U.S. MARINE CORPS 1859 PATTERN ENLISTEDMEN’S UNDRESS COAT:
This is a coat so rare that the vast majority of Civil War collectors do not even recognize it. Case in point, when this coat first surfaced it was offered at a prominent militaria and Civil War auction house and the “expert” auctioneer described it as some sort of a 19th century militia coat. I know of only three examples extant, (including this), and one of them is the usually published sergeant’s coat that does not follow regulations. This one does. The unpadded, fitted torso and short skirts can fool even a sophisticated textile collector into thinking they are looking at a later period uniform, but the USMC led the way in tailoring in their 1859 regulations and produced a shorter coat for field wear that was visually distinct from the army’s frock and sack coats.
Developed in 1859 as an intermediate uniform between full dress and fatigue garb, the undress coat was worn for tasks between formal dress parades on one hand and fatigue duties on the other. Though sometimes referred to as a “fatigue coat,” the 1859 enlisted undress coat was the real battle jacket, and evolved over the years into the current USMC enlisted dress uniform we know today.
With pre-war and post-war Marine establishments of under 2,000 men, and a wartime strength less than 4,000, any Civil War U.S. Marine uniform is rare.
Worn only from 1859 to 1875, the coat followed the pattern seen here: a low collar trimmed with a red welt along the base only; seven large buttons on the front and two on the rear at the waist; and two small buttons on each cuff. The skirts were made shorter than the army enlisted dress coat, officers’ frock coats, and those on the Marine enlisted full dress coat, extending only “from the top of the hip to the crotch of the trousers,” (1859 Regulations). Precisely what we see here.
The internal lining is like the full dress coat, brown polished cotton in the front and sides of the torso and the back of the skirts, and white linings in the sleeves.
As with the full dress coat, and unlike the army version, there are no pockets in the tails. Marines were intended to take part only in shipboard engagements, defense of posts, or limited landing operations. Hence you don’t see many Civil War Marines with gun slings or knapsacks. Wartime demands, of course, meant wider service. There was even a USMC battalion at First Bull Run, and they took part in many engagements right through the assault on Fort Fisher in 1865.
Shown here are three wartime photos of leathernecks wearing this coat.
There are three war date USMC buttons present. Additional war date examples can be had at some expense, or you can buy similar later examples for display purposes for a nominal cost. Condition is excellent save for a couple very minor blemishes. There is one tiny area of moth tracking on the lower breast that is hardly noticeable, and a couple lines of stitching that have given way on the collar hanging tab, one skirt panel, and part of the sleeve lining. No material is missing. The skirt panel is secured now with two pins to keep it from pulling out the rest of the stitching.