28th Massachusetts Company Uniform Standards

The company standards first presented at the 1999 annual meeting have been in use now for a while, and found generally satisfactory in intent. However, they were written down in such detail and with so much supporting background that it was not always an easy matter to find the right information. This document reduces the scope and detail to the bare essentials. These represent guidelines, and we should remember how they are to be used.

First, all new members should acquire items based on these standards. To do otherwise is a waste of money. New members and their sponsors should be familiar with this plan and make every effort to follow it, so fresh fish get the right start.

Second, many current members already meet, or nearly meet, these standards. In these cases – actually, most of the membership – little or no modifications are necessary.

Third, there are old members and transfers from other units who joined the hobby when standards were less exacting. To come up to standard, these members should begin replacing the most inauthentic items first.

Why standards?
The most authentic sector of the hobby replies: “Because it’s right, darn it!” This is a simple and powerful argument. We are supposed to be presenting a reasonably accurate impression to the public. What is “reasonably accurate” has changed over the years as more and more sutlers have been willing to produce higher-quality items. Unfortunately, the old poor-quality stuff is still easily obtainable, which creates problems.

Some things, we can (and often should) not reproduce – lice, “prickly heat,” 19th century size distribution, etc. But this is not an argument to abandon reasonably high standards. We should do the best we can, always. The overall standards of the hobby have changed, and the company’s with them. Here are a few of our philosophical ideals:

  1. We have a company impression, not a flag of convenience for various ideas of what a Civil War soldier looked like. What we do, we do as a unit. We wear sack coats, not frocks; we wear forage caps, not kepis. We don’t wear gaiters or Hardee hats or infantry bugles. We present the impression of a generic Army of the Potomac regiment, generally mid-war, except on those fine days when we can be the 28th.
  2. We always find the best uniforms and equipment we can, subject to our financial resources. The minimum standards are always reasonably priced, and we should not own anything less.
  3. We avoid “fads.” These are usually wrong and often disruptive.
  4. We keep our heads. We don’t need to “count stitches” on every item. But we don’t wear things that violate the standards just because of an “I gotta be me” attitude. This is unfair to everyone trying to do it right.

General tips:

  1. Ask before you purchase.
  2. When there is a choice, buy early war rather than mid- or late-war.
  3. Buy at least the minimum standard.

References: A handy resource is Echoes of Glory: Arms and Equipment of the Union (Time Life Books). Page references are added for each type item (e.g., (EOG, pp. 182-183)).

“Buy smart”: We frequently negotiate deals with better sutlers for bulk discounts, particularly for critical items that give us real value in company impression. These can help us purchase the right stuff at the right price. Current “buy smart” items are indicated.

In addition, there are numerous sources for information on quality items on the web. The Authentic Campaigner, The Watchdog and other sources are listed in the links section of this website.

Basic uniform standards and sources:

The basic infantry (enlisted) uniform includes:

1. Headgear:
We strongly recommend a model 1858 cap (since this style is accurate through the entire war; the later model (1862) is not). (EOG, pp. 182-183) You should eventually buy a McDowell pattern forage cap, since this is the style worn by the 28th. But we are not generally “cast” as the 28th, so this is not the most important first purchase.

Unacceptable: Kepis, slouch hats, Hardee hats.

Sources: Dirty Billy is our personal favorite; Starbuck and Keune are also acceptable. Jarnagin model 1858 caps are minimum acceptable. Do not buy caps from the general sutler tents. If you have any doubts, ask. “Buy smart” discount special.

Notes: The practice or “rolling” cap visors like a modern baseball cap was not practices in the Civil War, and we should avoid it. The visor should be left straight or folded up in front. An authentic forage cap has a painted or shellacked visor top. Do not add brass or other ornamentation (e.g., corps badge) unless the dispatch calls for it. Always prohibited are infantry bugles, Fenian harps, feathers, squirrel tails, etc.

2. Uniform Coat:
We wear a sack coat, preferably Schuylkill Arsenal pattern, but any good quality coat. A good-quality coat is made of light (around 8-oz) wool flannel or broadcloth, not heavy, fuzzy flannel. It has a simple, shallow roll collar and four buttons. Most should be lined in wool of a neutral color, with muslin sleeve linings. (EOG, p. 125)

Unacceptable: Shell jackets, frock coats (when sacks are prescribed), less than minimum quality sacks.

Sources: The best sack coats at the moment are available from Chris Daley, John Wedeward and Nick Sekela. The minimum quality acceptable is that produced by Jarnagin. Kits from County Cloth assembled by a seamstress are also acceptable.

