Prologue Magazine

War in an Age of Wonders

Civil War Arms and Equipment

Winter 1995, Vol. 27, No. 4

By Michael P. Musick


Edward D. Tippett, citizen of Washington, DC, saw Progress as preordained. It needed only an instrument, and he had been chosen. Perhaps his fifth attempt would do the trick. Tippett, a veteran of the War of 1812, was anything but a quitter. "I have asked your attention to my navigation balloon four times, and without the least notice," he lamented to an unnamed high government official on May 11, 1861. After a detailed exposition of his somewhat murky political views (in favor of slavery in theory, but opposed to it as practiced), the inventor asked the government to pay him the four thousand dollars it allegedly owed him for the efforts he had pursued on its behalf since 1816. With government support for his war balloon, all enemy fortifications would be demolished, and innumerable lives spared.

"This is the age of wonders," Tippett announced, "and great battles are before us." In a postscript he added, "Ah yes, sir, I could disperse rebels in any place. This invention must come to end this conflict, it is God decreed." Not content to let matters take their course, two weeks later Tippett offered his view that free Negroes should be made to dig trenches or perform other useful work for white soldiers, if not allowed to enlist. "You will see by this," he observed, "that E.D.T. is no fool."1

Fool or no, Tippett gave voice to something that was in the air in 1861. Progress would make war obsolete. American industry and ingenuity were bound to cut short the struggle and save lives. Across the lines near far-off Pensacola, Florida, Isham Walker, private of Company D, Ninth Mississippi Infantry, though considerably younger and somewhat less eccentric than Tippett, expressed much the same idea to Confederate Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker on June 4, 1861. "Inclosed please find a rough sketch of my plan for Bombarding [Fort] Pickins and the [Union] fleet from a balloon held in equilibum by 4 copper wires anchored as shown and at an altitude of two miles, drop Poisonous Bombs into the fortress and fleet, which will be more effective than all of our batteries also shown in the sketch. the adventure is practicle, safe, and sure, endangering no lives in confederate army." No evidence has been found to show that the secretary of war felt impelled to respond to this offer, despite the fact that the whole enterprise was projected to cost a mere $1,200.2

War balloons, double-barrelled cannon for chain shot, breech-loading repeaters, ironclad batteries on wheels, novel artillery shells guaranteed to rain death and destruction of unparalleled scope: all these and more were offered to the officials of the opposing republics of North America and are preserved in the records of the offices that received them. They represent a world of possibilities from which someone in authority had to select whatever would win the war. Some inventions, like the seven-shot Spencer carbine, were adopted and proved their worth in combat. Others, like the proposals of Tippett and Walker, were destined only for the files. The might-have-beens are tantalizing, as works of science fiction like Harry Turtledove's The Guns of the South (1992) demonstrate. A pondering of the effects of wonder weapons increases our awareness that the familiar course of events need not have taken place and is enhanced by a sifting of forgotten documents. Nevertheless, today most of the interest in the tools of war centers on what was actually used.

Nothing brings to life another era like the chance to handle, wear, or wield the physical objects of the period, deplore though we may the uses to which they were once put. Thousands have come under the spell of the past by cocking the hammer of a model 1861 Springfield rifled musket, donning a wool jacket, or feeling the heft of a cavalry saber. Besides reenactors, countless collectors and museum-goers have been inspired by beholding bullet-riddled battle flags, rusted canteens, or jagged pieces of shot and shell.

Archives, and particularly the National Archives, are not the places to go to encounter these things themselves. The Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of the Confederacy, the battlefield parks of the National Park Service, and the many state and local museums scattered across the country afford opportunities to see the objects associated with the struggle of the 1860s. On seeing these mementoes, the thought readily occurs, "If these things could only speak, what tales they might tell!" The role of archives is to provide the background that will allow the relics to speak.

Archives do this initially by providing biographical information on the people with whom a particular object is associated. Then the records may go on to explain how the artifact came to be created, who its inventor was, what firms manufactured it, how many were made, and on and on, providing answers that illuminate the entire range of material culture.

There was a time when certain artifacts could be found with the records. Most notable of these were the battle flags of the armies. Banners borne by Union volunteer units came to rest in the various state capitols, while those of the regulars and nonstate outfits generally found their way to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Unsurrendered Confederate colors were stored by survivors until eventually displayed in public. Orators often alluded to flags reposing in the "archives." Particularly prominent were the captured "Rebel" flags, put out for view in the offices of the War Department in Washington, DC.

The flags were themselves records of a sort. Each was generally prominently marked soon after issue with the designation of the unit whose fortunes it symbolized. Then, painted onto the fabric itself were the names of the engagements in which the unit played an honorable part. North and South, this custom was followed. And North and South, veterans were moved to tears at the sight of these hallowed relics, with their lustrous inscriptions: "Chickamauga," "Chancellorsville," or "Gettysburg," and many a lesser known field remembered only by them. The captured flags at the War Department carried an additional marking, a stenciled number that corresponded to an entry in a register that identified the unit, the name of the captor, and the circumstances of the loss. The register is now in the National Archives as entry 178 of Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's–1917. Beyond this unillustrated volume, there is no series of photographs or paintings in the National Archives depicting by unit the flags of either side.3

The captured flags were tangible evidence of bravery and devotion and as such continued to be fought over. Their presence in Washington was seen as a standing affront by many who had marched under their folds and as a lasting tribute to the valor of their captors. A well-meaning effort of 1887 by President Grover Cleveland to return the flags to the Southern states caused a firestorm of obloquy. Not until 1905, under Theodore Roosevelt, was resistance sufficiently diminished to permit this gesture of national reconciliation.4

