Fort Caspar
Living History

Fort Caspar: Uniform Guidelines

3rd US Volunteer Guidelines
11th Ohio Cavalry Guidelines
11th Kansas Cavalry
Civilian Guidelines

General Purpose of Clothing Standards:

This section is one of the most important to pay attention to. Although we will not throw anyone out for not having hand-stitched button holes or not having a sack coat from NJ Sekela, we still have high standards for this event. These standards are not to be “mean” or create a “we are better than you” mentality, but rather ensure the best possible experience for all involved. Please read the uniform/clothing requirements carefully for your respective role (Below).

Although we will inevitably miss some things or give a “pass” to others, it is our intent to enforce these standards. If you cannot meet the requirements, please contact us BEFORE you show up at the event!

The biggest rule to follow is what was NUG (Normal, Usual, and General). Our objective is not to have so many "exceptions to the rule" that they make us look like modern reenactors rather than people from the period. I know you can find documentation to support any impression you want and can have proof for any article of clothing/gear that you want to wear....but was it the norm? If not, then please don't do it or bring it. We do not have the numbers at this event to represent the anomalies that may have been here at the time. To further guide you on your impression, please read the following clothing guidelines: 

Listed below are some known issued equipment to the companies that were stationed at Platte Bridge Station:

3rd US Volunteers: Company I - Galvanized Yankees  

The infantry will be representing the 3rd USVI: Company I. This unit was made of “Galvanized” Confederate POW’s that were sent out west to fight the “Indian Troubles”. Luckily for this event, the 3rd USVI was issued the very standard “late war set” that most reenactors have:

