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"Why did the South wear grey? " Topic


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BullDog69 Inactive Member28 Aug 2011 10:37 p.m. PST

Perhaps a dumb question, but it popped into my head while I was watching a film last night.

Were regiments raised in the Southern States traditionally (ie. before the break up of the Union) clad in grey, and this was simply continued into the war? Or did the leaders of the CSA make a conscious decision to pick a new colour, and to issue their forces with these new uniforms? (presumably in the main to distinguish their forces from those of the North but also, I would assume, to mark a new beginning for a new army etc – but at enormous expense).

And why grey? On the face of it, it seems a more practical colour than blue or scarlet or whatever, but was there any other, more esoteric, reason?
(I recall reading that the RAF's 'airforce blue' came about when the newly formed RAF picked up a huge amount of material in that colour on the cheap – apparently it had been ordered by the Tsar of Russia just before the revolution and his regime had fallen before it was shipped across. No idea if there is any truth in this, but wondered if there might be a similar story involved).

Leadpusher Supporting Member of TMP28 Aug 2011 10:43 p.m. PST

A lot of the Confederates wore butternut, a shade of khaki as well as grey. Some also wore blue from the armories that were captured at the outbreak of the war. Also don't forget the Zouaves.

BullDog69 Inactive Member28 Aug 2011 10:50 p.m. PST

Leadpusher

But was this butternut a 'traditional' colour for those units, or was it adopted at the start of hostilities?

Rallynow28 Aug 2011 10:57 p.m. PST

Grey was the traditional uniform color of most state troops and milita since before 1812. The most famous example of this is at The Battle of Chippewa on July 5th 1814. There was a shortage of blue uniforms so the regulars had to wear the grey uniforms of the New York Militia.

British Major General Phineas Riall assumed the American troops in front of him were only militia. Riall ordered a head long assault thinking that the Americans would break and run. He famously exclaimed "By god those are regulars" or something like that.

The Americans held their line and with fierce fighting the British attack was repulsed. It was over quickly, the British lost 415 killed, wounded or missing. And the Americans lost 328 killed, wounded or missing.

It was easier and less expensive for the South to adopt grey because most of the states already outfitted their troops in grey. The North adopted the regular blue uniform. There were exceptions. At First Bull Run some units wore the opposite color but that was soon sorted out. Even T.J. Jackson and I think Bernard Bee wore their regular blue uniforms at First Bull Run.

SonofThor28 Aug 2011 11:03 p.m. PST

I know there were the Louisiana Grays that fought in the War for Texas Independence. I don't know if that had any influence on it or not. It seems to me that some of the early military academy uniforms were also gray.

picture

Rallynow28 Aug 2011 11:11 p.m. PST

But was this butternut a 'traditional' colour for those units, or was it adopted at the start of hostilities?

The South ran out of the grey dye for it's uniforms. So as the war went on you began to see more and more butternut. Also it was not uncommon for Confederate troops to take parts of uniforms from either dead Union troops or that were captured lots from Union army supply depots and wagons.

Another point is that the Southern grey dye were of different shades depending which depot it came from. Grey uniforms manufactured in Richmond had a brownish tint to it. Were as grey from Atlanta may have a bluish tint to it and uniforms made in San Antonio may have been a little different.

Wolfshanza Inactive Member28 Aug 2011 11:31 p.m. PST

As an aside, I had read that at the end of the war of 1812 most of the american commanders thought that gray was a much better color and wanted the army clad such. There were warehouses of blue uniforms, however, so that idea was scotched.

Rallynow28 Aug 2011 11:38 p.m. PST

As another aside. Some Union officers would treat captured Confederates in blue federal uniforms as spies and have them shot or hanged. I don't how wide spread the practice was.

Flat Beer and Cold Pizza Inactive Member28 Aug 2011 11:46 p.m. PST

Taken from Time Life Books "Echoes of Glory, Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy" (edited by Henry Woodhead, Copyright 1991):

"By the best evidence, credit for designing the basic scheme belongs to a Prussian artist named Nicola Marschall, then living in Marion, Alabama. In April 1861, the Confederate congressional committee assigned to conceive a design for the regular uniform reached an impasse. Alabama Governor Andrew B. Moore, eager to help, referred the problem to a friend and relative, Mrs. Napoleon Lockett, who in turn asked Marschall to draw up a plan.

