The Uniform of the 64th Illinois Volunteer Infantry (Late 1862-1865)
by John Thurston

This is part II of uniforms worn by the 64th. Here in the 64th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Company E, the unit as a whole is displaying a mid war [1863] look so the majority of the information listed below will highlight that period and will be the preferred dress for any events the units attend.

Your Head Gear:
The Army Regulations called for each soldier to have two hats. A dress hat, commonly called a Hardee Hat, and a fatigue hat, commonly called a forage hat.

The Dress Hat (model 1858) was made of black velvet with a 6¼” tall crown and a 3½” brim, bound in black silk ½" deep for officers, and made with a double row of stitching instead of binding for enlisted men. In actual fact, the hats were in practice considerably smaller due to greedy contractors and poor inspectors (the smaller hats were actually preferred by the user). The brim was hooked up on the left side (for dismounted men). The hook was concealed by a brass or embroidered eagle badge. One ostrich feather (for enlisted man, two for company grade officers) was worn on the opposite side of the hooked brim. Besides the side badge, the hats were further decorated by hat cords, in mixed black and gold for officers and the color of the service for enlisted men ending in a tassel worn on that opposite side of the feather. On the front was, in brass, a “Jager” horn for infantry (other branches and senior ranks differed), with 5/8” regimental numbers either in the circle of the horn if it would fit or below it and a 1” company letter above it (for officers the horn was embroidered with the regiment number stitched in silver within the horn with no company letter).

The dress hats were not very popular and were often discarded. These hats were hard and needed a little beating to make them comfortable. Despite this, some western troops, including the Iron Brigade out east, wore theirs in battle, though often without any insignia or other furnishings. A study of photos suggest that 12% of western troops wore these hats as issued, although usually without any, or, at best with very little in the way little of insignia, feathers or cords.

For fatigue work (work parties) the Fatigue or Forage Cap was issued to all troops. This was the most popular cap issued in the Union army as a whole. In the east, based on photos about 77.5% of enlisted men wore this hat. In the west, where dress was often more sloppy, less than 7.5% of enlisted men wore them and always without any sort of insignia on them. Officers were also allowed to wear them with the horn and regiment embroidered in front.

These caps could be equipped with an oilcloth for foul weather cover but these seldom lasted long nor were seen very often. In the east in the early part (1861 but not after) of the war, “havelocks” were seen, which were linen covers to protect the user from the sun.

The McClellan Cap (more a true French kepi) was not seen on enlisted men after 1862 (mainly in the east) but was very popular with officers throughout the war.

Often in the field, enlisted men wore non-regulation type hats, especially in the west. The broad brimmed Slouch Hat being the most popular. Photo’s show 82.7% of western troops in plain (no ornaments) broad brimmed felt hats. 13% of these were obviously civilian hats sent from home. Others were cut down dress hats.

Corp badges were becoming popular in the east around the time of the Battle of Chancellorsville. They did not become popular out west till the end of the war. For the portrayal of the 64th, it is unlikely that they were issued Corp badges until quite late. Two (the 13th and 16th) out of the three corps it was assigned were never issued Corp badges and the one it was (the 17th) was not issued till February 1865 in the form of a red arrow (the 64th was assigned to the 17th Corp, 1st Division, 1st Brigade from September 1864 to July 1865).

Socks were issued and mainly were made of wool. The army bought 20 million gray and tan socks over the course of the war. Socks were used as gaiters (or leggings) for fatigue work purposes or when on the march with the pant leg stuck in the sock. Photos show that they were usually removed from the pant leg for battle or other formal duties.