  1. Fatigue Blouse (or Sack Coat): The fatigue blouse's basic features include a indigo dyed wool flannel with a diagonal weave, a kidney shaped or square corner interior pocket, four 3/4 inch general service eagle buttons, small cuff vents, and a falling collar. Our fatigue blouses are either lined or unlined, but lined fatigue blouses (which were in the majority) are preferred. Wool flannel lining can be tan, gray, brown, or blue with corresponding cotton muslin sleeve lining and hand-sewn sleeves between body of the coat and sleeve lining. Unlined coats should have hand flat felled seams.
  2. Trousers (Foot Pattern): Some basic features include a sky blue kersey wool, correct rise of trousers in the seat (back yoke), right side watch pocket, narrow tapered waistband, four or six stamped paper backed tin suspender buttons, five small paper back tin fly buttons, side seam pockets,
  3. Head Gear:
    1. Hardee Hat: Undecorated U.S. Pattern 1858 Dress Hat:
    2. Forage Cap: So- called Type 1 (typically a smaller curved brim) or so- called Type 2 (typically a larger rectangular brim) patterns acceptable. Made of finely woven indigo dyed wool flannel, with a polished cotton lining of black or dark brown, sewn sweatband, thin painted leather black brim, chin strap, and two 5/8 inch general service eagle buttons attached on each side of the chin strap. The forage cap is not to be worn like a baseball cap. Seek out period field photographs for the correct way to push up your brim.
    3. Civilian Hat: Documented pattern, construction, and materials only. Their use should be limited to a popular style of hat available to troops such as the plug, porkpie, or slouch. Correct brim edging, lining, and sweatband per original specimens. Please see period images when choosing a civilian hat. No “limp Billy” farmer hats will be allowed. The 3rd USVI was known for taking pride in their performance and look both on and off the field.
  4. Foot Wear: U.S. Pattern Jefferson Bootees: Black dyed, semi roughed out leather, squared front, accompanied with leather shoelaces. Leather soles can be either pegged or sewn. Heel rims, inlet heel rims, and hobnails are all acceptable. Please note that no modern shoes will be accepted.
  5. Shirts:
    1. Civilian Shirt: Must be of period fabric and construction. Look for two to three colored woven shirt patterns such as small plaids, checks, & stripes. The woven shirt patterns should be the same on the reverse side of the shirting fabric. Civilian shirt fabrics should be of 100% cotton. Look for small folding or banded collars, and three or four button plackets. Civilian shirts can have square gussets as popular in the 1850's, or the rounded sleeves, which became stylish during the 1860's. Correct buttons were comprised of bone, shell, china, milk glass, hard rubber, or wood in two or four hole styles
    2. Federal Issue Shirt: Made of domet wool flannel, rectangular body with square gussets. It is off white or cream-colored flannel (wool on a cotton warp) with a reinforced slit front opening, a squared collar closed by a single stamped sheet iron button, tapered sleeves with internally faced cuffs formed as part of the sleeve and closed by single buttons, a reinforcing strap across the top of the shoulder, and very full cut in the body. Also acceptable are the gray wool flannel contract variant issue shirts, which may feature a three-button placket.
  6. Drawers:
    1. Either Federal Issue pattern or civilian patterns acceptable. Federal issue drawers should be made of cotton flannel, with cotton tape ties in the rear and the ankles. Hand sewn paperback tin buttons, buttonholes, and tieback grommet holes. These should wear high on the waist. Other features include buttons, and tieback grommet holes. Buttons may be bone, china, or other documented compositions. Civilian drawers should also ride rather high on the waist. We highly recommend all members have at least one pair of drawers.
  7.  Socks:
    1. Either wool or cotton, hand knitted or period machine construction, with period tops and side seams, available in varying lengths. It is preferred members stick to dull colors such as gray, brown, cream, blue, dark green, tan, or dark red. MODERN SOCKS WILL NOT BE ALLOWED.
  8. Suspenders:
    1. Since the Federal Army did not issue these, soldiers had to either purchase a pair from a merchant, have them sent from home, or simply went without them. They were made out of cotton drill or linen, with differing degrees of sophistication. Common styles ranged from simple straps with sewn buttonholes (poorboys), to sewn straps with two or three tined brass adjustments, featuring leather ends on each side.
  9. Spectacles:
    1. For those individuals who need vision correction, you MUST purchase a set of period eyeglasses filled with your prescription, wear contact lenses, or go without. Period spectacles of the mid-19th century had features such as oval or rectangular frames, arch or crank bridges, and straight or sliding temple pieces with a small teardrop final. Frames were commonly made out of brass, silver, or gold. Lenses were invariably made out of glass.
  10. Cartridge Box:
    1. U.S. Pattern of 1855, 1857, & 1861 .58 caliber cartridge boxes are all acceptable.
  11. Cartridge Box Belt:
    1. Made of bridle leather, dyed black, and should be shortened so the top of the cartridge box is no lower than the bottom of the waist belt. The round eagle cartridge box belt plate (breastplate) should be attached using a small piece of leather.
  12. U.S. Pattern Waist belt:
    1. Made of bridle leather, dyed black, with the brass or leather belt keeper.
  13. U.S. Pattern Cap Box:
    1. Made of bridle leather, dyed black, has an outer flap with latching tab, wool strip sewn to the back of the inner flap.
  14. U.S. Pattern Bayonet Scabbard:
    1. For this impression we prefer the late war pattern 1863 seven rivet bayonet scabbard. These bayonet scabbards were made of black dyed bridle leather and featured attached frogs of either bridle or buff leather. All bayonet scabbards must have a secure brass tip.
  15.  U.S. Pattern Haversack:
    1. Some basic features include machine sewn construction, black tarred exterior coating that seeps into the interior, cotton or linen inner bag attached by three hand sewn 5/8 inch tin buttons, hand sewn inner bag button holes, black 5/8 inch roller buckle, and a one piece shoulder strap of 40 to 45 inches in length. Haversacks should ride at the small of the back, with the top of the haversack no lower than the waist belt.
  16. U.S. Pattern 1855 Double bag Knapsack:
    1. Sewn linen body tarred black with a glossy appearance, black dyed shoulder straps, blackened buckles, hand sewn buckles & keepers, reinforcements of split leather, and overcoat straps. Wartime documented contract versions are also acceptable.
  17. Rifle-Musket:
    1. The M1863 Springfield rifle is preferred since that is what the 3rd USVI was issued, however, the M1861 Springfield rifle-musket 1853 Enfield will also be accepted, but most reluctantly for the Enfield.
  18. Bayonet: Individuals MUST possess a corresponding pattern bayonet for your rifle-musket. Ensure compatibility with your rifle-musket before signing on for events.
  19. Mess Furniture:
    1. A soldiers mess items should consist of a tin cup or fruit can boiler, knife, fork, & spoon (or combination set), and a plate/canteen half. All equipage must be of documented patterns, construction, and materials based on original artifacts. Stainless Steel items are highly discouraged but will be allowed. Also, please no “pie-plates”.
    2. Please note that each group (Infantry, Cavalry) will be provided food and each mess will cook accordingly. Unlike many campaign or field style events, this event stations its men at a remote garrison where larger cookware was used.