Another species of Confederate artifact associated with the War Department records generated controversy, though less acrimonious than the flag set-to. Personal possessions of Jefferson Davis came into the hands of the United States when the Confederate president was taken prisoner near Irwinville, Georgia, on May 10, 1865. Along with private papers, the Federals seized a cloak, shawl, and spurs worn by Davis, three pistols, a bullet mold, two toothbrushes, a plug of tobacco, and other sundries. Most of these were sent back to Davis between 1874 and 1880. In 1914 the pistols were obtained by descendants of the former Confederate chief executive. Not until 1961 were the cloak, shawl, and spurs given by the National Archives to Mr. Jefferson Hayes-Davis, of Colorado Springs, Colorado These items now repose at "Beauvoir," Davis's postwar retreat on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

When artifacts have been found filed with the textual records of the National Archives, they have customarily been removed. A number of such items were transferred to the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History in 1979. Among them was a United States flag carried by troops from North Carolina during the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848, which was hidden by a Tarheel Unionist until United States forces occupied the state in 1865. Other such items included a brass Confederate cipher key and a collection of examples of medals issued by state authorities or local commanders for services during the conflict. Several Medals of Honor, returned to the War Department as undeliverable or for other reasons, also crossed Constitution Avenue to be looked after by those more accustomed to three-dimensional records.

Experience suggests that there may be a fault line between those personalities susceptible to the lure of relics and those inclined to pore over written records. The person who will spend hours sifting debris under a scorching sun, or travel thousands of miles to haggle over guns and swords at a hobby show, seems possessed of a fundamentally different temperament than someone willing to sit patiently in the hushed reading room of an archives or library, coaxing facts from faded documents. This distinction notwithstanding, some few multitalented souls have successfully bridged both worlds, and the result of their efforts is well worth heeding.

A personal selection of titles that incorporate archival research on artifacts and their background may be helpful. There are a few scholarly surveys of broad areas, such as Carl L. Davis's Arming the Union: Small Arms in the Civil War (1973), an account of Union ordnance production, Richard D. Goff's Confederate Supply (1969), an overview of all aspects of that challenging subject, or Erna Risch's masterly Quartermaster Support of the Army: A History of the Corps, 1775–1939 (1962; reprint 1989), an official history. Most of the writing in this area has been highly specialized, however, many times based solely on examples in a given collector-author's possession. It is not possible in this space to give the titles of all relevant publications, but a few examples will serve as introduction to this absorbing field, one in which an issue such as the prevalence of slouch hats or forage caps among the troops is debated with a passion reminiscent of medieval theology.

The best overview of material culture, based in part on archival research at the state and national levels, is American Military Equipage, 1851–1872: A Description by Word and Picture of What the American Soldier, Sailor, and Marine of Those Years Wore and Carried, with Emphasis on the Civil War (1974), by Frederick P. Todd, in collaboration with George Woodbridge, Lee A. Wallace, Jr., and Michael J. McAfee, with copious illustrations. A more recent survey, lavishly produced with color photography, but unfortunately devoid of footnotes or listing of archival sources, is Echoes of Glory: Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy and Echoes of Glory: Arms and Equipment of the Union (both 1991), with text by several authorities, under the editorship of Henry Woodhead. A third wide-ranging source is Francis A. Lord's four volumes of the Civil War Collector's Encyclopedia: Arms, Uniforms, and Equipment of the Union and Confederacy (Vol. 1, 1963; subsequent volumes 1975–1984), with bibliographies, but also the limitations implied in the title.

The American fascination with firearms has led to a small library of titles, some covering the whole span of the nation's past, other focusing on a particular period, type, or make of weapon. Space limitations preclude even a selection of these, but a goodly number will be found in the bibliographies of the works already cited. The variety of subjects other than firearms which have been the theme of studies based in whole or in part on archival sources is suggested by a few examples. Richard A. Sauers's two-volume Advance the Colors! Pennsylvania Civil War Battle Flags (1987, 1991) and H. Michael Madaus's The Battle Flags of the Army of Tennessee (1976) are concerned with the banners of one Northern state and one Confederate army. Stanley S. Phillips's Civil War Corps Badges and Other Related Awards, Badges, Medals of the Period (1982) and Francis A. Lord's Civil War Sutlers and Their Wares (1969) provide invaluable data on just two of the myriad topics that have attracted researchers over the years.

In addition to monographs, there are further published sources with which the student of the material culture of the Civil War should be familiar. Manuals, such as those issued by the Ordnance Office in 1850 and 1862 (the latter reproduced on National Archives Microfilm Publication T1117),5 frequently supply a descriptive text and plates describing the tools of the soldiers trade. Lastly, though not in terms of importance, the congressional serial set includes substantial information useful to the study of arms and equipment.; For example, Executive Document No. 99 published a long list of "Purchases of cannon, ordnance, projectiles, and small-arms since April 13,1861, by the Ordnance Department."6 Wonderful verbatim testimony on procurement procedures will be found in the approximately 2,600 pages of the report of the House of Representatives select committee on government contracts of the Thirty-seventh Congress.7 Additional references can be tracked down in the guides to Civil War records compiled by Kenneth W. Munden and Henry Putney Beers, often indexed under "contracts."8

These hors d'oeuvres safely dispatched, we may address our main course, the unpublished War Department records relating to arms and equipment. Access to these resources must of necessity rely heavily on the preliminary inventories to two record groups, Record Group 156, Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance (for the Army), and Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General. Unfortunately, these inventories present a stumbling block; those for RG 156 (two volumes, NM-26 and NM-59) and RG 92 (two volumes, NM-81 and NM-85) were issued for staff use only and not as National Archives publications. Therefore, copies are not available for distribution but can be consulted at the National Archives. The first volume of the inventories for each of these record groups describes the records created and maintained at Washington, DC, headquarters (records that in fact document activities in all parts of the country), and the second volume describes those of the field installations.