The peripatetic Marschall had been impressed with a group of Austrian Army sharpshooters he had seen in Verona, Italy, in 1857. They had worn a short grey tunic with green facings,with the ranks of the officers distinguished by different sized stars. Marschall incorporated these elements into his design. A uniform board appointed by the Confederate Congress modified Marschall's system of ranking, but his basic scheme was was instituted for the Regular Army in June. It consisted of of a double breasted grey tunic for all ranks, with seven buttons in each row. Made like a frock coat, it had a skirt that reached halfway between the hip and the knee, much shorter than a conventional frock coats. There was a standing collar and pointed cuffs, the latter with three small buttons along the underside."

Hope this helps.

Cheers,
Tom

Rallynow28 Aug 2011 11:48 p.m. PST

Yet another aside. Late in the war the ANV had a severe shortage of clothing in any color. The State of North Carolina had warehouses full of grey uniforms and shoes. More than enough to clothe their regiments. But the Governor refused to allow the excess uniforms to be issued to other states units. No amount of pleading from Lee or Davis would sway him. "Died of a Theory".

BullDog69 Inactive Member28 Aug 2011 11:53 p.m. PST

"Some Union officers would treat captured Confederates in blue federal uniforms as spies"

I've always thought that wearing a uniform that could be mistaken for that of the enemy was a very dangerous practice – surely you are much more likely to be shot by troops on your own side than to gain any sort of advantage over the enemy.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP29 Aug 2011 4:37 a.m. PST

Well, the United States Army was already wearing blue so they didn't want to choose that color. As noted, a lot of state militias were already in gray so that probably seemed a sensible choice.

Norman D Landings Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2011 4:43 a.m. PST

The RAF "Air Force Blue" story is true, BTW.
(it's the kind of thing that usually turns out to be disappointingly apocryphal!)

Until the RAF uniform orders, it was previously known as 'Cossack Blue'.

(According to one source, it was nicknamed 'Crab-fat Blue', hence the terms 'Crabs' for RAF personnel.)

Femeng2 Inactive Member29 Aug 2011 5:43 a.m. PST

The US Army changes its uniform from blue to grey in time for Lundy's Lane. One unit of the army still proudly wars this uniform; the Corps of Cadets. Most southern states maintained a strong militia for slave revolt suppression (they had one about every decade), so when the civil war started, the majority of their militia was in grey. But many retained revolutionary uniform, and a few the new army blue.
The north, on the other hand, although they still had some traditional militia in grey, raised most of their militias after the mexican war, they were show uniforms, so were in blue, brown, red, and grey. The government only supplied the standard blue, however, so the majority were in blue.
Kilts, feathers, frills soon disappeared.

Balin Shortstuff29 Aug 2011 6:09 a.m. PST

I've also heard the grey was the cheapest color to obtain since it was closer to a natural wool color, which is why many militias adopted it.

link

The Captain of the Gate29 Aug 2011 7:02 a.m. PST

For the record, it was the New Orlean's Greys, not Louisianna Greys.

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2011 8:18 a.m. PST

RallyN=now wrote:

The South ran out of the grey dye for it's uniforms. So as the war went on you began to see more and more butternut. Also it was not uncommon for Confederate troops to take parts of uniforms from either dead Union troops or that were captured lots from Union army supply depots and wagons.

Another point is that the Southern grey dye were of different shades depending which depot it came from. Grey uniforms manufactured in Richmond had a brownish tint to it. Were as grey from Atlanta may have a bluish tint to it and uniforms made in San Antonio may have been a little different.

This is incorrect. The term "butternut" as taken from Wikipedia (which saves me some time) :

During the American Civil War, the term "butternut" was sometimes applied to Confederate soldiers. Some Confederate uniforms apparently faded from gray to a tan or light brown. It is also possible that butternut was used to color the cloth worn by a small number of Confederate soldiers.[7] The resemblance of these uniforms to butternut-dyed clothing, and the association of butternut dye with home-made clothing, resulted in this derisive nickname.

Southern depots did not have different shades associated with them. This myth comes from a couple of well-known sutlers who used these names to refer to different shades of wool they had/have available to make repro clothing from.

The most common dye used was logwood, which produces a very uniform, darkish grey color, quite similar, as it turns out to the color of the bark of the Butternut Tree. Over a period of several month's exposure to sunlight this dye will oxidize to many shades of tannish grey to drab. It often will retain the original color inside the jacket, and along the bottoms of the cuffs, hem, etc.