11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry  


  • Headgear
    • Forage Cap
      • Finely woven dark blue or royal blue wool (not navy blue) with painted leather brim and chin strap.
      • Plain US regulation, small size buttons. Black or brown polished cotton or Selisia liner.
      • Should not be worn with the sides of the brim rolled under as a modern baseball cap
      • Insignia: Cavalry, unlike the infantry, were issued hat brass for forage caps. Inspection records show "deficiencies" where the men are NOT wearing required insignia of regimental number, crossed sabres, and company letter. This means also that many men were wearing only some or no hat brass. Basically, after Hooker's reorganization of the cavalry in 1863, hat brass should be more common.

    • Hardee Hat
      • 1/4 inch ribbon at base of crown.
      • 2 rows of stitching on brim.
      • Shellacked with label inside.
      • Regulation brass, insignia, plume and cord.
    • Slouch & other non-issue headgear - Period types only!
      • Sewn-on edge binding of silk ribbon
      • Leather or cotton duck sweat band
      • Made of fine wool felt without a `fuzzy' appearance.
      • Medium to dark gray, medium to dark brown, or black, with black preferred.
      • No Garth Brooks Stetsons.
      • No limp hillbilly farmer hats.
      • No hat cords of any color.
      • no stampede strings
      • Hardee hat turned slouch is perfectly acceptable (see above).
  • Jackets
    • Mounted Service Jacket
      • Of dark blue or royal blue wool broad-cloth or fine kersey.
      • Padded or Quilted front
      • Yellow dyed worsted wool tape piping, 2 rows of trim on standing collar.
      • All visible buttonholes hand sewn.
    • Fatigue blouse
      • Of wool flannel with a visible `wale' in the fabric, in a shade between a medium and dark blue color. A "wale" means you can see the diagonal weave. Avoid the blackish-blue material that fades to purple; it is the wrong color and it is too heavy. The color will NOT be a blackish `navy' blue which fades to an even more unacceptable purple color. The correct blouse has a short collar and faced lapels and cuffs. Four evenly spaced US eagle buttons should fit into hand-worked buttonholes. Sleeves should have a small, scalloped vent in the rear of the cuff. Unlined versions have all seams flat-felled. Lined versions should have a one-piece body lining of wool or wool/cotton weave and a sleeve lining of muslin.
  • Pants
    • Mounted Pattern Trousers
      • Made of sky-blue kersey-weave wool.
      • Top of the waist band should reach the wearer's navel.
      • Reinforced seat and instep strap.
      • Thin, tapering waist band.
      • Narrow, three to five button fly.
      • Side pockets that start below the waist-band.
      • All detail work, especially buttonholes, finished by hand.
  • Shirts
    • US Issue Shirts:
      • Domet Flannel will have three tin buttons: one at the neck and one at each cuff.
        • Domet flannel is a cotton warp and wool weft, off-white in color.
      • Gray Wool Flannel will have 4 or 5 tin buttons, with two or three on a placket front and one on each cuff.
      • Blue Wool Flannel will have 4 or 5 tin buttons and almost always have a breast pocket
      • Knit:
    • Civilian Pattern Shirt
      • Made of 100 percent natural materials in woven check or plaid material, or with a printed geometric pattern on them.
      • Small metal, bone, wood, shell, or mother-of-pearl buttons.
      • Fall down collar or a banded collar, with or without a detachable collar.
      • One, two or no pockets.
      • No calico and no oversized wooden buttons.
  • Suspenders/Braces
    • Not an issue item, civilian pattern of period materials and attachments.
  • Drawers
    • Canton flannel, cotton flannel, wool knit, and wool flannel all acceptable.
    • Button closure.
    • White, natural, colored acceptable.
  • Footwear
    • Socks - of solid-color yarn: off-white, gray, buff, blue, or bluish-gray. No rings or bands of contrasting color. No elastic. Of wool, cotton or a wool/cotton union. No modern hunting socks.
    • Shoes - Issue brogans with pegged or sewn soles. Heel plates optional.
    • Boots - correctly constructed, below the knee, military style boot.
      • Single-piece vamp.
      • Pegged or sewn soles.
  • Overcoat
    • Mounted pattern: Of correct make and construction. Sky blue wool kersey, double breasted with cape extending to the edge of the cuff.
    • Foot pattern is accepted: Of correct make and construction. Sky blue wool kersey, single breasted with cape extending to elbow, and stand-up collar.


