THE WINCHESTER SUTLER, INC - REENACTING
Updated January 2010
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|The Winchester Sutler, Inc.
270 Shadow Brook Lane
Providing Quality Civil War Reproductions Since 1972
|PHONE: 540 888-3595|
Your Civil War Impression
WHO DO YOU WANT TO BE?
For whatever reason, you have chosen to step back into the time period of 1859 to 1865 - the American Civil War. Since it is impossible for one person to portray all people through that six-year period of time, your first task is to choose exactly who you intend to be. This includes; specifically when you are, where you are, and exactly what you are doing at this moment in history. Consider all factors: what is the season and climate, what is your social & economic standing, and how did you get to be here.
Who, What, When, Where, and Why are very important if you are portraying a specific, well-documented person...say Lee for example. Lee in 1860 wore the blue uniform of the U.S. Army. Later, he rose through the Confederate ranks from Col. to Four Star General. (Do you know he never wore more than three stars on his collar?) He rarely wore his fully trimmed military frock. More often, he wore his field dress - a Civilian Frock with little or no trim. (In this way he could mingle with his troops and not make a target of himself to a Union Sharp Shooter.) Grant is another example of people not wearing what regulations called for. He wore a private's style sack coat while holding the rank of general. Think through, and research your individual impression!
Civilian Impression: During the Civil War Your economic standing and profession are important factors to take into consideration.
People took a lot of pride in how they looked. What clothing they had, was made to last for years. The average person had two sets of "town clothes", and maybe one really grand outfit. Garments were repaired and reworked until they were threadbare. Pleats and tucks were built into clothing to allow for growth and wear. Cuffs and collars were replaced. Skirts were turned. The concept of a "Three Piece Suit" (excluding military) was a sign of poverty... obviously your family could only afford one bolt of material this year. Women showed how many different bolts of fabric and spools of ribbon they could afford.(link to Women's info page coming)
Civil War Reenactors & Skirmishers: If you are planning to join a reenactment group, your choices may be limited by what units are being portrayed in your area. Existing units have established a uniform code that you need to adhere to. (UNIFORM: a distinctive dress worn by all the members of a military force...[Webster's])
The Trim on your Civil War Uniform: Is determined by your branch and rank.
Common branch colors:
Blue is for Infantry (foot soldier), Infantry is the easiest, once you have your uniform, leather goods, and rifle, you are pretty well set.
Yellow for Cavalry (horse soldier), The Cavalry recruited experienced riders weighing 145 pounds or less. Mounted cavalry requires hauling and caring for a steady mount that is calm in a crowd and not cannon shy.
Red for Artillery (cannon crew), Artillery involves owning, transporting, and feeding a cannon.
Ordnance is maroon, ....Medical is green & yellow, ... etc...
Should you wish to go into one of the more obscure branches: Engineers, Signal Corps, Marines, Navy, Medical, Invalid Corps or Topographical Engineers, a lot of research needs to be done by you. We have reproduced many of these less common uniforms. With patience, pictures and details, we can reproduce most anything.
The Rank on your Civil War Uniform: Would be your next consideration. We cannot all be Generals.
An officer without troops has no one to command, looks naked, and is useless on the reenactment field.
Rank is earned.
Not all people are qualified to lead, and even those with qualifications, may not have the inspiring personality needed to hold a diversified group of people together under adverse conditions. Therefore, I suggest those newcomers to the reenactment field should start as privates. Time and experience will bring promotions. Besides, if you don't know the 1860 Manual of Arms (not the same as modern), you can't teach it to your men. Any person portraying an Ordinance Sergeant needs real gun smithing talent.
Fabric Content & Care of your Civil War Clothing
Most uniforms are made of wool because of its durability, fire resistance, and water resistance, (very important around campfires.) In winter, wool will keep you warm...even when wet. Wool is hair, a natural fiber. It breathes in the heat, and is often cooler than synthetics. The feel can range from thick and scratchy to baby-blanket soft. Kersey was the preferred weave for uniform grade wool. (With a thread count of 21 threads-per-inch. Kersey is not a color.) We use tight woven, smooth, uniform grade wool, which is very similar.(Historic use of fabric link coming soon) Should your uniform get wet, never try to dry it in a hurry over a fire, or in a dryer. Originally outer garments were powdered, brushed, aired, and spot cleaned. (Underclothes were washed often.) Don't wash your uniform! Most uniforms have cotton pockets, waistbands, or liners, and the shrink rate of cotton is different than that of wool. Washing wool in detergent not only destroys the fibers, it also takes away the wool's natural water resistance.)
A dry-cleaning bill is a lot cheaper than replacing your uniform.
First impressions really mattered. People were judged by their clothing. Ladies and Gentlemen wore finely woven wools, silks and cottons. (Cheap seedy cottons, like osanburgh, brought about remarks like, "He was a seedy looking character." ) Women would seriously consider selling the family milk cow, before letting go of the yardage
for their new dress. Slave clothing was made from linen (because of
its durability) or osanburg (seedy cotton) with wood or horn buttons.