by Alan Arson
The following is a basic equipment advisory for those who desire to become Civil War Reenactors. It does not replace Unit Guidelines but can be used as a checklist when determining what would be needed to start in the hobby. CAUTIONARY NOTE: Do not purchase any equipment until you have determined which unit you will be joining. At that point, consult with Unit leadership and determine what type of equipment is required. Requirements vary greatly in relation to type and quality. This advisory deals primarily with the Union Infantry Reenactor although it does give an overall sense of what is required for other impressions.
As a normal course of events, one does not have a lot of money to spend on a hobby, especially at first. It is, however, important that the reenactor strive toward authenticity, although authenticity has different levels depending on the Unit. Almost everyone, however, will be very tolerant of a relatively new recruit. Many units or members of these units have spare equipment that is available for loan until the recruit can purchase the necessaries.
The following are the Basics:
1. HAT - Each unit has certain guidelines for headgear. The normal Eastern impression would use a "Bummer" or forage cap. Of these, there are two types; Early war (McDowell) and Late war, the most common being the latter. Western units favored the "slouch" or formless black felt yet there may be no firm and fast rule since Eastern Late War impressions could wear the slouch hat. Other headgear would be the Hardee Hat (stiff, tall felt hat) for Iron Brigade units, Kepis or fezes for Zouave units.
The quality of these hats can vary greatly. Without getting into a treatise of hats, good advice is to examine each for workmanship and material. Look for a thick leather brim and substantial interior stitching.
Bummers also may, depending on unit requirements, need insignia: Infantry bugle, company letter, and regimental numbers.
2. COATS - The first coat would be the fatigue or "sack" coat, a four button, woolen jacket. These can come unlined or lined with interior pockets. Most sutlers carry sack coats and patterns can be obtained if you have a seamstress who is willing to make one for you. The buttons can also be purchased separately from sutlers.
The other coat is the Frock coat which is considered a dress uniform except that some units wear their frock coats at all times reflecting their CW Unit's practice. The Frock is a 3/4 length coat with piping and more buttons. Unless the Unit requires it, this is a purchase that can be postponed.
3. TROUSERS - Made from sky-blue kersey wool with button fly, pockets and held up by suspenders. These can be purchased from sutlers (manufacture and cloth quality can vary greatly), made from pattern or, like the coats above, be made from a kit.
4. SHIRT - Latitude is allowed here since CW soldiers often received shirts from home, purchased elsewhere or wore Government issue. Shirts are long sleeve with sleeves generally looser than a modern shirt, wooden buttons and made from muslin, calico or flannel. Sutler generally carry the generic blue, black or red plaid shirts. These are generally fine since they are under the sack coat.
Cartridge Box Strap
Cartridge Box Tins (optional)
Cartridge Box Plate
Waist Belt (Keeper optional)
6. CANTEEN - This is a must. You should never take the field without a canteen an an adequate supply of water. You can get an original type or a stainless steel. The latter looks no different and will not rust.
7. HAVERSACK - Black tarred, canvas sack which is hung over the shoulder containing, rations, housewife, tobacco etc. Not a necessity but generally part of the standard kit.
8. BROGANS (SHOES) - These can be rather expensive. Many different styles are sold by many different suppliers. The quality varies. The most important consideration is that they are comfortable. You will be doing a lot of walking in these shoes as an infantryman and you should be sure that they fit well WITH a heavy pair of wool socks on.
9. UNDERWEAR - Authentic underwear is sold but most reenactors use modern garments. Would generally be one of last purchases.
10. MUSKET (BAYONET AND SCABBARD) - The two most common weapons used by reenactors are the Springfield and Enfield muskets. Either one of these will cost approximately $400 new. The reproductions are made by Armisport (cheapest), Euroarms and Navy arms (most expensive). Before purchasing, you should check with your unit. Some units desire to be equipped with the same musket that the original unit carried.
Occasionally, a second hand weapon may be purchased but make sure someone knowledgeable inspects it before purchase. Even though you will not be firing live rounds, a defective weapon is a danger to you and your filemates. Once you have your musket you need a bayonet. They are different for each type. Make sure when you purchase your bayonet that you try it on the musket and that it seats firmly and locks into place. The scabbards for each are different. The Springfield scabbard is one piece while that for the Enfield bayonet has two, the frog and the scabbard itself.
11. SHELTER - There are two acceptable forms of shelter for an infantry private (subject to unit guidelines); the A-tent or the shelter half.
The A-Tent (or Wedge Tent) was designed to sleep four soldiers during the ACW but really will only accommodate two modern day reenactors comfortably. These tents come in six and nine foot models and with various grades of materials. Seek advice before purchasing a tent.
The shelter half is a rectangle of canvas with buttons along one side and button holes along the other. Matched with an identical piece and mounted on uprights these will provide passable shelter for two men. There comes a decision, however, in damp weather for the taller man as to which end of his body will remain dry.
12. BLANKET - A good, thick woolen blanket is a necessity.
13. MESS KIT - Each soldier needs to eat. The basic kit should include a tin cup, a metal plate and utensils. Avoid the blue speckleware that is being sold by certain sutlers, it is not period and looks ridiculous. A small frying pan could substitute for the plate, specially if you unit does not have a Mess and you will be required to cook for yourself.
14. OTHER - Knapsacks, gaiters, greatcoat, poncho, haversack stuffers all can wait. Most new reenactors start salivating over catalogues and wind up buying stuff that they will never use. The best advice is to discuss all purchases with members of your unit, they've been there.
DISCLAIMER: Many old timers reading this will want to editorialize on how authentic this item is versus that item. That is not the intention of this FAQ but to merely provide an initial guideline for new recruits.
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