  • U.S. issue M1858 sword belt - Of black buff or bridle leather
    • 2 piece enlisted eagle buckle with applied silver wreath.
    • Shoulder and saber straps.
  • Cap pouch
  • Pistol Cartridge Box - For pistol cartridges - 3 sizes for .36 and 2 for .44 (one for 6 hole packets, one for 7 hole packets)- we do not carry extra cylinders!
  • Holster - Black leather, butt forward, end plug, worn on right side.
  • Carbine Cartridge box - M1860 or "Sharps."
  • Carbine Sling - Of black buff or bridle leather with iron roller snap hook.
  • Haversack - US issue tarred, may be worn on saddle or person.
  • Canteen - M1858 smooth-side
    • Cotton strap or un-dyed leather strap with iron roller buckle and leather safe.
    • NO snap-hooks.
    • Wool covered; with jean, or blanket material.
  • Blanket - Gray/brown US Issue with black stripes woven in.
  • Shelter half - Light canvas with grommets and bone buttons. Paperbacked tin buttons accepted.
  • Gum blanket and/or poncho - with small grommets


Company's A,B,C,D were originally armed with Enfield Rifles In October of '63 the regiment privately purchased 240 Frank Wesson Rifles with the copper cartridge box made for the Wesson cartridges. Another 151Wesson rifles were issued to new recruits later on.

Company B was armed with 36 cal Navy revolvers, and 10 troopers in each company were issued M1855 Springfield Carbine pistols (58 cal).

Company's E,F,G,H were issued spencer rifles with bayonet, frog, and a musket style cartridge box (exact style unknown).

Company K was issued merril Carbines and company L was issued Sharps.

Besides sabres and pistols, these were the only weapons in the regiment.

Due to this relatively expensive
hobby, and the difficulty in getting spencer rifles, we accept sharps and spencer carbines.

  • Carbine

To maintain uniformity, the sharps is the preferred carbine as it is the easiest reproduction to acquire.

    • Sharp's either model. The patch box does not designate a '59 or '63 - these are identified by their serial numbers - serial number beginning with C. are 1863 models, the others are '59s. Patch boxes are found, or not found on both models.
    • Spencer repeating carbine (Where appropriate at events depicting Summer 1864 or later)
  • Pistol - One sidearm or no sidearm - No "spare" cylinders. Pistols are loaded using cartidges

The 11th was predominantly armed with Colt Navy revolvers. Although this is the case, Colt Army is also acceptable.

    • Non issue "Private purchase" side arms must be approved beforehand.
  • Saber - (repo sabers are generally junk - do not acquire a saber without assistance) Must be correctly constructed with wire wrapped, leather bound grip and peened tang. (sabers with the nut on the end will not be accepted.)

The 11th Ohio was armed mostly with model 1860's.

    • U.S. Model 1840 "Wrist breaker"
    • U.S. Model 1860 "light cavalry"
    • Sabre Knot: With a tied leather lace turks-head, not an embossed sleeve.

11th Kansas 

HeadgearA late war forge cap or non-issue/private purchase hat is preferred. Hat brass in this ride is not required but will also be allowed (11th Kansas, Co. I or H-See pictures). Dressed Hardee hats will not be allowed. No Stetson’s (Cowboy Hats). No limp hillbilly farmer hats. No hat cords. No stampede strings.

Jackets: Fatigue Blouse is mostly preferred but Mounted Service Jackets/Shell Jackets will be allowed (Keep in mind we are handing out awards on authenticity so actually try!). 

Pants: Mounted pattern and infantry/foot pattern accepted. The 11th Kansas was an infantry unit before they were mobilized into a cavalry unit and there is a fair amount of documentation that shows much of the infantry gear/clothing was kept. 

Shirts: US Issue Shirts, Gray Wool Flannel, Blue Wool Flannel, Knit or correct civilian pattern shirts will be allowed. Although this is a western event, if you come showing up like Custer, you will be asked to leave. 

Drawers: Unlike many events where there is little chance to see people’s drawers, this long drawn-out 150 mile ride has more of a chance to show your drawers as we have the possibility of crossing some rivers (not guaranteed). Although I will not be looking at everyone’s drawers, just remember that you are coming to experience soldier life on the western frontier…and we are awarding the most authentic!

Footwear: Socks of solid color, off-white, gray, buff, blue, or other period correct style sock. No modern cotton, smart-wool, or similar hunting/sporting socks. Brogans with pegged or sewn soles or below the knee boots are allowed. Heal plates optional. Please refrain from above the knee style boots. Please also consider your impression to which you choose to tuck or not tuck the pants! 

Overcoat: I know many reenactors have a “Fake” overcoat on their saddle since they “never use it” and it is too expensive to have a real one to wear. However, since this is in the western high plains desert of the Oregon Trail, evenings and mornings I (even in July) get chilly. Even though having an overcoat is not required, whatever you bring with you to stay warm must be period correct. Our unit’s “spring drill” that we have mid-June (because of the snow being present until then), still requires the use of an overcoat during the morning coffee. Again, although not required, I strongly suggest one. As stated above, both sky blue mounted or foot pattern will be accepted. 

