AUTHENTICITY GUIDE

This article is supplied by Chris Sullivan for the members of Company C and 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 in the back of the room who would say "no one ever told me when I joined".

 

"Who cares?!"

There is a painting that came out a few years ago that was done by a well known artist (no, not Mark M.). The artists intentions were very good but his research was lacking. I believe the problem is that the artist did NO research at all and relied on some of the re-enactors of the 14th to supply the "details".   The painting is supposed to represent the 14th at the first day at Gettysburg in action near Mc Pherson's Woods. When I first saw the image I said, "Oh, the 14th at Henry House Hill." Naturally I was shouted down as a barbarian, devoid of any historical grasp nor artistic taste and refinement (oh well!) and that this was the 14th at Gettysburg! When I pointed out some time frame inaccuracies in the painting, things the 14th did not have at Gettysburg but certainly did during the 1st Bull Run era the response was

"Who cares if its right or not; it looks good!"

Well gang, I can see we're really going to go far and honor the men we portray with that kind of thinking floating around among the regiment!

 

Let 'em have it!

This document is for the guys who want to be as right as possible; guys who are gonna 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.

So for those who care for than the average bear take this document and "let 'em have it!" if you know something is NOT right and can be made historically accurate. And don't do it just because I say so. Get out there yourself;  digresearch R-E-A-D!

You will help yourself immensely as well as the entire 14th Regiment!

Chris Sullivan
STONY BROOK COMPANY
- & -
Civil War reenactor since 1968

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 that common. I would say that 95% 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, chasseurs, voltiguers, etc. 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 just about universal.

Black thread also saw such sewing service but not on the vast scale as the dark blue or indigo colored thread. While there are some existing examples of thread matched uniforms, these probably account for maybe one or two percent of the total number of uniforms made during the war. Such uniforms were usually privately made (private tailor or sewn at home) and not made by the government or government contractors. So in that regard they reflect the exception rather than the rule.

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!

A number of reproduction uniform makers today "color match" thread to fabrics but this is not generally correct in historical terms. It makes for a nice looking item but that's about where it ends. While the use of dark blue thread on other colored fabrics seems very unusual, for the Civil War period uniform it was very common. The use of color matching threads in todays reproduction enlisted man's uniforms is for the most part, an exercise in historical inaccuracy.

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. However, the makers should know better ... but usually do not as a result of not doing detailed research. Time is money and for some, research takes too much time.

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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. I can give some speculative answers to that and name names but that serves no purpose at the moment.

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. If you can't find the right jean cloth contact me as I usually have some in stock including pre-cut canteen cover kits.

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 limited affair. Dark blue covers certainly seem to have edged out sky blue but still, dark blue covers as well were WELL OUTPACED by jean cloth covers.

You say that everyone in your company has sky blue or dark blue canteen covers? Lemme ask ya . . . SIMPLY BECAUSE EVERYONE IS DOING IT, DOES THAT MAKE IT RIGHT!?  Got a sky blue wool cover? Here's an opportunity to take a positive step in a historically accurate direction; change the cover to jean wool. It's all a matter of percentages with jean wool covers leading the canteen cover field.

I corrected my canteen cover a number of years ago when the research on that subject matter was concluded. Then at Remembrance Day a few years ago some guys I know who thought they were very accurate came up to me and said ...

"Sully, you'd have a great impression if you'd just get rid of that Reb canteen!"

I tried to explain it to these guys but they were adamant that sky blue and dark blue were the ONLY colors and that wool was ONLY fabric used to cover canteens. I asked them why they felt so strongly about that and why was the jean incorrect. Naturally I get the classic, uninformed reenactor answer...

Well, just because we know blue means it's Union, that's why."

(Geez ... somebody get a net!)

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, how come your canteen sling is COTTON rather than LEATHER?! Bet nobody told you about that one either, huh!?

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MASONIC BADGES

Save 'em for Lodge night . . . at least those bullion badges the sutler's sell. 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, large or small 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!

To be historically accurate as a Civil War soldier who is a Mason, get rid of the bullion badges on the uniform and go to a small pin or watch fob.

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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/or hardpacks) somethings gotta go!  Either the corps badges should be removed or the red blankets and hardpacks need to take a hike.  Think about it; are you accurate ... or just "pretty"!?

Also the boys 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!   First of all, the greatest majority of such badges should be enameled - and I mean enamel as in "glass> not "paint"!   Secondly, when did clutch back pin fasteners come out .... huummm, I don't think it was around 1861.  I may be off a little but I think it was around ...  1963!? Some of these discs have a brass "safety pin" type attachment on the back and that's wrong also.   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 3/16" sized round brass ball pattern,  NOTHING ELSE!    Back in the 1970's and early '80's we used the 5/8" ball button because we had nothing else available.  HOWEVER, the more accurate 3/16" (+/-) ball buttons surface on occasion and we strongly encourage all the guys who have the larger sized buttons to grab th 3/16" 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.