Records of the field installations for ordnance are for arsenals and depots, those for quartermaster activities for depots and the Schuylkill "Arsenal" (actually a clothing and equipage production facility). Most of these field installation records have been sent to the appropriate regional archives facilities of the National Archives serving the geographic area involved.

Thus the records of the Fort Monroe, Virginia, Arsenal (RG 156, entries 1201 through 1232), formerly maintained in the Archives building in downtown Washington, DC, were shipped to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, home to what is now called the Mid Atlantic Regional Archives, serving Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. This "regionalization," though irksome to many researchers, was carried out primarily because of a lack of storage space in the National Archives Building in Washington.

Despite the transfer of records to the regions, the Washington headquarters records for Record Group 156, Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance, offer a fertile field to those exploring small arms, field and siege artillery production, horse equipments, and other articles supplied by army ordnance officers. The first step in using these records is to view the subject as the ordnance office did.Researchers should carefully note the ten "classes" into which the ordnance office divided things.

An understanding of ordnance classes is useful background for a matter of considerable interest to many, the distribution of various types of arms to troops. Entries 109 through 112 of RG 156 show the number of each type of ordnance item on hand, by class, in each regiment and battery of the army, down to company level, by the quarter of the year (i.e., each three months of the year, with January through March being the first quarter). Unfortunately, they do not cover the year 1861. These exceedingly large, cumbersome volumes have been microfilmed as National Archives Microfilm Publication M1281, Summary Statements of Quarterly Returns of Ordnance and Ordnance Stores on Hand in Regular and Volunteer Army Organizations 18621867, 18701876. Not available on microfilm are similar reports for forts and batteries, 1862–1864 (entry 100), and for armories, arsenals, and depots, 1862–1863 (entry 101). An additional volume shows ordnance and ordnance stores at forts on September 30, 1862 (entry 102), and three more volumes give weekly reports of depots in 1864 (entry 103). Those concentrating on heavy ordnance may also wish to examine the registers of cannon and carriages at forts and batteries, 1861–1865 (entry 113).

It is important to point out that none of the records just identified show the names of individual soldiers or provide serial numbers or other identifying numbers for specific pieces of ordnance. One cannot match a particular relic with a person or site using these records, and in fact such a match is virtually impossible using the records of the National Archives (though for an account of how such a feat can once in a while be accomplished, see "Firearms Genealogy."

If knowledge of ordnance classification is useful for learning about arms distribution, it is vital to any more in-depth searching. Perhaps your area of interest is the Starr carbine, for instance. This was a .54-caliber, single-shot, breechloading weapon on the order of the Sharps, but less successful. You will find that these fell into "Class VI, Small Arms," which includes carbines, along with pistols, muskets, rifles, sabers, swords, and lances. Rich source material on all classes will ordinarily appear under the heading "Inventions" in the inventory. There is a register for these records, 1812–1870 (entry 192 of RG 156), but the letters and reports themselves are in entry 994, arranged by class, and thereunder by date. Included in this series are numerous drawings illustrating many of the notions presented to Union authorities, each depiction the pride of an eager visionary. In the case of the Starr carbine, however, the "invention" files offer little beyond a letter dated October 19, 1864, from Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana directing that the weapon be tested (class VI, #596).

The next potential source for our imaginary Starr student (or the student of any other item of ordnance equipment) is the series of "Experiments." The registers for these records, covering 1812–1870 (entry 199), are the key to them. The registers record documents filed in entries 200, 201, and 1001. Entry 200, encompassing the years 1820–1837 and 1846–1861, turns out to include the report of an 1854 board that evaluated the Starr carbine and found a gas leak and defective parts, which led to a suspension of further trials. Entry 201, "Reports of Experiments," 1862–1871, under Class VI, yields no fewer than seven reports on Eben T. Starr's weapon, including Maj.. A. B. Dyer's endorsement of September 23, 1864, stating that "the arm is decidedly inferior to other breechloaders which have been furnished this Department, and is more costly than some of them" (Vol. 8, Ex-6-458). Other reports in the series include photographs of a Starr carbine, details on the number of rounds fired in tests, the charge of powder used, the distance from the target, and observations on durability and efficiency. Mud splashed on the breech allegedly caused the Starr to fail. One officer commented, "From what I have seen of this carbine I do not believe it will answer for Cavalry Service without very important modifications. The pieces are too numerous being 61 in number, and some of them very liable to injury." Major Dyer and his associates were far from easy marks when it came to persuading them of the value of particular munitions. Their remarks, and those of many others, are also plentiful in entry 1001, another series for "Experiments," but the Starr is not among the many arms represented there.

The next important category of records to be explored in documenting Union armaments is one too often ignored, the main correspondence series in RG 156. No overall name or subject index exists for these documents, and researchers are often loath to undertake the effort necessary to mine them, but such effort is almost always well repaid. The main series of letters, endorsements, and circulars sent (entry 3, also called "Miscellaneous Letters") contains legible fair copies of all outgoing communications except those addressed to ordnance officers, military storekeepers, national armories before September 1861, and the secretary of war (which are in entries 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10). Additional exceptions are insignificant. The main series of letters sent will ordinarily give the text of significant communications sent to companies and individuals who invented, offered, supplied, altered, or improved ordnance equipment throughout the conflict, in chronological order. There are eighteen volumes for 1861–1865, with a name index in the front of each. Numerous entries appear under "Starr Arms Co." On May 4, 1864, for example, Gen. George D. Ramsay informed Henry H. Wolcott, president of the company, that the First New York Veteran Cavalry had had Starr arms for some time, and "there is a total lack of confidence in these carbines . . . a few shots render them useless."