Accouterments: Standard black buff or bridle leather sword belt with shoulder (optional) and saber straps are required. Please outfit your belt in the way necessary to load and fire a sharps or Smith Carbine. A limited number of “extra” pistols will be accepted (as documented by the unit in the western theater of the war and further documented in diaries of the men moments before the battle on the Platte River). However, extra cylinders will not be acceptable. 

A carbine sling will be needed for your Sharps or Smith carbine.

Weaponry: The 11th Kansas were issued a variety of Sharps carbines throughout the war. However when they arrived in the west, they showed up with newly issued Smith Carbines. Additionally, the 11th Ohio (also present) was issued spencer rifles. Therefore Smith’s, Sharps, and Spencers (in that order of Priority) will be allowed. If you do not have one of those, please consider riding without a carbine or please contact myself for consideration on whatever you may have. (ie- Frank Wesson and Merrill carbines would also be acceptable as some of them are documented to be in the 11th).

As far as pistols, the only thing we could find was that these Regt’s had every pistol under the sun. QM records and some diaries indicate that almost everything was used out west. Therefore, the standard Colt Army/Navy, and appropriate version of Remington’s will be accepted. 

Sabers: Must be correctly constructed with wire wrapped, leather bound grip and peened tang. (sabers with the nut on the end will not be accepted). Either model (1840-1860) will be accepted.

Horse Equipment

  • Saddle - Model 1859 McClellan - All iron hardware, including jappaned or blued iron bar buckles.
    • Coat-straps should be of correct weight with correct buckles, leather stops recommended.
    • Wool web girth and surcingle with iron roller buckles.
    • Crupper was an issued item
    • Breast straps (martingales), were not an issued item  in the 1859-1874 standard issue (though troopers would go out of their way to get one on rare occurrences). Any breast strap should therefore be of civilian pattern or field produced (three leather straps joined by an iron ring) Brass heart sutler row breast straps are not allowed.
    • Hooded wooden stirrups, no toe straps.
    • Saddle-Bags
      • Smaller black bags with iron buckle closure.
      • Should contain a correctly reproduced or original curry comb, brush, hoof-pick, and horseshoes.
  • Carbine Socket - U.S. issue of black bridle leather and iron hardware with pronounced wasp waist.
  • Halter - U.S. issue of black bridle leather and iron hardware.
  • Bridle - Blackened bridle leather
    • 3 or 6 buckle.
    • All buckles should be jappaned or blued iron bar buckles.
    • NO Rosettes on brow-band.
    • Bit - U.S. issued iron bit
    • Link Strap - with iron wire snap hook.
    • Enlisted Reins - sewn to bit and in the center.
  • Watering Bit & Reins (Optional)
  • Nosebag (Optional)
    • Flat bottom; rounded bottom accepted.
    • Black or un-dyed leather with iron roller buckle.
  • Picket Pin and Lariat (Optional)
    • 4-strand, left-laid hemp.
    • whipped at one end.
    • Eye spliced to hand forged iron picket pin.
  • Horse Blanket - U.S. issued blue wool with orange stripe woven in.
    • "U.S." hand stitched in center.
    • Orange stripe should be lighter shade as per originals if possible.
    • Saddle-pads are discouraged - use your issue grey wool blanket or shelter half.

Generally solid colored (aside from stars, blazes, stripes, snips, socks, stockings, etc). Paints, Appaloosas or other breeds with stand-out colorings and markings are not recommended. Preferred breeds include: Quarter, Morgan, and Canadian.

Other/Personal/Optional Items
Store personal items in blanket roll, saddlebags, haversack, pockets, etc.
The only "modern" personal items you should have on you are your car key and any medicines you require (still hidden). Your car key should be placed somewhere safe and out of sight - you don't need the whole ring just the key to get into your vehicle. Medicines should be stowed in a period container as best as possible not only to hide it, but to protect it.