The model in general use was the 1858 oval canteen made of tin with a pewter mouth piece with a cork chain tied to one of the strap loops. (A stainless steel canteen body, although not period, does last longer and gives the water a better taste.) The 1862 “bullseye” canteen with ribbed stampings would also be correct but did prove to be unsuccessful in actually strengthening the canteen. It had an outer cloth covering in dark blue, sky blue, tan and gray. It had three tin loops for which a white cotton cloth carrying strap was passed (at the end of the war leather straps with an adjustable fastener were available). The cotton strap was usually shortened to carry the canteen higher up the back or side of your waist belt. There were no prescribed markings on the canteen. Soldiers often wrote their name and unit designations on the cover (sometimes on both sides). Some unique designation on the canteen was required to avoid confusion when a water squad was sent out with the canteens and returned to distribute them.

Drawers were tan color, were made 2/3 of a leg length with several buttons on the waistband and the fly.

Knap Sacks:
The 1833 pack was built around a wooden frame (14” x 14”) with a cowhide flap over it. It was painted black in color. The soldier’s blanket was rolled up and worn strapped to the top with two leather straps. The back was marked with the infantry horn, regimental number and company letter. The most common pack issued was the newer 1853 (serving till 1872) version which did away with the wooden frame. It was made of heavy duck, painted with black water proofing cover-gutta percha. As with the earlier model, the blanket was rolled up and carried on top. There were two pouches. In 1855, the straps that passed over the soldier’s chest were made with brass hooks to fasten to the 1855 belt. According to the Regulations, the soldier would put his regimental number on the outer knapsack flap in white. These marking were rarely seen after the first issue.

Generally distributed at the rate of three per year, a federal issued shirt was often made of heavy, coarsely knit wool that soldiers found uncomfortable. The colors were mainly white and gray. But out west, printed cotton calicos (two colors) were common. Cotton shirts were requested from home to replace the uncomfortable wool. These were pullover shirts with a collar and three buttons running from the neck to 1/3 the way down. Shirts from home could come machine stitched but the buttonholes should be by hand. The most common buttons were bone or Mother-of-Pearl. Shirts with gussets in the armpits will last longer in service due to sweat soaked in under the coat. Shirts from home may have been machined stitched as the federal government offered sewing machines to groups of women willing to sew uniforms for the troops. Even with this, sewing machines were becoming common fixtures in middle class households.

Leggings (Gaiters):
Leggings were not a regulation part of the uniform and were seldom used except by Zouave units. More often the socks were used in replacement of leggings.

Vests were not a regulation part of the enlisted man’s uniform. In the 1800s it was not considered polite for a man to show the buttons of his shirt in public, hence when he could afford it a gentleman wore a vest.

In 1851 the Jefferson style Brogan became standard issue footwear in the Army. An ankle-high shoe (as they were called in America) with rougher flesh side of the black leather on the outside. They came both pegged and sewn. This Brogan was issued in lefts and rights, whereas previous shoes were not. Wiping them down with linseed oil after an event will preserve them for long use.

Each enlisted man was issued two coats: a frock (dress) and fatigue (sack) coat. The 1858 frock coat was a single breasted coat with a skirt that fell halfway between hip and knee. It was piped with the color of the service on collar and cuff. The fatigue or sack coat was an 1857 model that was designed for fatigue purposes. As the war progressed it became the standard one used. They were generally lined (1 in 3 were not) and came in only three sizes. They came with an inside pocket on the left side.

The 1858 regulations called for dark blue trousers. In December 1861 this was changed to sky blue for the simple reason that indigo dye was cheaper and dark blue dye was in short supply. The stripe size (down the side of the pant leg) in dark blue would designate rank: none for a Private soldier, ½” for a Corporal, 1½” for Sergeants of all ranks, and a “welt let in the outer seam, 1/8” diameter of the color of the service” for all Regimental officers. Photos suggest that over half the non-commissioned officers did not bother putting stripes on their pants. The trousers came with a tin five-button fly and with four buttons around the waist for braces (suspenders), which were often not issued. Pockets were either cut straight or made with flaps. A watch pocket on the waistband was usually included.