The other half of this correspondence is found in the letters received (entry 21). The key to these are the registers of letters received (twelve volumes for the war years, entry 20). As would be expected, many communications from the Starr Arms Company are recorded, entered under "S" in chronological order. File S-586 for 1864 is described in the register as a letter of acknowledgment dated May 6 of the letter of May 4, "in relation to their carbines in the hands of the N.Y. Vet. Cavly." The letter itself is on file, written on handsome stationery headed by an engraving showing the Starr Armory in Yonkers, New York, surrounded by examples of its products. In it, President Wolcott explains that he is sending a man immediately to the First New York at Martinsburg, West Virginia, to investigate complaints and that previous experience indicated that the wrong type of ammunition had been issued. Other reports, such as one of April 4, 1865, showed Starr carbines working well, with Maj.. Marcus A. Reno of later Little Big Horn notoriety declaring that his Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry found them superior to the seven-shot Spencer. In the case of foreign-made arms, finding correspondence and other documentation can be exceedingly difficult, since they were often secured by agents rather than directly from the manufacturer. It should also be pointed out that the letters received by the chief of ordnance include numerous letters of transmittal for returns, although the returns themselves are no longer in existence, a characteristic shared with the letters received by the commissary general of subsistence (RG 192).

Contracts for ordnance and other equipment are often sought, and may or may not be found. The single volume of contracts for ordnance and ordnance supplies that includes the war years in RG 156 (entry 78, a volume for 1840–1868) does not include agreements with the Starr Arms Company. Since the contracts generally employ similar language, other records may fill the gap. Thus a volume of "statements of purchases of ordnance, 1861–67" (entry 79) in that record group does have ten listings under Starr giving useful data. An index to this volume helps considerably. Other series in RG 156 (entries 80–85) may provide useful contract and proposal data on ordnance from time to time.

Another record group, however, one for civil records, includes a copy of a Starr carbine contract itself. This is Record Group 217, Records of the U.S. General Accounting Office. Here separate series are devoted to separate categories of contracts: Quartermaster (entry 236), Commissary (entry 221), Engineer (entry 223), Provost Marshal (entry 234), Navy (entry 232), Adjutant General's Office (entry 216, almost entirely for rent, lodging, and procurement of recruiting rendezvous), Army (entry 218), and Ordnance (entry 233). The ordnance contracts are filed by year, then by the first letter of the surname of the contractor. Starr appears under "S." There is a gap in ordnance contracts for the years 1836 to 1862. Thus there are no ordnance contracts in this series for 1861, but there are seven for that year under the "Army" heading. Curiously, there are only seven ordnance contracts here for 1865. Contracts in these series are sometimes mutilated by revenue stamps having been cut out of them.

Civil records also include the manuscript industry census for 1860. This supplies some data on the Starr factory in Yonkers, New York, difficult to find elsewhere. The industry census for New York State was given to the New York State Library in Albany and must be sought there. Other such schedules for other states were also distributed around the country. The National Archives has a list of the schedules and their location.

The records in RG 156 which have been identified here are only a small fraction of the 1,701 series in the inventory, but for the period of the Civil War they are by far the most significant. Hundreds of entries are concerned only with World War I and later, and these can be readily dispensed with for our purposes. This does not mean, however, that the inventory should be put on the shelf at this point. Careful perusal will disclose a number of small series devoted to quite restricted subjects that can be of great value if they happen to correspond to your interests. A few such are "correspondence and reports relating to the proposals of H. F. Mann, and Horatio Ames to supply arms, 1862–68" (entry 989; "correspondence relating to the inventions of Clifford Arrick [Stafford and Ward artillery projectiles], 1862–70" (entry 999), and "records relating to the Mont Storm case [breech-loading small arms and alterations], 1858–75" (entry 997).

One example can illustrate the potential benefit of searching for these small series. Entry 215 is described as "Abstracts of Army Officers' Reports on Small Arms and on Accoutrements and Horse Equipments, 1863–64." These abstracts consist of two volumes, but the one that deals with accoutrements and horse equipment is almost entirely blank. The second volume contains a wealth of observations on the efficiency of many types of small arms, including the Starr carbine. Page 145 names eleven officers of the First and Second Regiments, Colorado Cavalry, in the second quarter of 1864, who say: "These officers agree that [Starr carbines] carry well, get out of order very easily, the locks break most often, prefer large Cal., and that they are not sure fire, and are poorly made." Other reports offer a wide spectrum of opinion. A somewhat similar volume, containing additional comments on carbines, is in an entirely different record group. RG 108, Records of the Headquarters of the Army, includes records of the Cavalry Bureau, within which are "Abstracts of reports received relating to the Efficiency of Carbines and Rifles ('Reports of Arms'), 1863–65" (entry 75). This volume has extracts from eleven reports on the Starr, with an additional complete report tipped in. This summary of sources should suggest how scattered and wide-ranging are the possibilities for the study of the numerous types of arms.

As we have seen, the inventory to RG 156 is the major tool in army ordnance research and describes almost all the records. Almost, because at the end of the 1,072 series appearing in volume one of the inventory are a handful of undescribed volumes. Of particular interest is one series labeled "Summary of the Quarterly Statements of Stores Manufactured at the Principal Arsenals." This summary gives detailed production figures for places like Springfield, Massachusetts, for the war years, but of course does not cover arms such as the Starr, which were not made by the government.