Notes: A low-quality sack coat – and there are many available from general sutlers – is easily recognizable at any distance. Common errors are: heavy wool, fuzzy wool, pointed collars, improper construction, improper dying. Dying is critical – cheap sack coats tend to fade to a purple (not possible for indigo-dyed wool) or a sort of sickly mottle. Sack coats with synthetic blends will “pill.” Avoid all these. Some coats are available that reflect the tendency of some original fabric lots to have a lighter shade than others. These have a sort of dark teal hue. They are available from better producers, and are acceptable.

3. Trousers:
Soldiers wore any of several similar patterns of trouser; however, they were all very similar, all made of something like 12 oz. wool kersey. Your “trowsers” should be of proper fabric, proper weight, and proper design (high-rise, back higher than front, vent at outer cuff, proper stamped tin buttons). Side-opening or “mule-ear” pocket styles are acceptable. Issue trowsers have a 1” vent in the outer hem seam.  (EOG, pp. 126-127)

Unacceptable: Cheap sutler trousers, dark blue pre-war versions, cuffs sheared or rolled for garrison impression.

Sources: Sullivan, Sekela and Daley make fine trowsers; minimum acceptable is Jarnagin. County Cloth kits are acceptable. “Buy smart” discount special.

4. Shirts:
Our goal should be one issue domet flannel shirt and one good-quality civilian shirt. The most common problem is shirts of modern material (e.g., very light printed cotton), particularly when made of a bright color or pattern. Civilian shirt fabric was generally of woven pattern (though printed patterns were becoming available). Collared and collarless shirts were available. (EOG, pp. 126)

Unacceptable: Shirts of modern style or materials, bright colors, unbleached muslin. There are so many possible slips in the matter of shirts, it is best to ask before buying.

Sources: Due to the fact that proper issue shirts are all hand sewn with domet flannel material, they are rather expensive and not conducive to bulk purchasing. Ted Quednau makes an excellent reproduction. Dirty Billy and a few other quality specialty sutlers make good civilian shirts – ask for latest recommendations. At all costs avoid buying a shirt off the general sutler’s rack, as these are almost certain to be worthless.

Notes: Shirts were made with very long tails – they come halfway to the knees. Any shirt made of white cotton or unbleached muslin is almost certainly unacceptable.

5. Stockings:
In the past, the hobby had to make do with rag wool sports socks. These are now shunned. Period socks were made of wool yarn, and were rather long. They were not made of cotton, which lacked durability for field use, nor, obviously, of synthetics.

Unacceptable: Socks of bright colors, patterns, with elastic tops, of “oatmeal” rag wool, socks with low tops.

Sources: Kathy Kleiman makes excellent socks, but rather expensive and with long delivery times. Few general sutlers provide anything of value. Check latest sources. “Buy smart” discount special.

Note: Socks are important. They provide comfort and a detail of authenticity often overlooked in the old days of the hobby. In particular, if you want to blouse your trousers into your socks in the field (not in garrison), make sure you’re wearing authentic ones.

6. Bootees (shoes):
We wear the Jefferson bootee or “brogan”, which was the basic footgear issued to Federal infantry. There are various qualities available. In this case, the degree of comfort and satisfaction is very closely related to quality and price. The boots should be of black leather – smooth side out OR smoothside in. If you buy smooth (gut) side out, it is worth the effort to rub or brush or polish the rough nap smooth. Field use did this in short order anyway. (EOG, p. 191)

Unacceptable: Brown (natural) leather brogans or any modern footwear of any kind; soles other than leather, pegged (preferable) or stitched (no Vibram soles added). Laces other than rawhide are prohibited.

Sources: Missouri Shoe & Boot Co. (Serio) and Robert Land are excellent; Jarnagin supplies acceptable shoes.

Notes: Brogans had blunt or squared toes; avoid extremes (blocky “Frankenstein” bootees or pointed-toe designs. If you stick with approved sources, there is no way to fail). Laces are rawhide; if you have natural finish (brown/yellow laces) apply dye or polish to make them black.

7. Greatcoat:
This is a highly recommended item. Authentic greatcoats are available, but at high cost for an optional item. Batter-quality greatcoats from approved sutlers like Jarnagin are acceptable. Enlisted members wear the foot pattern (single-breasted) version. (EOG, p. 129, second from top)

Unacceptable: Dark blue prewar coats, double-breasted (mounted service) coats, gray or brown coats. Avoid, in most cases, “off the rack” coats from general sutlers – these are usually of poor material and very seldom have the correct wool lining.

Sources: Coats are available from high-quality specialty tailors (ask or check sutler bulletins), or from Jarnagin; best avoid others, as quality is unpredictable.

Notes: Greatcoats of indifferent mainstream quality can be improved greatly by three modifications:

  1. Replacement of the usual muslin liner with wool.
  2. Replacement of large buttons in front, which are usually 1” diameter, with correct 5/8” diameter brass buttons.
  3. Hand-sew buttonholes.