This is a result of several factors, including the water used, the type of pot (iron or copper) the type of wool, the mordant used, etc. As a result, actual colors are close in shade from batch to batch, but never quite identical.

The one type of wool which DID manage to remain pretty constant in it's shade was English Army Cloth, imported in amazing quantities, and starting to appear in the ANV and then the AiT late in 1862. This cloth is still produced today by Abimelech Hainsworth and is used for the Guards overcoats.

link

Another common color available for use and used by a LARGE number of officers is "cadet grey" very close to that used today by West Point. It has a bluish cast to it, and was a lovely broadcloth. Uniform after uniform of CS officers are found in museums and collections made from this cloth.

respects,

show some respect for women Inactive Member29 Aug 2011 9:24 a.m. PST

Prior to the war, 'regulars' wore blue. Most if not all of the militia units wore grey.

At the First Bull Run, both sides fielded units that wore grey and many of the Confederate officers wore blue. Obviously not a good situation.

It was easier and cheaper for the Rebs to adopt grey.

Mako11 In the TMP Dawghouse29 Aug 2011 10:09 a.m. PST

The dirt/sand in NC is gray, at least on my grandparent's farm.

AICUSV29 Aug 2011 1:34 p.m. PST

It has always been my understanding that traditionally blue was the color for the Federal uniforms – while gray was for the state forces. Scott's troops were mistaken for militia due to their gray uniforms.
The choice of gray for the CSA steams logical as there fight was one of the State vs. the Federal, or blue vs. gray.
A better question maybe; Why was gray selected to represent state governments and blue the Federal? Here I believe the answer may have something to do with economics and availability of dyes.

The accepted color assignments (antebellum US)
Dark Blue = US regular army (lifers)
Light Blue = Volunteer units (state units in Federal service)
Gray = State units.

95thRegt29 Aug 2011 5:02 p.m. PST

A lot of the Confederates wore butternut, a shade of khaki as well as grey.
>>
There never was, or is,any such color as butternut! The dyes in the gray uniforms faded, or turned "butternut" looking! It annoys the hell out of me when i see BAD reenactor vendors selling butternut colored wool tunics and jackets! Wargamers have also come to embrace this and paint whole units this alleged color. I have a couple jeancloth,NOT wool,as many think the Southern uniforms were,and they are faded differently due to different dyes. One is indeed a light brownish tint,TINT. The other faded from a medium to lighter gray.
Neither is what I'd call butternut!

Bob

95thRegt29 Aug 2011 5:06 p.m. PST

Another point is that the Southern grey dye were of different shades depending which depot it came from. Grey uniforms manufactured in Richmond had a brownish tint to it. Were as grey from Atlanta may have a bluish tint to it and uniforms made in San Antonio may have been a little different.
>>
Longstreets Corps which was sent to the West in late 63 was said to be wearing brand new "bluish-gray" uniforms and kepis. These uniforms were issued from one the Richmond Depots who supplied the Army of Northern VA.Also later in the War,British made Tate Jackets were issued and they were a darker blue gray.

Bob

FireZouave29 Aug 2011 8:56 p.m. PST

Will we ever eliminate the myth of the butternut uniforms?

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2011 9:35 p.m. PST

Sadly, no.

The term "butternut" was a derisive term used to describe CS soldiers and the various shades of grey, along with what was considered "slave cloth" or "poor man's cloth": jean cloth.

Jean cloth was a mix of cotton & wool, one on the warp, the other on the weft. Usually, but not always, the thread was dyed before weaving. This was the preferred method, as it maintained it's color longer. When money was scarce, the material was woven and used either as undyed cloth, or vat dyed, where the entire bolt was soaked in a vat of dye for a period of time. This could produce a nice color, but it would fade more quickly, and not always (in fact, rarely) evenly.

CS uniforms were, with few exceptions all produced with grey material. It was exposure to the elements, combined with the various natural dyes, types of water, mordants and wool used which would hasten or slow oxidation to some light shade. These shades could include some drab colors and tannish TINTS to the basic grey, but uniforms produced in other than grey were the exception, and NOT the rule.

74EFS Intel Inactive Member30 Aug 2011 3:57 a.m. PST

I figure we'll finally defeat the "butternut" myth just before we convince people that Confederate uniforms were made of jean and not 100% wool (or polyester).

95thRegt30 Aug 2011 4:09 p.m. PST

I figure we'll finally defeat the "butternut" myth just before we convince people that Confederate uniforms were made of jean and not 100% wool (or polyester).
>>
We may also get the sutlers to stop selling "butternut" colored WOOL jackets with CSA buttons on them!