No amount of searching, no matter how assiduous, will find some things much sought by persons interested in ordnance. Lists of serial numbers have already been mentioned. This void also exists for cannon. The "gun books," which in effect gave a history of each artillery piece, were not preserved. Another surprising omission exists for a large and discrete series of plans and drawings for army ordnance. There is such a series for the navy in Record Group 74, Records of the Bureau of Ordnance (the title presupposes that the reader will know from the word "bureau" that the office is a part of the navy), and although it does primarily portray the arms of the sea services, it is so rich that it includes various land weapons as well. Army records do show some cannon production by gun number (RG 156, entry 210 for the years 1826–1846, for example) but do not tell what happened to the guns once they entered service. Textual records of the navy in RG 74 furnish much more data on specific guns. Private researchers have endeavored to compile data on all extant Civil War–era cannon, but such information is not available from the federal government.

Various sources are useful in filling in the gaps in the records. Bvt. Maj. Alfred Mordecai's two-volume publication Artillery for the U.S. Land Service, with Plates (1848–1849), though predating the war, includes a volume of plates with detailed, measured plans for all types of artillery and equipment (reproduced as National Archives Microfilm Publication T1104). This work can be supplemented by some plans for heavy artillery produced in the war period in RG 77, filed with the oversized cartographic records. ndexes to the correspondence of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance in RG 156, 1894–1903 (entries 22 and 23) and 1904–1911 (entry 26) generally lead to letters that show which arsenals supplied the outdated cannon given to Grand Army of the Republic posts and local governments for war memorials around the country. Part of the correspondence on the subject is in "Letters of Applications for Condemned Cannon, 1895–1901" (entry 990). Finally, at this writing, The Artilleryman magazine, formerly The Muzzle-loading Artilleryman (Route 1, Monarch Hill Road, Box 36, Tunbridge, VT 05077) functions as a clearinghouse of information for those interested in firing, reproducing, or making models of cannon of the war period. A useful publication is Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War (1983) by James C. Hazlett, Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks.

The records for Confederate ordnance are much less voluminous than their Union equivalent, but they are nonetheless filled with detailed information on almost all aspects of the subject, and they have been underused. Record Group 109, the War Department Collection of Confederate Records, should be the focal point of research in this field. A number of differences in addition to the amount of material available distinguish these records from those of the Federals. There is no single source conveniently showing types of arms and ordnance equipment issued to troops comparable to microfilm publication M1281. Instead, several sources can be searched. The official "papers" of Lt. (later Major) Edwin Taliaferro, ordnance officer for McLaw's Division of the Army of Northern Virginia, document small arms, artillery, and other equipment in that command (these are not shown in the inventory to RG 109 but are an addendum to entry 134, Gen. C. L. Stevenson Papers). Additional records relating to the armament of McLaw's troops are in Taliaferro's Compiled Service Record (filed under "Tallaferro, E.") in the series for Compiled Service Records of Confederate Generals and Staff Officers and Non-regimental Enlisted Men (National Archives Microfilm Publication M331). Compiled Service Records (CSRS) are arguably the best single source for information on the types of arms issued to all Confederate units. Arms of outfits in the Army of Tennessee are specified in "Papers Relating to the Ammunition Supply" (entry 40).

The division of ordnance into classes is of less importance in researching Confederate records than for Federal. Canteens and knapsacks were classed as ordnance equipment by secessionist forces rather than as quartermaster stores, as with their opponents. The peculiar arrangement of Record Group 109 puts all ordnance volumes within "chapter 4," and those volumes are well described in Beers's Confederate Guide on pages 220–232. Of course, few great compilations are flawless, and Beers does not appear to mention a volume of letters and telegrams sent by Capt. L. R. Evans, ordnance officer for Gens. Earl Van Dorn and W. W. Loring, September 21, 1862–June 23, 1863, from Oxford, Holly Springs, Grenada, and Jackson, Mississippi. The volume was donated to the National Archives in 1942. (Beers identifies other records of Captain Evans on page 263 as in RG 36, Records of the Bureau of Customs, and he is represented on M331.) The bound records of chapter 4 are specially noteworthy for their extensive coverage of the several Confederate ordnance facilities at Macon, Georgia.

Particularly significant in the Confederate records, both for ordnance and quartermaster supplies, is the mammoth series of Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, National Archives Microfilm Publication M346, 1,153 rolls of microfilm (entry 180, "Citizens File" in the inventory). Once referred to as the "voucher file" because of the many receipts it contains, this series is made up of files documenting the sale of goods or services to the Confederate central government. In addition to receipts, a wide variety of other records may be included in a file, such as correspondence, reports, contracts, and statistical compilations. No drawings or plans have been noted in the series, but engraved stationery depicting factories and wares turns up now and then. The files are arranged alphabetically, by the name of the company or individual involved. Cross-references to other Confederate War Department records are included. A valuable listing of selected larger files, compiled by Edwin O. Stokes, will be found in the pamphlet to accompany M346. It is important to remember that this listing gives only a small fraction of the total number of persons and firms for whom files are available on this microfilm. One instance of the potential treasure buried here is the extensive file on Spiller and Burr, a company that made pistols in Georgia. It is replete with letters and reports describing the factory's operation and its problems, inspection reports detailing production and defects in the products, and material on the effort to sell the plant to the Confederate States government.

As with so many other records, names matter. The names of manufacturers, suppliers, or ordnance officers represent pathways that lead to records. After the names of many Confederate arsenals, the listings in the Beers Guide state, "No records of this arsenal have been found. This notation refers to records created and maintained at those sites but does not cover records about them. Since Beers usually supplies the names of arsenal heads, one can generally find large and fruitful files for them in the series for "Generals and Staff Officers" on M331. The inspection reports on National Archives Microfilm Publication M935 also furnish the names of personnel at ordnance and quartermaster establishments.9 Other documents are indicated in the Confederate Subject File, entry 453, under such headings as "arms," "ordnance," and "ordnance department." Last, but by no means least, the microfilmed series of letters received by the Secretary of War (Letters Received by the Confederate Quartermaster General, 18611865, M437) contains many letters from or about inventors, manufacturers, and ordnance personnel.