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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.

Lightweight cottons and muslins,(bleached or unbleached) were NOT used by the government to make issue shirts during the war.  We are 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, concave faced, four hole pattern.  NO wooden buttons!!  Bone buttons - very VERY rarely;   glass, shell, etc. - no documentation whatsoever!

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 - Natural color (unbleached).

FRONT PLAQUETS: Also know as button plaquets or button facings, this was a feature on civilian shirts that does not appear to have been used in government issue shirts until mid to latter 1862.   So what era do you portray? Prior to this the shirts buttoned ONLY at the collar and were "split" approximate half way down the front to allow ease of taking them off and putting them on.

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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.   Any reason we should not follow suit??  Any comment that "smaller looks cool" has no historical substantiation. 

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" in size. 

And while I'm on leggings, here are some basic standards to ALL 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. So let's take a break for once from being the exception to the rule, okay!?! After a while you can "exception-to-the-rule" yourself right out of any level of logical authenticity.

Oh yes, a final point on leggings.  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)!

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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!  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 a major extreme.

My suggestion ... STOP GUESSING and ditch the dark blue regimental greatcoats for any impression after the summer 1862!

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

"When in doubt go without!"

CLASSIC advice!  We need to stop playing at this and GET REAL!

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SUSPENDERS

Oh baby, I'm seein' some crazy stuff out there. Suffice to say 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

Generic period suspenders should be a plain cotton fabric or webbing with sewn leather ends and a brass two-tine adjustment buckle; one per side. Pretty simple ... and pretty accurate.

"Youz guys" (is that East Brooklyn enough for you gents? LOL!) with "Sutler's Row Specials" that have the friction or "alligator" adjustments on their suspenders can get them reworked to have the brass adjustment buckles attached. So rebuilding them (upgrading authenticity a little) is possible. Interested? E-MAIL ME for a couple of pointers on how-to and where to get the hardware needed. Meanime, here's some GENERAL REFERENCE images showing three levels of suspenders in terms of plain to extra fancy. Again, these images are just for general reference and certainly not the final word on pattern, color and design.

PLAIN        FANCY        EXTRA FANCY    

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Chasseur Cap

The greatest percentage (although not all) of original 14th Brooklyn kepi's that I have seen have these features:

1. TWO-piece bound edge FLAT visors.

2. Made of fine quality woolen broadcloth.

3. Has a drawstring type liner on the inside.

4. Side band was reinforced with varnished or shellacked cardboard.

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

These original historical features seemed almost a standard regardless of whether the cap was made by BAKER,  BIGLOW,  BAKER & McKENNEY or others.

I am aware that some (not all) hatters out there today who make the 14th Brooklyn cap, do not make the caps in this manner,  NATURALLY!!  You have to see an original and hold it in your hands to observe all the details.

A final point -   bending your visor like a baseball cap.  This is nonsense and a 21th Century reenactorism!!!  One of the "fashionable" things that the boys did in the 1860's ON FORAGE CAPS, NOT THE KEPI, was to snap the visor up.  DO NOT TRY THIS with a two-piece visor such as found on the Chasseur cap!!  But the "snapping up" of the visors on the forage caps  was the CIVIL WAR PERIOD way of looking, well,  "snappy"(... sorry,couldn't resist)!  However, this shaping or bending the visor like a baseball cap is historically incorrect - PERIOD!

I had one brain trust try to curve the reinforced, two-piece bound visor on a super authentic repro 14th cap once and he eventually cracked it in two right down the center.   He was crying to me about it and I asked him why he wanted to curve it in the first place.   In response he uttered those famous stupid words ... "because it looks cool."  Geez, somebody call Belleview ... FOR ME!!!!

If you don't believe me about visors, check out some original pictures for once!

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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 butts?  I call these guys "Mustang pilots". That's NOT a cut on the pilots but it sure is on the reenactors!

The WW II era parachutes for pilots were designed to hang low in their harness as the pilots sat on them when in the aircraft.   But they flopped around low like that when the pilots were walking around on the ground.

HOWEVER, as for canteens and haversacks (and slung cartridge boxes) on Civil War Infantrymen, try marching like that every day for 3, 4, 6, 8 months and that banging around will get OLD, REAL FAST! Here again, LOOK AT THE PICTURES!  The boys recut them, resewed them or knotted them up SHORT and close to the body to keep them from banging around all the time. Some soldiers with slung cartridge boxes slipped their waist belts through the box loops on the back IN ADDITION TO having them slung over the shoulder,  just to stop all that flapping and banging around.

So unless you're a Mustang pilot, cinch up those straps one way or another and stop looking like a raw recruit who doesn't know better.

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Please CLICK HERE for page 5 to continue with more subjects.

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