But I doubt it..:-(

Bob

Privateer4hire30 Aug 2011 7:57 p.m. PST

Not to derail but…

Rallynow just reminded me of the unit history we used to listen to every payday parade at Ft Polk back in the late 80s. When saluting officers, we enlisted would say "Regulars, Sir." And the officers would reply "Regulars, By God!"

A former, now proud member of the 4/6th Infantry Regulars. :)

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP31 Aug 2011 6:35 a.m. PST

Well,

All of the uniforms made from English Army cloth, as well as the Tait jackets were 100% wool. It's a who/when/where sort of thing.

But yeah: Get the sutlers, et al to ditch the "butternut" clothing & CSA buttons and that alone would be a nice step up for the reenacting hobby.

AICUSV31 Aug 2011 8:42 a.m. PST

There was a Federal General Order (#101 or 191 something like that) issued in 1863, that stated anyone captured while bearing arms against the United Stated and dressed in items issued by the Government of the United States was to be treated as a spy.
I have not read any account of anyone ever being executed under this order. I did, however, read of a Federal soldier, who after his unit captured a Rebel camp, put on a Rebel uniform just to fool around. He was arrested and threatened with death for it. He ended up on a general punishment detail.

Rallynow31 Aug 2011 10:59 a.m. PST

TKindred:

I agree with your point about the fading grey. But the rest I have to disagree with you. Nobody planned to make different shades of grey. But in the South each section used what they had on hand and all they had to by was written orders that they make gray uniforms. There were all butternut regiments like the 6th Miss. at Shiloh. Here is a painting of the 6th by Rick Reeves. This painting is what I used to paint the regiment.

link

I see butternut uniforms in Troiani's and Künstler's works. If it be a conspiracy to lead renactors, historians, artist and figure painters in the wrong direction, then they are doing a whale of a job of it.

I have on order the book "Cadet Gray and Butternut Brown" by Thomas M. Arliskas. Hopefully this book will shed some light on the subject. I could be wrong but, wow what an evil devious plan this would be.

Rallynow31 Aug 2011 11:56 a.m. PST

Actually looking back at the thread (now that I am on lunch break) I think we all pretty much agree with each other or close to it. The problem you have with ending the so called "myth" is that butternut even during the ACW morphed into a color.

You can read scores of Union letters and journals which refer to the Rebels in there gray and butternut uniforms. I maintain butternut as a color.

It is much like Khaki which started out meaning only type of fabric not a color. But shortly became the color Khaki. This what I believe happen to butternut, it is a color ranging from off white to brown and some of it was faded grey and some of it issued because that is all there was and yes whole units were at least in the case of the 6th Tenn. all "butternut" color.

roughriderfan Inactive Member31 Aug 2011 5:06 p.m. PST

One point about the use of gray by militia north and south. Blue was the official color of the Regular Army since 1784. Militia units as early as the War of 1812 were seen in gray. However after the War of 1812 when West Point went to gray for its cadets – because it was easier to maintain not because of Scott's Brigade's uniform.

Anyway cadets at West Point at this time were not in the US Army per se, so they could resign at any point up to and after graduation – there was no requirement that a cadet serve in the US Army in exchange for their education.

Members of militia units north and south viewed their status as similar to that of the cadets – not as the rank and file of the Regular Army. They were free to join and leave their units – as gentlemen like the cadets. Hence the prewar popularity of "cadet" gray.

My .02

Rallynow31 Aug 2011 9:31 p.m. PST

I always wondered how Poe managed to just resign from West Point. Good info. on the cadet grey.

donlowry01 Sep 2011 9:50 a.m. PST

Not all Southerners wore gray -- just the Confederates.

Rallynow01 Sep 2011 11:40 a.m. PST

Good point. I am sure someone will be happy to correct me, but I think every Confederate State except South Carolina contributed regiments to the Union.

Personal logo zippyfusenet Supporting Member of TMP01 Sep 2011 1:56 p.m. PST

It had to be, so the folksters could pen all those sentimental ballads about,

There wuz two brothers down the way,
One wore blue, t'other wore grey…

Last Hussar01 Sep 2011 5:20 p.m. PST

So they didn't have to be 'skins'

donlowry04 Sep 2011 1:57 p.m. PST

South Carolina contributed at least 2 regiments of "Colored Troops," originally known as the 1st S.C. and the 2nd S.C.

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