Uniforms are another subject of considerable interest to many researchers. While archives can provide useful documentation for the advanced student, this is an area of much greater difficulty than imagined by most persons who first turn to it. No immediately usable clothing patterns dating from the period have been found. There are no files by unit detailing everything worn or carried by its members. Indeed, there are no comprehensive files on uniforms at all. Some organizations left little or no trace of their appearance. Even the term "uniform" is something of an anachronism since most military records of the period refer only to "clothing."

Information on uniforms worn by specific troops must be carefully and painstakingly pieced together from often elusive and occasionally virtually nonexistent sources such as photographs, newspaper articles, and artifacts as well as archives. Fortunately, much work has already been accomplished. The Company of Military Historians (North Main Street, Westbrook, CT 06498), established in 1949, has been the leading organization in this field. It has sponsored a series of uniform plates, of varying quality, many of which fall within the war period and frequently bear evidence of considerable research, if not always of great artistic accomplishment. Many of these, with accompanying text, have been collected in Military Uniforms in America, volume 3, Long Endure: The Civil War Period, 1852–1867 (1982), edited by John R. Elting and Michael J. McAfee. The Company's Journal should also be consulted. Photographs of Union and Confederate soldiers, with particular attention to uniform variants, are the staple of another periodical, Military Images (R.R. 1, Box 99A, Lesoine Drive, Henryville, PA 18332).

A starting point in the study of Federal uniforms is the U.S. Army Regulations, published in 1857, 1861, and 1863. Article LI of the Regulations, "Uniform, Dress, and Horse Equipments," prescribes what the regular army was to wear (an edition of this was published by the Smithsonian Institution as Uniform Regulations for the Army of the United States, 1861, Illustrated with Contemporary Official War Department Photographs, [1961]. Changes in these pronouncements appeared in issuances that can be traced under the headings "uniform" and "clothing" in the Subject Index to the General Orders and Circulars of the War Department and the Headquarters of the Army, Adjutant General's Office, from January 1, 1860, to December 31, 1880 (1913). Unfortunately, these do not provide answers to all questions, especially in the case of volunteer and militia garb.

Further research on Federal uniforms and equipment can be undertaken in numerous series in Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General. Volume 1 of the inventory, under "clothing and equipage," on pages 118–122, describes the main series of correspondence of the army's Office of Clothing and Equipage (entries 999, 1002, 1003, 1004). Several large volumes for the early years of the war list clothing, camp, and garrison equipage distributed to various units (entries 1027, 1022, and 1028 at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, and 2249 in the National Archives-Mid Atlantic Region in Philadelphia) in a format that shows quantities under numerous headings such as hats, uniform coats or jackets (thereunder by rank), leggings (pairs), gaiters (pairs), drawers, sashes, great coats, talmas, ponchos, knapsacks and straps, and so forth. Significant records of the main clothing manufacturing, procurement, and storage facility (entries 2166–2337), particularly the Schuylkill Arsenal, are at the regional archives in Philadelphia.

Quartermaster contracts can sometimes be profitable as sources for uniform and other research. From time to time their descriptions of goods will be detailed. Registers of contracts are in RG 92 (entry 1238) as are related correspondence (entries 1220, 1224, 1225), abstracts (entry 1239), and a large but partial and poorly arranged series of contracts themselves (entry 1246). The most complete series of contracts, however, is in RG 217, Records of the General Accounting Office (entry 236, as noted above). Standard language in the contracts stipulates that articles will be "like and equal in all respects . . . as to shade of color, quality of material, workmanship, finish, &c., to the sealed standard samples, deposited in the Office of Army Clothing and Equipage." A few of these "sealed standard samples" are now in the Division of Armed Forces History at the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

A smattering of other sources have proven particularly worthwhile for uniform and equipment data. These include the bound and unbound records of Union volunteer regiments (RG 94, entries 112–115, and entry 57), which now and then yield gems; inspection reports in RG 159 (addendum to entry 1A); and inventories of the effects of deceased soldiers (often in Compiled Service Records but also scattered in many other series). Finally, there is the astonishing Consolidated Correspondence File (entry 225) of RG 92, which merits special consideration.

The massive Consolidated Correspondence File is one of those series whose existence seems to mock the basic tenets of archival theory and arrangement. It overshadows in importance the other 2,479 series in RG 92, though this is not immediately apparent from the inventory. According to the late Detmar Finke, formerly of the army's Office of the Chief of Military History, who watched them, this series was created by less-than-sober employees of the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s at the stables of Fort Myer, Virginia. These men plucked unbound records from many series of quartermaster files and arranged them by arbitrarily chosen names and subjects into what was supposed to be alphabetical order. Perhaps the bottle of whiskey that they passed around to ward off the winter chill accounted for the occasional lapses in alphabetical order. There is something in this series filed under almost any name or subject, but among those most favored were ones relating to particular quartermaster officers; each post, camp, or station; the terms associated with supply and temporary structures; and of course, uniforms. These records are not exclusively for 1861–1865 and in fact cover the entire period of 1790–1890.

