THE BLUE AND THE GREY or
BUTTERNUTS AND BLUE or
BLUE ON BLUE?
Article provided by Whit Edwards (1)
When the War Between the States erupted at Fort Sumter, few Southerners in the Trans-Mississippi West were ready to march into the field. Yes, unrest and dissatisfaction with United States policies had driven the South into a fever pitch of secession, but that was politics, not war. With secession, military posts in the Indian Territory were quickly abandoned by Union troops. Fort Washita, Fort Arbuckle, and Fort Cobb were stripped of all their military stores which were carried north to Union Kansas. Other military posts in the Trans-Mississippi, such as Fort Smith and Little Rock Depot, met similar fates, draining the area of the Trans-Mississippi of military supplies.
When the call to arms came, men of the Trans-Mississippi West answered with exuberance. They came equipped with what ever they could scrounge - accouterments, livestock, uniforms, wagons, and weapons - with promises of clothing, weapons, and pay to follow from the newly formed Confederate government. Advertisements or "call to arms" for volunteers seen in newspapers throughout the Trans-Mississippi made promises of supplies and arms, such as
"I have authority from Col. A.H. Jones C.S.A. to raise a company of infantry for service in Missouri for the term of twelve months. Arms and a complete outfit under Confederate regulations will be furnished as soon as the company is organized and reported." Daniel W. Jones. (2)
However, the Confederate quartermasters in the Trans-Mississippi did not have a stockpile of uniforms and arms nor were there armories or many clothiers and milliners in the region. Out of necessity, depots established at Washington, Arkansas, Jefferson, Texas, and Tyler, Texas, began compiling the necessities of war. Materials were purchased from Mexico, England, France and even the United States [through third parties or on "the black market"]
Soon, the "call to arms" advertisements changed. "The government prefers to raise companies for the [duration of the] war and furnishes with arms only those that enlist for that time. Companies furnishing their own arms can be received for twelve months." (3) For the most part companies were raised by towns or counties and boasted their pride either by name or by dress. Thus units were called "Camden Knights," "Polk County Invincibles, " "Morehouse Guards, " or the "Red River Dragoons." And James Fremantle observed in 1863, "The Texas Cavalry company dress consist[ed] of Jack boots with huge spurs, ragged black or brown trousers, flannel shirts, and black felt hats ornamented with the Lone Star of Texas." (emphasis added) (4)
Even when the Confederate desire for military uniformity in dress was presented, it was often overlooked in favor of more pressing needs such as firearms and food. This was an ever present consideration throughout the war in the Trans-Mississippi. Colonel Demorse of the 29th Texas had this to say about uniforms in 1862, "I had heard a great deal about Georgia cloth manufacture and Columbus has two mills, but none of the products that I could find or hear of were half as goad as our homemade jeans." (5) The money he was to spend on uniforms he paid to his men as a clothing stipend. Others complained that the quartermaster department was unable to supply them with uniforms or anything else.
We have never drawn any clothing, shoes, salt or anything else from the Quartermaster department. What little clothing the men had they had collected for themselves. (6)
The Uniforms of the Cavalry were as circumstances of their procurement might suggest as promiscuous in color and assortment as they were insecure in fabrication. Footwear was of all shapes and types - moccasins, high cut boots, short top boots, and low quarter shoes called pumps. Socks were of all colors, coats were both single and double-breasted and varied in color and design. (7)
Aside from a few well worn butternut colored uniforms belonging to some veterans of Company "E," all the men looked strangely alike - mud colored or grey home spun jeans; red and white checked or brown wool shirts muddy brogans, wide low porkpie hats or an occasional stetson. (8)
"Of the five thousand one thousand are without arms many have not clothing, without shoes and what any one in their right senses would say was in deplorable condition looking like Siberian exiles than soldiers." "I have been in an almost nude condition." (9)
The quartermaster department in the Trans-Mississippi worked as hard as possible to se-cure supplies for the fighting man - but the importance of operations in the Trans-Mississippi was insignificant to the high command when compared to the crisis at Richmond or Vicksburg. Consequently, the men in the Trans-Mississippi were placed on the bottom of the priority list. Quartermasters in the Trans-Mississippi were left with the un-enviable task of securing arms and clothes by any means at hand. As the effects of the blockade became evident, the Trans-Mississippi depots became manufacturing centers, as did the penitentiary at Huntsville, Texas. "It is expected that the machinery sent to Tyler, Texas, when put in operations, will turn out 20,000 yards woolen jeans. These mechanics cannot be obtained from civil life, and I suggest that inquiry be made throughout the army for them. (10)
This correspondence from the Chief of the Clothing Bureau in the Trans-Mississippi quartermaster Department indicates that even when the equipment to manufacture cloth for uniforms was present, capable manpower was not always readily available. The following advertisements in local newspapers testify to the desperate task facing the quartermaster.
