton) very similar to machine knitted socks - but this style of shirt, while historically accurate - was definitely a limited issue/limited use item.

Lightweight cottons and muslins,(bleached or unbleached) were NOT used by the government to make issue shirts during the war.  Now we're not talking what came from civilian sources, sent from home or sutler purchases.  I'm talking about what was issued by the government.

SIZE Shirts were issued in ONE SIZE ONLY ... B-I-G!   Unlike trousers, coats and jackets which were issued in four sizes, shirts were issued in only ONE size.

BUTTONS: Buttons on issue shirts were in the greatest majority far and away, 3/8" either solid tinned iron or tin faced / paper-backed NO wooden buttons!!  Bone buttons - very VERY rarely;   glass, shell, etc. - no documentation whatsoever. Here again, we're talking army issue and not what may have been aquired from private (non-military) sources.

COLOR: For the wool/flannels and knits, DARK BLUE or GRAY. RED was found occasionally but I'd recommend steering clear of it (unless you're wearing a private purchase or home supplied FIREMAN's pattern shirt). One contract account specifys cadet or blueish-gray for knits - also some red. Domat flannel shirts were a natural (unbleached) off-white color.

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LEGGINGS

I have have not seen any surviving 14th Brooklyn leggings but I have seen some from the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry (a Zouave regiment) and the 76th Pennsylvania Infantry, "Keystone Zouaves".  The buttons used on the leggings for these regiments were 5/8" brass ball buttons. So while these leggings are not directly identified to the 14th Brooklyn, they do demonstrate the use of 5/8" brass ball buttons on leggings.

While bone and milk glass buttons did see broadbased use on leggings in other regiments (such as a pair of original relic leggings I saw for the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry (Collis' Zouaves)). But for the use of brass ball buttons on IDed relic leggings, the 76th and 155th regiments forementioned support their use and their size - 5/8".

And while I'm on leggings, here are some basic standards to period leggings:

1. Single thickness white cotton drill or duck.

2. Leather undersole straps, sewn or riveted on.

3. Taped or rolled seams. Can be felled by machine or by hand sewing.

4. Handsewn buttonholes.

I do know that historically leather leggings were scattered about here and there in the original 14th.  However, this was not common. One thing those original Civil War leggings I inspected all had in common was the fact that some or all of the buttons were moved by the original wearer. The reason:  simply to get a good fit! 

For the men in the 14th today, if your leggings "wear" on you like a stove pipe (just as wide at the top as they are at the ankle) relocate some of the buttons to give you a good FULL LENGTH fit.   I see a lot of the guys today with leggings that just hang on them rather than being really "worn".  When buttoned, leggings should follow the contour of the calf and taper to the ankle, then flare out over the brogan. If your leggings drape like a curtain or look like a stove pipe, cut and relocate some or even all of the buttons for the best fit possible.  You'll be surprised how COMFORTABLE they'll feel (not to mention looking 100% better and more accurate as well)! One thing that kills the 14th NYSM impression (and any other impression using leggings) are leggings that look like baggy "stove pipes"

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GREATCOAT

When the 14th Regiment Board of Officers adopted the Chasseur uniform in 1860, they also adopted a regimental overcoat. Although not much is written about the overcoat at that time, period newspaper accounts in 1861 basically describe the greatcoat as dark blue with red trim.

I have been fortunate to see images of this early war regimental greatcoat and to describe it further it is dark blue wool with red cuffs (non-roll down type) with a standing reinforced collar with hook and eye closure and New York state seal buttons on the body and cape.  The cape appears to have been lined in red; most likely a lightweight red wool/flannel.

This is a good looking coat and many in the 14th have asked about it.  To use this greatcoat is fine for early war impressions and I do mean early ... probably the only men who had this greatcpoat were those members of the regiment PRIOR to the beginning of the war. That would make for a VERY limited number of these greatcoats in the regiment once it left for the seat of the war. Those men who joined the regiment after April of 1861 probably would not have had this greatcoat. Nonetheless, moving right along no further reference is made of this greatcoat after early 1862 so it can be safely assumed that once they wore out replacement greatcoats were drawn from standard U.S. Army stock that was immediately available.   This would be the sky blue foot pattern greatcoat as issued to all infantry troops.