There are thousands of categories in the series. Some contain only one or two documents, others many hundreds. A random sampling includes:

  • ambulances; bed (iron);
  • carts, Army, 1861;
  • Durkee, Abraham (for services rendered as carpenter at Fort Drum, California, 1864–1872);
  • epitaphs;
  • flag, Custer's;
  • government freight, 1861;
  • handcuffs, 1864, Virginia;
  • insignia;
  • Jordan, Capt. Thomas, 1861 (later general, C.S.A.);
  • Key West, Florida, property confiscated, 1863;
  • Leavenworth, Kansas, Fort;
  • mills, portable, 1865;
  • New York pilots, 1862;
  • Old Capitol Prison;
  • plans for hospital, railroad, 1863;
  • Quartermaster Volunteers, 1864;
  • Rutger, Teal & Co., Washington, DC, 1865 (regarding collusion between that firm and the Quartermaster's Office);
  • Sabine Crossroads, Louisiana, property lost, 1864;
  • transportation 1861, of sick and wounded soldiers;
  • Union Hotel Hospital, Georgetown, DC, 1862;
  • Valverde, Camp, 1862, relative to 1st Regt. Colorado Vol.'s wagons;
  • York, Pennsylvania;
  • Zimmerman, C. M., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, contracts for drums and musical instruments, 1859–1862.

At the end are some "letters of claims, contracts, correspondence, all unclassified." Presumably the WPA workers at that point had either lost interest or subsided into a stupor.

Throughout the alphabetical arrangement of the Consolidated Correspondence File are categories that include documents about United States uniforms. "Cloth," "clothing," the names of contractors, the names of states (such as "Connecticut Vols."), unit names ("Excelsior Brigade," "Irish Brigade" [23d Illinois]), even the word "uniforms" yield pertinent records in the invaluable but frustrating compilation. This entry in the inventory serves also as a prime example of the perils of citing sources by box number. For decades the series consisted of some 1,250 boxes, but at this writing it is being reboxed, a process that will change all the numbers and considerably augment the total number.

The records of the Office of the Quartermaster General (RG 92) offer much more than are discussed in these pages. The full range becomes apparent from an examination of the letters sent by the quartermaster general himself, in chronological order and with name indexes to correspondents (reproduced on microfilm as M745).10 This is the record group within which fall the numerous series of records created and maintained by the U.S. Military Railroads. Voluminous files on cemeterial affairs and army waterborne transportation are also here. Even lesser subjects, such as sutlers and their wares, have their own series.

Beyond this record group, specialized equipment is documented in the separate record group for the appropriate offices. Therefore, medical equipment falls within RG 112, Records of the Surgeon General's Office, for example,11 and signal apparatus within RG 111, Records of the Chief Signal Officer. Lower-level staff officers sometimes have their own records in RG 393 (Records of the United States Army Continental Commands, 1821–1920) that shed light on the things in their custody. Thus the ordnance officer of the Department of the Gulf, Capt. Francis J. Shunk, has a discrete body of records that have been preserved (part I, entry 1837), and the office of the quartermaster of the Department of the Cumberland and Division and Department of the Tennessee has twenty-nine series (part I, entries 1102–1130). The inventories for the other commands in RG 393 are additional possible sources.

Even records of the civilian offices of the U.S. government offer some research opportunities on arms and equipment. Records of contracts have already been mentioned. Further sources, though rarely used, are worthy of consideration. State claims records in RG 217, Records of the General Accounting Office, include many receipts for articles supplied to state troops, usually in 1861 before federal authorities took over the job. They also contain much on subsistence stores, transportation, rent of buildings, and all the other aspects of raising and caring for soldiers. Drawings and case files of the Patent Office are prime sources on objects.

Confederate uniforms, camp, and garrison equipage present an even greater challenge than do those of the Federals. The Uniform and Dress of the Army and Navy of the Confederate States of America (1861; RG 109, chapter 8, Vol. 286, four copies with differing items tipped in; reprinted 1952, 1960),12 with handsome accompanying plates, prescribes garments that bear scant resemblance to what was in fact worn. The records created and maintained by the Clothing Bureau (an office not mentioned by Beers) apparently did not survive. Documentation that does remain would make a substantial account of the workings of the bureau possible (none exists at this writing), but it furnishes only occasional clues to the appearance of specific units. Nevertheless, much digging can yield a surprising amount of information.

The best source on clothing of the Southern armies is the Compiled Military Service Records (see p. 364), but some other records may produce otherwise elusive data. Clothing rolls (RG 109, carded records in entry 49, uncarded in entry 50) show the issuance at specified times of articles such as caps, hats, jackets, coats, or drawers to individuals by unit, who then signed their names or made their marks to attest to receipt. Pay rolls of seamstresses (RG 109, scattered though entries 56 and 183, which have inadequate indexes) give the number and type of article produced beside the name of the person making them as well as the amount paid. A few volumes (such as RG 109, chapter 5, volume 244, "Abstracts of articles purchased, received, issued, sold, and expended by Capt. Richard P. Waller, Assistant Quartermaster") indicate the names of suppliers of goods A small number of contracts are available (RG 365, Treasury Department Collection of Confederate Records, entry 59), with clothing agreements mixed in with those for the hire of steamboats, the procurement of commissary stores, and the supply of a surprising amount of whiskey. With names obtained from such records, the series of Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms (M346) leads to further information. Stray and difficult records to locate, such as inventories of the effects of deceased soldiers (e.g., in chapter 6, Vol. 15, and in CSRs), often prove remarkably illuminating.