8. Vest:
A few years ago, everyone had a vest. The importance of the vest was, however, overstated; by no means everyone owned one (they were private-purchase items), and we do not require them. If you want one, the military (EOG, p. 117) or civilian styles are acceptable.

Source: If you choose to have one, we recommend having a vest made by one of our seamstresses; they are of far better quality than those from sutlers.

9. Drawers (underwear):
These were issued to all soldiers in a crude form using Canton flannel and stamped tin buttons. Issue versions have tie-strings at the ankles. Civilian style drawers were made of lighter cloth and came to the knees. Either style is acceptable.

Sources:  Nick Sekela is known for superior hand sewn drawers. Other quality sources are also available.

Weapons and load-carrying gear:

10. Musket:
Our preferred weapon is the Enfield three-band rifled musket (EOG, pp. 38-39). This is what the regiment was issued in 1862, and what they carried throughout the war.

Acceptable alternatives:  Model 1861 Springfield (EOG, p. 41), model 1842 smoothbore (EOG, p. 33, bottom).

Unacceptable: Any other weapon.

Sources:  Proper muskets are available from Armisport, Euroarms, and Navy Arms. The Armisport is probably the most authentic, though none is correct without modification, which is available as an option.

Notes: Muskets used by the 28th came from Tower Arms in England; no reproductions are so marked. All reproductions have slight problems with bands and sling swivels. These can all be corrected for a price if you wish to have a superior weapon. Ask the armorer for details.

11. Musket sling:
Research indicates that the Commonwealth of  Massachusetts often issued English made slings with Enfields.   As these wore out on campaign, they were likely replaced with American-made slings. The slings provided with Enfield reproductions are similar to the Springfield sling (It is russet with a metal hook); the original Enfields as produced in England had a very different style sling (black leather with no metal hooks). There is debate over the question of which sling was used by Massachusetts regiments. This creates a problem. It appears likely that as the English issue sling wore out on campaign it would have been replaced with a US issue sling (or no sling at all). Until definitive research is available, either style is acceptable.

12. Bayonet:
Most reproduction bayonets are acceptable, but their use is limited because they are forged from mild steel and bend easily. (EOG, same pp. as muskets, above) When purchasing a bayonet, always take your musket with you to ensure a proper fit.

Sources: Most sutlers. Originals are reasonable in price and make of tempered steel.

13. Scabbard:
We carry the Springfield style scabbard with diagonal frog. The two-rivet early war version is strongly preferred, since it is correct for any impression. The Seven-rivet frog is an acceptable alternative. (If you’re buying, buy a two-rivet frog – we’re gradually trying to get rid of the later-war versions).

Unacceptable:  Enfield (straight) scabbard and frog; these were not used by Federal regiments.

Sources: Jarnagin makes good scabbards. Trans-Mississippi is also well regarded.  “Buy smart” discount special.

14. Waist belt:
Belt should be of leather, smooth side dyed black, with oval “US” waist plate. Belt must have either a brass keeper or a leather loop (preferred).

Unacceptable: Brown or buff leather, any belt buckle other than regulation oval US, belt without keeper or loop.

Sources: Dell’s Leather Works produces quality gear. Jarnagin is acceptable, better sources are available if you want to invest in superior gear.

15. Cartridge box and sling:
Black, smooth leather. The sling should have a circular eagle plate attached so that it is over the sternum when worn, the box should have an oval “US” plate. The 1857 model box for cal. .58 is preferred (unless you carry a .69, in which case that model is better), since the July 1864 model is not authentic for any but late war impressions. (EOG, pp. 198-199)

Unacceptable: Brown or buff slings, missing brass; we do not use the box with embossed US in the leather flap.

Sources: Dell’s Leather Works produces quality gear. Jarnagin is acceptable, better sources are available if you want to invest in superior gear.

Notes: Boxes should be adjusted so they hang to a proper level. Corporals will assist in this adjustment.

16. Canteen, strap and cover:
The preferred model is the US regulation model 1858 smoothside canteen. The “bullseye” canteen with concentric corrugation is appropriate for mid to late war impressions only. We are making an effort to move towards uniformity of canteen cover, using gray or brown  jean cloth or federal issue blanket wool. (EOG, pp. 206-207) We recommend proper leather canteen straps for early and mid-war impressions. Cotton straps for mid to late war scenarios. Do not use leather straps with bullseye canteens.

Acceptable alternatives: The bullseye is acceptable, but not preferred; we urge new members to buy the smoothside.

Unacceptable: Confederate or Mexican War canteens.

Sources: Jarnagin is a good, standard source. Orchard Hill Sutlery is the most authentic. Dell’s Leather Works makes an excellent canteen and leather strap (“Buy smart” discount special.)