I certainly agree that some could have survived into the latter part of 1862 and there may have even been one or two floating around by early 1863.  HOWEVER THERE IS NO WRITTEN REFERENCE TO THIS for this latter time frame! Anyone wearing the dark blue regimental coat for a late '62/early '63 14th Brooklyn impression is really stretching things and taking the benefit of the doubt to an extreme.

There's a great saying among the super authentic regiments which is ...

"When in doubt go without!"

CLASSIC advice that we would do well to heed.

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SUSPENDERS

There are a lot of various styles and fabrics used today by many makers. Historically speaking suspenders were not an item of issue from the cogernment and therefore came from private sources (home, commercial mercantiles, sutlers, etc.) So there can be (historically speaking) a variety of historically accurate suspenders available to us. However, here's what is NOT acceptable.

NO elastic.
NO friction or "alligator" adjustment clips.
NO rivets
NO fabrics with "day-glo" colors
NO firemen or police suspenders

Historically accurate generic period suspenders should be a plain or patterned cotton or webbing with sewn two-piece leather ends on the front and a brass two-tine adjustment buckle (one per side) for adjustment. Pretty simple and pretty accurate. Variations can exist in the form of silk or even knitted (crocheted) suspender. Suspender ends (where they button on to the trousers) can be fabric as well. The famous (or infamous ... depending how you look at it) are "poor boy" style suspenders are indeed historically accurate so long as they do not exhibit any of the "NO"s listed above.

Meantime, here's some GENERAL REFERENCE images (click the word links) showing three levels of suspenders in terms of plain to extra fancy. Again, these images are just general references and certainly not the final word on pattern, color and design.

PLAIN        FANCY        EXTRA FANCY    

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Chasseur Cap

The original 14th Brooklyn kepi's that I have seen have these features:

1. Most had a two-piece bound edge enameled visor although one had a single thickness dyed visor.

2. Made of fine quality woolen broadcloth.

3. Has a drawstring type liner on the inside. One had a removeable lining and one has a "regular" non-draw string lining.

4. Sideband was reinforced with varnished or shellacked cardboard.

5. Had either covered wire or a wide strip of varnished horse hair as backseam reinforcement.

6. Some had the NY state seal side buttons sewn on and several had fine gauge wire holding the side buttons on.

7. None of the enlisted men's caps had any brass buckle or slide on the chin strap.

These original historical features I have observed on 14th NYSM caps made by BAKER,  BIGLOW,  and BAKER & McKENNEY. I have absolutely no doubt that other original 14th NYSM caps I have NOT had an opportunity to inspect may have contained other details the caps I inspected did not have. Quite possiboy some of the deails I have listed above may have been absent (in whole or in part) in these other caps.

A final point -   bending your kepi visor into a curve like a baseball cap is reenactorism. One of the "fashionable" things that the boys did in the 1860's ON FORAGE CAPS, NOT THE KEPI, was to bend the visor up.  DO NOT TRY THIS with a two-piece visor such as found on the kepis (14th or otherwise) NOR try to shape it like a modern baseball cap visor. Either method can crack the visor - especially the second method.

Many years ago I had a fellow in the 14th (sorry, I will not mentioned names) try to curve the reinforced two-piece bound visor on a super authentic repro 14th cap into the shape of a baseball cap visor. Suffice to say it cracked it right down the center.   He wanted me to fix it (this is impossible; it's like trying to fix broken glass) and when I asked him why he wanted to curve it in the first place he said ... "because it looks cool." Need I say more??

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STRAP LENGTHS

Ever notice these guys running around with their haversack or canteens (slung cartridge boxes too!) banging around their knees or flapping off their rear ends? For the most part, the CW soldier either recut or knotted their canteen and/or haversack slings to draw them high and on their cartridge boxes adjusted them up as high as possible to avoid all this banging around while on the march. This is documented by observations in photographs and the inspection of original relic canteens, haversacks, and on cartridge boxes where the box belt (a.k.a. "sling" in modern parlance) has been adjusted as short as possible.

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Page five contains more subjects but is currently being reworked at this time.

Advance on PAGE 6 for PHOTO GALLERY

Retire to PAGE 3 for REPRODUCTION UNIFORM INFO

Retire to PAGE 2 for 14th NYSM REGIMENTAL HISTORY