Wanted: jeans, linseys, white domestics, cottonades, yarn socks. For clothing for the soldiers. I will pay liberal prices for the above mentioned articles in any quantities, delivered at Washington [Arkansas] Geo. Taylor Capt + A.Q.M. C.S.A. (11)
Cotton Cards for sale. Cards for sale at Government clothing rooms. Linsey, Jeans and Socks taken in exchange at fair prices. Apply to Maj. J.D. Thomas Q.M.C.S.A. (12)
The Quartermasters also relied heavily on home manufacturing of goods. "[I have] every reason to believe that the army can be supplied from home products with 108,000 hats, 40,000 jackets, 40,000 pairs of trousers, 100,000 shirts and drawers, 120,000 pairs of shoes, 3,000 tents and cooking utensils to meet pressing demands. To accomplish this, however it will be necessary to keep me amply supplied with funds (I have a very small amount at present)." (13)
Funding in the Trans-Mississippi was predominately done through the issuance of Confederate bonds backed with cotton instead of gold. As the war progressed - or regressed for those living and fighting in the Trans-Mississippi - the cotton bonds held less and less value. Unable to secure quantities of clothing from the government, the Confederate soldiers in the field were left for the most part to fend for themselves. If not from the govern-met, where were supplies to come from? As witnessed by the following, the soldiers turned to their families and their home towns for help.
"I wrote to you sometime since for some clothing. If you have not sent them please for-ward them immediately." (14)
"Pa, I wish you would send an overcoat oil cloth." (15)
"I don't know weather you ever got my letter or not so I will emminate again first and for-most I want a heavy comfort lined quilt or blanket or something eaqualy as warm. A heavy suit of clothes, jeans pants lined, pair of double boots, army overcoat with cape. Heavy woolen shirt one heavy cotton shirt, and anything else you may think I need. [sic.]" (16)
"Mrs. Cline came in today to see me and has offered to help me about dyeing my cloth and help me to get it sown I will soon have some jeans for you and Ferry and Claude. (17)
"I shall go back so as to get some clothes for you but there is no chance to get only to spin them but Charlotte and I can do it in two or three weeks." (18)
Through letters, newspaper advertisements, and from the government itself pleas went out to the citizenship.
All clothing designed by the citizens of Hempstead for Capt. Williamson’s company, the "Southern Defenders," are requested to be delivered at the store of D. & V. Block by the 10th of November. The clothing needed for each member is one coat, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, two pairs of drawers. It is to be hoped the citizens of Old Hempstead will respond to the call, as the members of this company are sadly in need of the above articles. Geo. M. Williamson 2nd Lieut. (19)
In some areas of the Trans-Mississippi, the conditions surrounding the fighting-man’s home were intolerable for their families. Missouri, Arkansas and particularly Indian Territory were plagued with vendettas, feuds, and the treachery of bushwhacking. Those families that could remove themselves to the safety of relatives did so early in the War. Those that were steadfast either from necessity or from perseverance often felt the wrath of vengeful armies, bushwhackers, or vendetta driven citizens.
Caught in the seat of war, no matter how much the people from home wanted to help sup-ply their fighting men - they were struggling to supply themselves.
"I have spun every day since you left and still all are bare for clothing except Jack and Ninny." (20)
In the Indian Territory, where robbery and murder, looting and burning were practiced by both armies on the citizens and their homes, J. S. Murrow, a Baptist missionary wrote, "The western portions of this Indian Territory are all ruined and laid waste all improvements are burned, stock all driven off or killed, and entire western settlements are deserted." (21)
Conditions at home were often as bad as - or worse than - those in the field. "The rich folks or rather the ones that were rich before the war look as poor, as poor folks generally can look; and what shall I say then of the poor, I can not begin to describe their intense poverty." (22)
The men in the field often turned to more creative ways of supplying their needs. George Washington Grayson wrote
"Our Government had issued to our men certain wool hats of plain sheep’s wool without any coloring. Now these hats while not comely of shape and appearance, had further disadvantage of losing after a short service even the little shape and semblance of figure that had been given by the manufacturer. Our soldiers were poorly clad and most of the time presented a motley appearance. So when we caught a prisoner we generally stripped him clean of his wearing apparel as we desired, they always being better than our own and placed upon him instead such of our own duds." (23)
"After the surrender they took all our arms and ammunition and stripped us of the necessary clothing." (24)
For many soldiers however, the thought of wearing Federal blue was unsettling so for want of going cold, they would try to "boil the blue out" of the cloth. But as the war continued objections to wearing the blue became less and less and the Southern army of the Trans-Mississippi took on a decidedly blue tint. "I would yet mention that because the people cannot tell us from rebels is simply for this reason: as many of the bushwhacking rebs as can get the Federal uniform wear them, if they kill one of our men or take one prisoner they strip them of all their clothing." (25)
And another wrote
"A detachment of this division just arrived from Park Hill, Cherokee Nation, reports that seven of our Indians [3rd Indian Home Guard] known as Pins, were killed at that place a few days ago by a party of rebels wearing the federal uniform. This is not the only instance during the past year of small detachments of our troops having been entrapped by the enemy who were dressed in the federal uniform." (26)
Confederates in blue became more and more prominent.
