Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Portraying the Average Union Soldier

Portraying the Union soldier is very important when it comes to the interpretation of a Civil War site. I know often times, we living historians who portray both sides often prefer one impression over the other. I like to portray odd ball units that no one has ever heard of and those units serving in the Middle Department in Maryland who encamped near Harper’s Ferry is one such choice.

Often, I like to portray the 6th Maryland Infantry, Company D that was raised in Mechanicstown, known as Thurmont today, or the 126th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company E that was raised in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. After the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863, the 126th Pennsylvania was mustered out of service giving up so many of its men that were wounded or killed in the heavy fighting in Virginia. Between these two regiments, participants can gain a lot of knowledge because they represent both sides of the Mason and Dixon Line with Catoctin Mountain and South Mountain dividing the two towns. People really enjoy the localness of an interpretive program when you can add small stories about the soldiers you represent. However, when you add stories written by an outsider who is marching through you can get a full picture of the area you represent and the Middle Department allows me to do that. The 6th Maryland was assigned to the Middle Department in late summer of 1862.

Portraying a Union soldier is a lot easier in my opinion than portraying the average Confederate soldier. This is, in part, due to the uniform regulations, and as the war went on, this became more standardized. While a great many state issued jackets made their way to the soldiers, for the most part if you were in the regular infantry you had basically had two main uniform jackets aside from state issued clothing. The first consisted of a frock coat and second consisted of a fatigue jacket or what most dub as the sack coat. You had trousers and a forage cap or dress hat, often called the Hardee hat. Your equipment was pretty basic as well. This is where the research aspect comes in and looking over clothing receipts of the company you are portraying is a great way of defining your impression.

For me personally, I went the generic way. I first researched first what I wanted to portray and then went to quality sutlers for the purchases. Duvall Leather Works, Missouri Boot and Shoe, Chris Daley and Dirty Billy were some of my choices. My Union impression was the most easy to put together after I did research. My Union impression is still incomplete even though I’ve been working on it during the last year, and this is what I have so far.

I am wearing the wool flannel fatigue coat commonly worn during the summer for work detail, and J.T. Martin contract trousers. I have two models of the forage cap. The first is for the early war impression and it’s a copy of the McDowell made by George Hoff & Company of Philadelphia. My mid to late war impression is a forage cap copied after the Lewis J. & Issac Phillips of New York model. I also wear a civilian style shirt rather than the military issue domment flannel.

My equipment belt is the early war belt with a keeper and puppy paw style US oval buckle. I have a 58 cal. cartridge box for the Harper’s Ferry Rifle I carry. This gun has the lug for a sword bayonet, which is kept in my scabbard. I am also wearing a cap box. I would have been issued a knapsack where I would keep my second pair of clothing and other personal items and one ground cloth and shelter half. My haversack is a copy of the Massachusetts haversack, but I have since replaced it with a standard haversack. I have a copper dipper attached to the haversack. My canteen is a smoothside and the cover has been replaced with a more appropriate jeans-cloth cover.

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