Charleston Depot Butternut Enlisted Jacket
The style of “Short” or “Shell Jacket” shown here was the most widely made and distributed Confederate coats made during the War Between the States. During the War Between the States approximately 1,050,000 men served in all branches of the Confederate Army. It has been reasonably estimated that a jacket on campaign would wear out in three months. The Confederate Government allowed two issued jackets per year. Let’s go with the lower number and count the 1,050,000 men; this would require 2,100,000 coats and jackets per year. Four years of this would come to an astounding 8,400,000 needed during the War; plus pants, socks, shirts etc... in proportionate amounts. At first, when Johnny went off to war he wore either his pre war state militia uniform, or, more often he wore a homemade coat of some design peculiar to his locale.
The Confederate Government had issued regulations for uniforms in 1861. These regulations called for “Cadet Grey” double breasted frock coats with branch of service colors. A uniform army, it was a nice idea; but reality quickly got in the way. The frock was soon replaced by the “Shell Jacket”. The short jacket with a single row of buttons required much less material; both in cloth and buttons than the regulation frock coat. For some time piping was used in place of facings for branch of service colors, but ultimately even this small concession to military fashion had to be abandoned; as did the brass buttons. The provisional forces were to provide their own jackets, for which they were allowed $21, twice a year. This commutation system was augmented by ladies aid societies, state government supplies and fundraisers.
The CS government set up its first Clothing Bureau on Richmond, Virginia’s Pearl Street in August of 1861. “Every portion of the work has its appropriate department. In the upper story of the building is the cutting room/ under the direction of superintendents and lively with the noise of shears. Lower down is the trimming room. Then the department for letting out the making of the clothes, the work being given out to the wives and relatives of the soldiers, and to poor and deserving women. Lastly comes the packing department, where the clothing, blankets, &c. are packed and forwarded to the camps” Other clothing Bureaus were set up in Athens, Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia, Marion, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Enterprise and Jackson Mississippi, Nashville, Tennessee, Charleston, South Carolina.
The commutation system was formally ended in October of 1861 and from that point on; uniforms were made by the Clothing Bureaus and issued directly from Confederate Depots. The pattern and color varied from Depot to Depot, but always in the “Short Jacket” pattern after 1862. This does not mean the ladies were out of the manufacturing business; merely that it was more regulated and consistent in cut. The clothing bureau operated on what we would refer to as a piecework system. The Confederate government purchased the cloth from any firm or person that could supply it, from the largest manufactories to the smallest cabin, whether here or abroad. The cloth was then cut to government pattern and issued to local women who stitched it together and returned it to the bureau for payment; so much per piece. This system accounts for a wide variety of minor differences in jackets while all adhering to a particular Bureau’s pattern. Also, field officer’s could and did requisition particular trims, facings etc… for their individual commands which accounts for the wide variety of cosmetic differences within a particular pattern. The new system had the benefit of lowering cost to the government from 21 to 11 dollars per jacket, even during a time of moderate inflation.
The women folk of Richmond, Virginia, Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Georgia, Nashville, Tennessee, Charleston, South Carolina, Marion, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa, Alabama turned out millions of uniform jackets for “the boys”. These women were mostly mothers, sisters and wives of soldiers and had a vested interest in how well the uniforms were made. It could be their loved one whom it protected from the elements. The difficulty of getting cloth and buttons, the minor variations within a pattern combined with the extreme scarcity of surviving enlisted men’s jackets make identifying which depot a particular jacket was produced at very difficult. For example, the jacket shown here is plainly a quartermaster issued jacket. The material for the woolen jeans cloth four piece body, dyed “butternut” could have been produced at any of the South’s woolen mills. The osnaberg sleeve and body lining could also have been made or used anywhere in the South. There are however some clues as to its place of origin. The first and most obvious is the lath turned wooden buttons and six button front. This alone suggests a deeper south manufacture. What is confusing it that it has piping on the sleeves and collar just like the Richmond Depot Type I jackets. Like the Richmond Type I, it also has belt loops. However, the single piece sleeves, six button front and wooden buttons and lack of shoulder straps, positively rule out Richmond, Nashville, Athens or Atlanta as the producer.
The Columbus, Georgia Depot jackets have for the most part full faced cuffs and collars and are fairly consistent, making it unlikely that this is one of their products.
All of the buttons are original to the jacket, even the two Federal eagle Infantry buttons. The 15/16 of an inch lathe turned buttons are like those found on the Alabama Depot jackets. However the known Alabama jackets have a single exterior breast pocket, a full faced collar and a five button front, six part body and two piece sleeves. Even though the Alabama jackets have a single belt loop shaped like a shoulder strap and wooden buttons. Two of the four surviving identical jackets of this pattern have wooden buttons; the only two besides this one known to exist. The other two have no buttons. There is a fifth example known believed to have come from this depot, and it has green wool collar and cuffs. It belonged to Silas Buck, Company D, 12th Mississippi Cavalry.
This jacket is very similar, but not likely from this depot.
The department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida had a clothing depot in Charleston, South Carolina. There are only two surviving jackets from this depot and both of them are made of English wool kersey. Both have osnaberg linings, like this jacket, six piece bodies, like this jacket, one piece sleeves, like this jacket and five buttons. They also have two large distinctive belt loops shaped like shoulder straps; again, like this jacket.
Though there are some minor differences, such as the piping and the six button front with wooden buttons and the jeans cloth vs. kersey material, this is the most likely candidate to have manufactured the jacket. I say this because the single piece sleeves and large shoulder strap shaped belt loops are so distinctive and I am not aware of any other depot jacket with this combination.
Another distinctive feature of this jacket is the orange tinted fiber cord used to sew on the buttons. This is a very distinctive feature, one I have never encountered. If this cord was found to be on any of the surviving Charleston or Alabama Depot jackets, it would positively identify it. This cord is so strong that when something or someone gave a mighty jerk to the jackets second button from the top, rather than pop the cord, the stress tore out four layers of woolen jeans cloth.
You will notice from the preceding that only a very few at best from each depot survives even though millions were manufactured. This is because only the last production had any chance for survival; all the earlier production was worn to nothing in the field. Though there is plenty of evidence for the Richmond Type I jacket, not a single example is known to survive. Of the latter production jackets that made it to the end of the War, like this one, most were heavily worn. Notice the extreme wear on the sleeves and cuffs of this jacket; all is wear, not later bug damage. Based on surviving accounts, this was pretty typical of the condition of the Confederate armies at the end of the War. When the destitute privates headed home after the surrenders, he had nothing to wear except the clothes he had on, and in most cases he had to wear it until it was in rags and falling off of him. Though there were millions less of them manufactured numerous (relatively) officer’s frock coats survive because the officer was much more likely to be able to afford to put away a sacred uniform. Also, the Federal government outlawed the wearing of any item with military insignia, which caused many to be put away and many more to be defaced. The piping and two military buttons on this jacket may have been its ultimate cause of salvation since it could not have been worn in public.
The jacket has no restoration or modification. It is just like it was when Johnny Reb took it off nearly 150 years ago. All of the damage to the jackets outer body is wear related; there is no bug damage. The interior remains virtually perfect. While many Confederate collections contain officer’s frock coats, only a very few can boast of having an enlisted jacket due to the extreme rarity of surviving examples. And as well as can be determined after a survey of museums, historical societies, and all known major private collections, this is only the third surviving example of this important link to the Confederate enlisted man.
OLD SOUTH MILITARY ANTIQUES