  • Issue tin cup, boiler, mucket - no speckleware or stainless.
  • Folding pocket knife
  • Personal hygiene items.
    • Tooth brush.
    • Small looking glass (mirror).
    • Comb.
    • Shaving equipment.
  • Cotton or Linen ration & poke bags.
  • Small bottles or flasks.
  • Spoon and/or a fork - no stainless.
  • Plate (not a pie tin), small sheet metal skillet, canteen half - no cast iron.
  • Pipe & tobacco pouch.
  • Housewife (needles, thread, thimbles, buttons, patch cloth)
  • Pencil and paper.
  • Hard candy like lemon drops.
  • Lucifers (matches).
  • Period eyewear or contact lenses if required - no darkened glasses.
  • Handkerchief.
  • Gambling paraphernalia.
  • Wallet.
  • Pocketwatch

Civilian Guidelines 

Camping Life Guidelines:

We have a few policies that contribute to everyone's enjoyment and respect other reenactors' "magic moments." These rules apply 24-hours a day at events (whether or not visitors are present):

  • Appear in correct period attire appropriate to the situation. (of course!)
  • No modern items are to be seen at any time. This includes, but is not limited to, soda cans, cigarettes, plastic, modern food, coolers, etc.
  • We encourage members to avoid, where possible, the use of modern items of any kind other than medical and hygiene necessities (e.g. medicine, contact lense solution, sunscreen, insect repellant, feminine hygiene items, etc).
  • In most situations, there is a feasible period way of doing things without resorting to a modern solution. Sometimes the period method or item is MORE effective than its modern counterpart. Part of the learning experience of living history is to experience as many aspects of daily life in the era as possible. When in doubt, seek a period solution.
  • No nail polish, modern makeup, modern eyeglasses, modern hair styles or other obvious farb distractions. If you have non-period body piercings (e.g. anything other than one set of holes for normal earrings) leave the body jewelry at home. We don't want to see a ring in your nose unless you're portraying livestock.
  • Children under 12 must be supervised at all times and must be dressed in age-appropriate period civilian attire. NO modern toys are allowed. For a good selection of period toys, visit
  • For legal liability reasons, all participants under the age of 18 must either have a parent or guardian present or an adult participant must be designated as responsible, with the approval of said parent or guardian.
  • Period tobacco use (cigars, pipes, chewing) is permissible in public if appropriate to your impression.  If you must smoke cigarettes, the event coordinator will designate a smoking zone outside of the main event area and away from the view of the public and other reenactors.
  • We do NOT camp in the military camp, nor are military reenactors allowed to visit our camp unless there are scenario-related reasons for doing so. Military reenactors must leave the civilian camp by 11:00 pm at the very latest. 
  • Any furniture and material culture items used should be of a period appropriate style, whether reproduction or original -- no two piece slat chairs, speckleware or other such reenactorisms.  We are portraying travelers on the trail with minimal resources during the 1860’s not the 1870’s.  Large tents and beds, with massive amounts of furniture portraying “home” will not be appropriate for this event.  Make do with minimal items to live.  Remember, if it wouldn’t have fit easily in the wagon, don’t bring it. And it’s only for a weekend.

Clothing resource:

  • Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s website has oodles of information on civilian life, as well as free patterns to use.  She is also a delightful teacher, and will help you in any way you need through email or a phone call.  Go to the website, then find the articles on the compendium.  Her forum is also a wealth of information for the whole family.  She is familiar with trail history, and understands how to put together a great impression for civilians.

Women's clothing:

  • Most dresses worn during the day were made of cotton, wool, silk, or a combination of these fibers.   Cotton dresses should be made of period correct prints.  Those are widely available in all good quilt shops. Hancock Fabrics usually carries nice period cottons at affordable prices.
  • The white blouse & calico skirt is not a period appropriate ensemble.  The skirt and bodice should be of the same fabric, connected at the waist.  The only thing slightly resembling the white blouse/colored skirt thing is a garibaldi outfit, which is a very high fashion, younger ladies outfit – it is not appropriate for this event.
    • If made of wool or silk, the dress bodice was always worn quite fitted.  Ideally, cotton bodices should be gathered.  Darted cotton dresses did exist, but they were less common and should not be worn with fashion bonnets or dressy shawls.  A cotton dress can be worn with a slat or corded bonnet, or a plain straw bonnet.  Some women wore cotton "work" or "wash" dresses over smaller cages or hoops; there is documentation for servants who annoyed their employers by knocking over knick knacks while dusting in their hoops.  Work dresses can also be worn over corded petticoats, but please be aware that we are still researching this topic.
    • Most cotton dresses were made with a full gathered sleeve (sometimes called bishop sleeves.)  Coat sleeves were also very popular.  Pagoda sleeves were more popular in the late 1850s and should be saved for finer fabrics such as silk, a very fine sheer cotton or wool. Pagoda sleeves are never appropriate for printed cottons or calicoes.   (Just imagine doing laundry or cooking over a fire with pagoda sleeves!)
    • Skirts are very full; pleated or gauged to the bodice.  They should be long enough to hide the ankles but short enough to permit walking and working.  1 1/2 to 3" off the ground is about right for most ladies.
    • A small white collar (usually around 1 - 1 1/2" wide) or a neck-kerchief. The collar was hard to keep clean on the trail, so the neck-kerchief was common.  Kerchiefs could be of various colors – made from scraps. 
    • For women, dresses worn during the day should fasten in the front either with hooks and eyes and/or buttons.  Shank buttons could be sewn to the front for decoration while the bodice itself fastens with hooks and eyes. For girls and young teens, dresses fasten in the back.  Earrings can be small gold hoops or "bobs," but they should always be pierced. 
      • Please, no modern undergarments or shoes.  The underpinnings are the foundation to your clothing that gives a period look. Please wear a chemise under a well fitted corset or stays, and several (not just one) petticoats.  Two are usually a minimum.  A corded petticoat works – it’s very out of style, but is nice to keep the petticoats off your legs.  You would still need a couple of over-petticoats to smooth the lines and give you the correct look. While it is true that not every Civil War era lady wore a corset, absolutely none ever wore a bra.  The lines of modern undergarments show very clearly.
      • There are many excellent shoe makers who reproduce Civil War era ladies' footwear.  Until you can afford a good pair, you might look for a plain lace-up ankle boot and remove the "speed laces."  These days nice plain black ballerina flats are widely available at very good prices.  You should wear plain white stockings (we have found no documentation for striped stockings). You can find good cotton knee-highs at the Vermont Country store and at many internet sites.
      • Hats should be appropriate for the time period – a slat bonnet, quilted or corded sunbonnet is the best item for the trail.  They are easy to make, and can be made from scraps.  It should not match the dress – they didn’t do that.
      • For a working impression, such as a trail emigrant, an apron is a must have.  It should not be white, as that is impossible to keep clean on the trail.  Women’s aprons should be a pinner style, or a basic type tied around the waist. 

Children’s clothing

Rather than re-invent the wheel, the best article we've seen online about children's clothing is Elizabeth Stewart Clark's article on "Assembling a "Best Bet" Wardrobe: Infants and Children", which we recommend that all parents of young reenactors read.

A couple of key points:

  • Children must be dressed in appropriate civilian attire. There is a tendency in reenacting for parents to dress little boys like pint sized miniature soldiers. There is no significant documentation for this (NUG) and it should be avoided
  • Sometimes children's styles were military-influenced, such as Zouave jackets, Garibaldi shirts, etc, but actual uniforms must be avoided.
  • Little boys under the age of 5 or 6 should wear dresses, or little suits with pantaloons not adult trousers. After age 6, trousers start to get longer and by 10 or 12, possibly earlier, boys are wearing adult length trousers.
  • Civilian patterned sack coats or short Eton type jackets are both appropriate for young boys. As they get older, the clothing is the same as older men's civilian clothing.
  • Boys' hair should be parted on the side; girls' hair should be parted in the middle. Hair parts were a secondary gender characteristic in the era and this is very important.
  • Girls dresses should fasten in the back and can be either high necked or boat necked styles, with long or short sleeves. By the time a girl gets old enough to wear a front-closing dress, she should also be wearing stays or a corset.
  • Girls skirt lengths should get progressively longer as they get older. An economical period way of dealing with this is to make dresses with "growth tucks" that can be gradually let out as a child gets older. In addition, the heavily gathered back closing bodices were made in such a way that they could easily be let out as a child grew. As usual, period clothing was a "system" not just a matter of styles.
  • Authentic reproduction children's shoes are an expense that many in the hobby cannot afford. The best budget option is to buy second hand authentic shoes outgrown by another young reenactor. Sometimes period plausible styles can be found at discount shoe places such as Payless and Wal-mart. Avoid thick soles and speed laces. Often the best bet is to buy front lacing "paddock boots" or elastic gusseted "jodphur boots" for horseback riding. Other than having rounded instead of squared toes, these are virtually identical to period shoes. Sometimes the paddock boots come with speed laces but these can be removed and replaced with metal grommets by a good shoemaker. They can be obtained either on EBay or from a riding shop. Some tack stores sell outgrown children's items on consignment.
  • Children often adapt better to first person immersion situations than adults do -- not surprising, as "make believe" is a staple of child's play. Some of the most skilled reenactor we know are 12 or under. Child reenactors must be encouraged to get into the spirit of the event and "play the game". No modern toys are allowed.

