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Civil War Uniforms, As Not Seen on TV

by ARLnow.com January 11, 2012 at 10:30 am 8,873 19 Comments

The uniforms you see in Civil War movies may be more Hollywood myth than historical fact.

The Arlington Historical Society will attempt to dispel some of the myths behind modern depictions of Civil War uniforms and gear in a program called “Uniforms not Costumes – A ‘Real’ History of Civil War Uniforms.” The program is being held tomorrow (Jan. 12) from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Arlington Central Library auditorium (1015 N. Quincy Street).

“The program will be given by Chris Clarke, a twenty year student, re-enactor, and maker of historically accurate Civil War military equipment,” the Historical Society said in a press release. “The speaker will show clips from films and give examples of how 150 years sometimes distorts historical accuracy. Other topics covered are a history of the textiles, styles, and supply of uniforms and equipment for Confederate and Union soldiers.”

Attendees are asked to RSVP on the Arlington Historical Society website.

  • Bender

    The uniforms I’ve seen in most Civil War movies have been entirely consistent with those actual uniforms, worn by actual soldiers, which are currently on display in the museums at the various Civil War battlefields in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and throughout Virginia.

    • Shoulder boards (the rank indicators) are the most common mistake, made in nearly every Civil War movie. Only general officers and staff officers had the dark blue background, but you constantly see infantry colonels wearing them (e.g. Chamberlain in “Gettysburg”).

      The other common mistake is showing soldiers fighting in their dress uniforms.

  • novasteve

    Obviously nobody is still alive that actually saw in person the uniforms, but I have seen photos, artwork, etc, and the uniforms are pretty accurate. They even in movies like God and Generals depict those really odd Moroccan style uniforms that some used to wear as well.

    • Garden City

      Odd Moroccan-style uniforms = Zouaves.

  • laloca

    the only civil war movie that comes immediately to my mind is Glory… and the costuming there looks pretty close to those illustrations.

  • charles

    All Civil War costume recreations always seem to include nice, well-fitting shoes. But didn’t most Civil War soldiers have terrible footware either falling apart or really bad-fitting to the point of constant pain? Or none at all? Perhaps authenticity only goes so far.

    • drax

      Alot probably started with decent shoes but ended up wearing them down by the end of the war.

    • Dan

      And as an interesting “footnote”…..Gettysburg was sparked by shoes…the Confederate army sent troops into the town of Gettysburg because they had heard that there was a load of shoes in the town and bumped into a Union patrol and the rest is indeed history.

      • Lou

        Were they looking for early prototypes of Air Jordans?

        • GP


    • CAllenDoudna

      A Civil War soldier wore out a pair of shoes in two months and his uniform in four months. The Confederacy began the war planning to supply their men with a new pair of shoes every three months and a new uniform every six months and never met even that goal. Since Federal blue faded to near-grey Union pickets were willing to trade their old uniforms for
      Southern tobacco and Confederate soldiers would wear whatever Yankee gear they could capture. Sherman’s men marching through Georgia and up the Caroloinas found themselves in the reverse situation.

  • Trank the Fank

    I’m trying really, really hard to care about the accuracy of Hollywood’s portrayal of Civil War Uniforms. I really am.

    Nope . . . it’s not working.

    • Cyrus


  • JimPB

    Best to show how the soldiers lived then.

    Close to nature.
    No housing. No A/C. No central heat.
    No treated water. No toilet paper.
    Few changes of clothing (wash and put back on). Bathing was occasional.

    Food. Call it that, if you wish.
    Few real medicines, including for STDs.

    Horse deposits galore.

    Those good old times weren’t really so good.

  • que

    Slow news day.

  • North A-Town Snob

    What is this “Civil War” that they speak of? I just assumed that since a large contingent of people in this area were working diligently to have the names of roads, schools, etc., that referred to anything relating to this so-called Confederacy renamed, that this Civil War must have actually been a farce. The Union soldiers were actually fighting imaginary men of this so-called Confederacy and not anyone named Stonewall Jackson or Robert E. Lee. If revisionists are working so hard to change our history, then it must have been incorrectly reported all these years.

  • Josh S

    For Chris Clarke’s sake, I hope none of you show up at his presentation.

  • ArlingtonWay

    Sounds interesting. Dont tell me how the war ends. I want to be surpised.

  • John Andre

    The French wore Zouave uniforms right up to World War I as I recall. In fact the German invasion of Belgium in 1914 included a squadron of lance cavalry [which didn’t last too long once the troops got bogged down in the trenches in Flanders and on the Marne].

    Later on in 1941 during World War II, Nazi troops laughed when they found the retreating Red Army using horse cavalry as they were pushed back by the advancing Panzer squadrons. The laughs turned to curses three years later when the Germans were forced back by the advancing Soviet troops. It seems the lubricants in German tanks had a habit of freezing solid in the cold Russian winter, while the cold-hardy Soviet horses could move at will past Panzers immobilized in the harsh subfreezing weather.


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