Perhaps yet another reminder of the assistance provided by printed sources is not without value. City directories for cities of both North and South (available on microform at the Library of Congress and elsewhere) frequently indicate dates of operation, places of business, and— for a few fortunate establishments— examples of illustrated advertising. And of course, the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, although focusing on campaigns, battles, and skirmishes, ought not to be ignored.13 The indexing terms employed are helpful in varying degrees. "Munitions of War," which includes subjects such as clothing, is rather too broad to aid most persons "Ordnance Department, U.S.A." (or C.S.A.) is more useful, and "Quartermaster General's Office" (also divided into C.S.A. and U.S.A.) is similarly more precise. Other terms should be considered. "Uniforms," "wagons," and the names of particular officers involved with material were all words deemed worthy of inclusion in the Official Records index. Series III and series IV, for Union and Confederate authorities respectively, are particularly relevant. The three plates in the Official Records Atlas, illustrating arms and equipment (plates 172, uniforms, badges of rank, buttons; plate 173, ordnance and ordnance equipment; plate 174, transportation of sick and wounded, medical supplies, six-mule wagon) are worthwhile but will only whet the appetites of avid researchers. They will soon find that the Confederate uniforms illustrated are taken from the wartime Uniform and Dress publication and that the Union version does not cover any types beyond standard issues, and they will want to probe more deeply. This article is an attempt to point them in the right direction.

It is true that the artifacts themselves must be sought in places other than archives. Yet the records are so vast that even with this fact firmly stated, once in a very great while there will be exceptions, as there always seem to be when the subject reflects the human factor. And so, in a secure vault in the National Archives there is a melancholic collection from Treasury Department records of nearly two dozen billfolds, wallets, and money belts once the property of wounded Confederates who died in enemy hands, of Union deserters, and of other flotsam of war. In a box of records of the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot is a woolen mitten designed for infantrymen, with the trigger finger formed separately so as to move freely. In another vault is a metal die bearing the mysterious seal of the shadowy Copperhead conspiracy known as the Knights of the Golden Circle, seized from its hapless leader George Bickley. And in the same vault, alongside samples of cloth offered to the clothing bureau in Washington, is a minature pair of polished cotton pantaloons, sent in by John A. Campbell, of Milo, Maine, on May 23, 1862, featuring a rear flap to accommodate the demands of nature on the march. No cross reference to the original file location is provided.

Nothing better illustrates the sheer strangeness of the Consolidated Correspondence File from which the pantaloons were withdrawn, or of archives in general, than the placement of the letter that accompanied Campbell's invention. It surpasses in unlikeliness even the flights of fancy of old Edward D. Tippett (he of the four-thousand-dollar war balloon). It is not filed under any appropriate possibility such as "pantaloons" or the maker's name. It is filed near "Leona, Teas," and "Ft. Lincoln," under the heading "Leamless clothing." "Leamless" is a misreading of the handwriting on a document relating to seamless clothing manufacturing samples. Since the letter contained an artifact that was a sample, it was filed with various other cloth samples, including those which were "leamless." When logic has fled, an act of divine intercession may be called for to find a document.

See also these related articles:

Michael P. Musick parlayed a childhood fascination with the Civil War into a rewarding career. A former student of Bell I. Wiley at Emory University, he has worked at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC, since 1969 Mr. Musick was an adviser to Ken Burns's PBS series The Civil War and is the author of 6th Virginia Cavalry (1990), a regimental history and annotated roster, among other publications.


The author would like to thank Earl J. Coates and Ross Kelbaugh for comments on the manuscript of this article.

1 Edward D. Tippett to "Honored Sir," May 11, May 25, 1861, entry 994, file In-Misc.-177, Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance, Record Group 156, National Archives, Washington, DC (hereinafter, records in the National Archives will be cited as RG ___ NA). The subject of Union inventors is masterfully covered by Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Robert V. Bruce in Lincoln and the Tools of War (1956; reprint 1973). Tippett appears in Bruce's book on pp. 131–132, with a citation to other letters from him in the John G. Nicolay and Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Bruce notes that Lincoln labeled one of Tippett's letters to him "Tippett. Crazy-man."

2 File 1455 W.D. 1861, Letters Received by the Confederate Quartermaster General, 1861–1865 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M437), War Department Collection of Confederate Records, RG 109, NA. Observation balloons were in fact used extensively in the conflict.

3 Union flags at the brigade level and above are illustrated in Flags of the Army of the United States carried During the War of the Rebellion 1861–1865 . .  . (1887), compiled under the direction of the Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army. See Michael P. Musick, "Honorable Reports: Battles, Campaigns, and Skirmishes—Civil War Records and Research," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives 27 (Fall 1995): 264, for a discussion of Medal of Honor files often associated with capture of a Confederate flag.

4 Extensive documentation of the controversy is in file 157 AGO 1888 on Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General (Main Series), 18811889 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M689, rolls 580–581), Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's–1917, RG 94, NA.

5 The Ordnance Manual for the Officers of the U.S. Army (3rd ed., Philadelphia, 1862) (National Archives Microfilm Publication T1117, 1 roll), RG 94, NA.

6 Exec. Doc. No. 99, 40th Cong., 2d sess., serial 1338, pp. 698–996.

7 H.Rept. 2, 37th Cong., 2d sess., serials 1142 and 1143.

8 Kenneth W. Munden and Henry Putney Beers, The Union: A Guide to Federal Archives Relating to the Civil War (1962; reprint 1986), and Henry Putney Beers, The Confederacy: A Guide to the Archives of the Government of the Confederate States of America (1968; reprint 1986).

9 Inspection Reports and Related Records Received by the Inspection Branch in the Confederate Adjutant and Inspector General's Office (National Archives Microfilm Publication M935), RG 109, NA.

10 Letters Sent by the Office of the Quartermaster General, Main Series, 18181842 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M745), Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, RG 92, NA.

11 Additional records on medical equipment are in RG 94, entries 622 and 629, because many records of the Surgeon General were transferred to the Adjutant General's Office.

12 See also the Confederate Army Regulations, Article 47.

13 U.S. Department of War, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (1880–1901).


Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.