The basic haversack was made of black painted cotton. It was 12½” x 3¼” x 13” with a 5” flap buckled closed by a single leather strap. A tin cup was slung by the handle on this strap. Inside there was a white cotton bag for carrying food, held in place by three tin buttons. Officially, the flaps were marked in white with the individual number of regiment. These markings were seldom seen in actual field use. The haversack was worn on the left side with the canteen over it. The top of the haversack should be even with the waist belt. Usual field rations included 27 pieces of hardtack, over a pound of salt pork, coffee, sugar, and sometimes an additional 40 rounds of ammunition and/or caps.

The issue infantry belt was of black leather, 1.9” wide and 38.5” long, with a leather loop of a brass strip of sheet brass bent around to form a loop at the end. Belts were made of both bridle and buff leather. The Sergeant’s and musician’s belt was 1.9” wide and 36-40” long with, at one end, a brass hook with three brass wire rivets and at the other a brass loop which connected it to the belt plate. The army only bought 9,598 of them, clearly insufficient for every NCO; so private belts were normally used. The NCO sword belt was worn over the right shoulder to the left hip. It was black buff leather 2.3” wide; the short section (i.e. that worn between the plate and the left hip frog) was 17” long, and the section that passed up the back and over the shoulder, 40” long. The Army bought 20,957; still short of the number of NCOs involved, so they were not often worn.

The Cap Box, which held the copper percussion caps, was black leather, 3” long and deep and 1¼” wide, with an inner cover with end pieces. A hole on the bottom of the outer flap fastened onto a brass stud. There were two loops riveted on the back through which the waist belt was slipped. On the left side was a steel wire cone pick, 1½” long, carried in a loop.

The steel socket bayonet used with Springfield and Enfield rifles muskets were similar but not interchangeable. Both had an 18” long triangular section blade and 3” sockets. Both were mounted on the site base stud on top of the barrel. The U.S. blade was 25/32” wide and the British 13/16” wide. The black bridle leather Springfield scabbard was 19½” long with a brass chape and a black leather frog sewn and riveted together.

The cartridge box for the .58 caliber rifle musket was of heavy black leather, with a light upper leather inner cover with an end piece sewn in. One or the other flap was often marked with a maker’s name. A strap sewn and riveted to the flap held the box closed by means of a brass stud. An oval stamped brass plate, 3½” by 2.2” and bearing the letters US was centered on the outside flap. In late 1864 the letters US were stamped into the leather to save metal costs. Inside the box were two tins. The box could be carried on the hip but this was seldom done.

As the war started the troops were housed in either Sibley or A-frame tents. In 1862 the shelter half was issued to troops. It was copied from the French “tente d’abri” and was first issued in the summer of 1862. They were useful for the roof of huts and served as blankets and sunshades in the summer. Initially disliked, the shelter half soon proved its worth as a basic part of the soldiers’ gear. Early war issue measured 5’2” x 4’8” and were fastened by bone buttons. Later issue in 1864 were larger at 5’6” x 5’5” with metal buttons. They were called dog tents because only a dog would live in one. [Webmaster's note: please see Ken Gough's interesting article on this topic.]

The Army bought gray brown blankets of wool. The blankets had black letters U.S. stitched in the center in outline form; the letters were 4” high with 2¾” black stripes at each narrow end. The blankets measured 7’ x 5½’ so they were large enough to roll up in.

Ponchos/Gum Blankets:
Rubber blankets and ponchos were made of rubber coated or black painted cotton. The difference in the two is that the poncho had a slit 3” wide by 16” long in the center so it could be worn over the head.

Soldiers used the two terms interchangeably and it is not known if they were issued true ponchos or blankets. Soldiers often painted the inside of the white inner liner with a checker board to play on. Both were 60” wide and 71” long with brass eyelets on the outer edge so they could be tied over a tent for more water proofing.

Tin Cups:
Tin cups or coffee boilers were issued to troops. The 1851 model was 4” x 4”.


Welcome Letter
from the Unit President

Unit History

by Members of the 64th

Events Calendar

Photo Gallery of today's 64th

The Recruiter's Tent




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