Men's Clothing: 

Your Most Important Items for your Civilian Impression:

  • Sack Coat: If you are coming to civilian reenacting from an authentic Confederate military impression, you probably have most of the needed items. The one new thing you really DO need is some form of outerwear to replace your military coat or jacket. Unless you are working as a blacksmith at a hot forge with your sleeves rolled up throughout a civilian event, or are in similar circumstances, you would probably not be seen on the street without some form of outerwear, either an over shirt, smock, sack coat, paletot or frock coat. We recommend a civilian sack coat as it will give you the maximum latitude in the types of persons you can portray, whereas overshirts and particularly smocks are inherently a "working" impression while frock coats and paletots are more formal. Generally, we recommend that you get a sack coat first, and then consider acquiring a frock or paletot and a work overshirt or smock later on if you wish to broaden your impression.
  • With the above guidelines stated, please keep in mind the situation we are reenacting. A working impression is most preferred.
  • Waistcoat: Generally, adult men were thought to be only half-dressed if they appeared in their shirtsleeves without a waistcoat. This is particularly true when wearing a white "boiled' shirt, although photographic evidence suggests this social convention was not always applied. Generally, if you are wearing a white shirt, you should wear a waistcoat and if you are wearing a checked or patterned shirt of a more casual / working type, you should leave your sack coat on, unless doing manual labor.
  • Other Items: If you are coming from doing Federal, you will probably also need trousers and a civilian-type hat. If you are coming into civilian reenacting as a new reenactor, you will need all of the items detailed above. As trousers, shoes, etc that are used for military impressions are over-represented among male civilian reenactors, as most have come from military, we encourage you to focus on styles that were specifically civilian in acquiring these new items, where budgets permit.

Most men coming into civilian reenacting have previously reenacted military. Many of the items you acquired for your military impression can also be used for civilian, particularly if you do Confederate:

Items from Your Military Impression You Can Use:

  • Shirts: Most shirts used by soldiers were privately made rather than issue items and all shirts used for an authentic military impression will work for civilian, other than the Federal issue shirt. The wool Federal contract shirt will even work for a woolen work shirt. If you are coming from mainstream military, sutler row quality shirts, provided they are in a good fabric, can be upgraded by replacing wooden saucer type buttons with china buttons, and overworking the buttonholes by hand.
  • Trousers: Richmond Depot pattern trousers were modeled on civilian patterns and are acceptable for civilian, although gray trousers are over-represented in "galvanized civilians" and you should aim as your first impression upgrade to get more specifically civilian trousers in fabrics and colors other than gray jeancloth. Some good options include cassimere, satinette, wool broadcloth and linen. Colors should generally be subdued and neutral for solid colored trousers, as they will be more economical and all-purpose. However, fairly wide checks were also seen in trousers of the period, and this might be a fun option for expanding your impression later. Obviously military trousers such as light blue federal trousers are not acceptable because the color is so distinctive, although you can probably get away with the dark blue ones as they are unobtrusive.
  • Suspenders and belts: Suspenders were not a military issue item and any period-correct suspenders used in military reenacting are suitable for civilian reenacting. Belts with plain, non military buckles, e.g. plain singled tanged or double tanged "snake" buckles are acceptable.
  • Footwear: Military brogans were based on working men's shoes of the era and are acceptable for a working class or rural middle class impression. If you decided to expand your impression to include upper middle class or urban middle class, we recommend upgrading to a pair of specifically civilian patterned shoes. Military boots were also modeled on civilian boots and are also acceptable.
  • Hats: Slouch hats, porkpies, beehives, mechanics caps, etc were not military issue items and can be worn for civilian reenacting. You cannot use military issued items such as kepis, bummers, Hardee hats, etc.
  • Waistcoats / Vests: The high-necked military style waistcoats are not appropriate for civilian reenacting. However, lower necked, civilian patterned waistcoats in authentic materials are appropriate and heavily encouraged.

Note about the dance:

  • The dance is not a “ball.”  Balls were fancy, indoor, high society events with very specific social customs.  This does not qualify.  This is a dance – a casual social gathering often held outdoors or in barns.  Hoops, silks, and other finery that would get ruined in an outdoor setting would not be appropriate.  Wearing the nicest thing you have (which may not be that nice by eastern standards) would be appropriate.  For women, that means the cleanest, least ratty dress you have with either a white collar with a brooch, or a clean kerchief, hair redone, face washed, no apron.  For men, a clean shirt with your vest, coat and trousers brushed (wool) or shaken out as best you can, comb your hair and wash your face.  Remember…..we’re poor, our stuff is worn, but we can still take pride in presenting ourselves in the best possible manner.  Besides ladies, those poor sad soldiers will be happy just to see a female presence, no matter the condition of the clothes! 


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