Distinguishing one army from the other was not often easy at first glance. "The Old man was quite a pleasant man and not a little bit pleased to see so many feds or regular blue coats as we are often called in this place." (27)
"We heard the other day of southern men in Federal disguise coming down the Grand River." (28)
Whether they were in disguise or just happy to have clothing is uncertain. But what is certain is that supplies were few and far between unless they came from the north.
Confederates targeted the northern supply trains for two reasons: One of strategy - cutting supplies to the enemy - and the other of need - supplying their own army.
On the morning of July 5th I learned that there was a train of 10 wagons loaded with U.S. Sutler goods on the way to Jacksport via Sulfur Rock and then some 10 or 12 miles from Batesville. I immediately dispatched 50 men to capture them which they succeeded in doing...On July 6 I received information of another similar train of wagons on the same road. They were in like manner captured...These captures put us in possession of a considerable quantity of goods much needed by our army. (29)
Chaplain George Primrose of the 4th Missouri Cavalry wrote, "I send you the following daring exploit of Capt. J.W. Jacobs, of Burbridge’s Regiment, who, on last Wednesday evening captured train of the enemy in ten miles of Little Rock, burning the wagons 13 and bringing off 22 prisoners and 60 mules and harness, also a large lot of clothing." (30)
In yet another report it is learned, "The men that were along say we captured between 300 and 400 wagons loaded with supplies and commissary stores there were only 127 brought out, and the clothing divided among the men, all gota tolerable good outfit." (31)
Confederates wearing Federal uniforms presented many problems for the soldiers of the United States. Witness this caution from Union general Rosecrans to Confederate general Price of the hazards his men faced if captured wearing Federal uniforms.
Lt. Graves C.S.A. with forty enlisted men, bearers of flag of truce, arrived here on the 20th, escorting prisoners captured by you. The escort to this flag [of truce] was clothed in our uniform. I have always adopted as a rule, necessary for my own protection, that soldiers of your army captured in our uniform, should be treated as spies. The necessity of this rule must be obvious to you. I cannot object to you wearing captured clothing, provided its color is changed so it cannot deceive me. I have not interfered with Lt. Graves, for he was protected by the flag he carried. I am not unmindful, General, of your humanity and courtesy toward Federal prisoners in times past, but I consider it my duty to express my regrets that you permitted this practice, which exposes your men to the rigorous punishment demanded by military prudence as a protection from surprise. (32)
The "rigorous punishment" alluded to in General Rosecrans letter is evidenced in Col. John Phillips report.
"A number of prisoners taken in this fight were dressed in our uniform, and in obedience to existing orders from departmental headquarters, and the usages of war, they were executed instantly." (33)
The examples cited here are but few of the many accounts of uniforms, or the lack thereof, of Confederate soldiers in the Trans-Mississippi West. The Trans-Mississippi Confederates were a hardy group of warriors who from the very outset of war were strapped with the burden of providing arms and supplies for themselves. This is not to say that the Confederate quartermasters were unable to supply the men with goods. The men in the field did receive shipments of food, harness, tentage, ammunition, some arms, and even infrequent shipments of clothes. However, these shipments were far from adequate, leaving some companies completely unarmed going into battle with full knowledge that their arms would come from fallen comrades in their front. When faced with situations like this, it is understandable that uniforms were low priority. The Confederate soldiers in the Trans-Mississippi, if not for their military discipline and formations, would have more closely resembled a mob of angry citizens.
Whit Edwards, Director of the Education & Programs Division for the Oklahoma Historical Society,
The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, Autumn 2006