Notes: The canteen is one of the items that should be stenciled for identification in the prescribed manner: “B” plus your roster number. We will generally pick well-attended events to catch up on this task, and stencil as many as possible that need it.  This is also an item that needs adjustment so it will hang at the proper level. This generally requires shortening the strap.

17. Haversack:
As always, the early war style is most practical. A correct haversack is approximately 11.5 inches by 12 inches, with black waterproof coating. The simple roller buckle should be black of japanned – most especially, not shiny brass or chrome modern hardware. The muslin pouch should be attached by bone or stamped tin buttons. (EOG, pp. 210-211, bottom of pages)

Acceptable alternatives: Though not preferred, the late war version, about two inches wider than the standard, can be used.

Unacceptable: White or blue-white tick, leather, or any other item than the standard haversacks described above.

Sources: Haversack Depot makes an excellent product.

Note:  The haversack strap is made for the largest quintile. For comfortable and authentic wear, the strap will have to be shortened. Corporals will show you how to do it.

18. Knapsack:
We carry the model of 1855 Federal issue two-bag knapsack of black-tarred canvas. (EOG, p. 213 (black models)

Unacceptable: Anything else, including militia hardpacks, 1864 models, etc.

Sources: Very fine knapsacks are available from several sources. The Jarnagin product is not perfect, but it is acceptable and we get a good price on bulk orders (preferred). “Buy smart” discount special.

Notes: These are generally available with or without the wooden frame insert. These may well have been discarded as extra weight, but they are useful at parades to make the pack look full.

19. Gum blanket:
The gum blanket is preferred over the mounted service poncho for general authenticity.

Sources:  Jarnagin’s gum blankets are among the best available and reasonably priced.

20. Shelter tent:
From mid-1862, infantry soldiers were issued one shelter half, which they attached to their pard’s to make a complete “dog tent.” The hobby has been experiencing a revolution in shelter tents, moving from heavy, inauthentic versions of waterproofed canvas to authentic versions made of cotton drill. We cannot emphasize strongly enough the need to have a correct shelter half – it is much easier to carry, and shows consideration for unit impression. (Plus, most of us have them, and it’s a trick to mate an old Panther model with the correct ones.)

Unacceptable: If you do not have a shelter half, do not purchase a heavy one with brass grommets; if you already have one of these, it should be a priority to replace it.

Acceptable:  Correct shelter halves are made with either bone or stamped tin buttons; both are correct. Hand-stitched grommets are preferred, machine-stitched are acceptable.

Sources: Arsenal makes a good on, and sells directly through some sutlers (e.g., S&S in Gettysburg). Sandra Howley makes an excellent one, as good as any available, with correct maker’s mark. Jarnagin shelter halves are of correct weight, but come with machine-stitched grommets and buttonholes; you may specify delivery without buttonholes so you can stitch your own.

Note: Some prefer to carry two shelter halves so they can sleep alone. The more authentic (and lighter) approach is to choose a pard who is a quiet and fragrant sleeper.

21. Mess equipment:
This is an important purchase – there are a lot of cheap and incorrect items on sale at general sutlers, and the right stuff is not much more expensive. You will need a tin cup, a tin plate, and knife, fork, and spoon. Because this is a detailed specification, we will simply list what is dead wrong and provide sources for the “good stuff.” (EOG, pp. 224-225)

Unacceptable: Do not buy tinware of stainless steel or copper. A “mucket” (lidded cup) is tempting, but they varied between rare and nonexistent – better to buy a large can to boil your food.

Sources: Village Tinsmith is a reputable provider.

22. Personal articles:
Here the rule is very simple – no non-period items except your personal medication. Some recommended items: (EOG, pp. 222-223 for examples)

  • One or two towels. (Authentic towels are made of a cotton fabric – do not bring Terrycloth) (“Buy smart” discount special.)
  • Handkerchief. Not the popular Levi-Strauss patterned kerchiefs, which were postwar – these should be of subdued cotton shirting or similar material.
  • Tooth brush. Good period examples are available from sutlers, made of bone and hog bristle, or something that looks like bone and hog bristle.
  • Tooth powder: A small tin can be used to carry your preferred dry dentifrice. This may seem overly picky, since a tube of toothpaste can be hidden without too much trouble. This argument makes sense up to the moment you discover your tube of paste burst in your knapsack during the night.
  • Housewife: A period sewing kit. You will need one at some point.

Unacceptable: We do not wear wristwatches or modern eyeglasses. Modern, small rimless glasses are still modern. Extended-wear contacts are the best option, but you can get reproduction frames and have your optician fit them with your prescription (usually covered by your medical plan as “extra glasses”). We do not smoke cigarettes – if you have the habit a pipe is fine.

For more information, please contact one of our officers or NCO’s.