Procurement of Naval Uniforms

The uniform worn by the US Navy Enlisted Sailor of the Civil War was adopted in 1859.  It was worn basically unchanged except for insignia changes until 1886.

Naval Enlisted uniforms came from various sources.  The first of course was “Navy Issue”.  At enlistment, each new Sailor received the following:

1. 1 Blue woolen Cap (Flat Hat, plain, on fancy work, no ribbons or bows)
2. 1 Blue Woolen Flannel Frock (also known as Jumper or Over shirt, plain, no fancywork.)
3. 1 Pair Blue Wool Trousers (fly front, Naval Cut).
4. 1 White Cotton Drill Frock (Blue cotton cuffs and collar, plain no fancy work).
5. 1 Pair, White “Duck” Trousers (White Drill or denim, fly front Naval Cut).
6. 1 White Cotton Cap Cover (for blue woolen cap/flat hat)
7. 2 Undershirts (blue or white, common style, common fabrics)
8. 2 Pair Drawers (blue or white, common style, common fabrics)
9. 2 Pair socks (wool or cotton)
10. 1 Neckerchief, (black silk)
11. 1 Pair Shoes (generally Booties, also oxfords, and many purchased boots)
12. 1 Dress Blue Jacket (also called “Round Jacket” or “Monkey Jacket”, various collar              styles)
13. 1 Hammock
14. 1 double or 2 single blankets (Any style available)
15. 1 Sea Bag
16. 1 Ditty Bag
17. 1 Mess Pan
18. 1 Tin Cup
19. 1 set eating utensils
20. 1 Stencil Set (sometimes cut brass sheet or more commonly wooden stamp with               Sailor’s initials and last name for marking clothing).

At a minimum, he was required to have these items in his possession and well maintained.  They were usually inspected once a month and the Sailor could be punished for infractions.

Sailors however generally had four or five sets of blues, three or four sets of underwear and socks, three or four caps and one or two sets of whites.  The extras were made by the Sailor or the Sail Maker, using patterns that were maintained on board the ship.  Most ships had hand cranked sewing machines for this use.  Sailor would buy the fabric from the ship at half the cost or less of ready made clothes.  Often a deal with the Sail Maker meant he made every thing you asked for and you handed over your first pay check (and did a few “Odd Jobs” for him.  Sailors also got fabric ashore if possible.

Blue uniforms were the daily working uniform of the Navy, all day, every day.  White uniforms were not worn for daily wear or working.  They were reserved for special occasions such as inspections (every Saturday), church services and special visits to the ship by dignitaries, and then only if the Senior Officer Present directs it so.  Many first person accounts tell of Sailors spending three years in the tropics and wearing whites two or three times, or not at all, yet having to have them in their sea bag.

The “Issue” uniforms were made on the Naval Ship Yards in shops set up for that purpose. Other than general appearance, the Navy made no effort to dictate the details of these uniforms.  When the CW began, the Navy could not keep up with demand so routinely contracted out to civilian makers.  One contract I have seen was simply, “500 Blue woolen uniforms (frocks, trousers and caps) in current Seamens  fashion”. This accounts for much of the the variety of details.

The Naval uniforms was different from the Army in that while the Army was a “Metropolitan” force, in theory only several days by rail from a supply source, the Navy was a “Global” force.  We had no overseas bases, so the Navy had to subsist on it’s own when away from US ports.  The Navy understood that it could not dictate the details of Sailors clothing as it would not be able to provide it, so as long as it generally “looked” correct and they had one set of “Regulation” clothing, the Navy was happy.

Obviously, this was not enough clothing for a Sailor to survive a three of four year cruise/enlistment.  After initial issue, the Sailor was on his own to provide sufficient clothing for his needs.  Sailors were allowed to buy, from the Navy all the clothing they wanted.  This was a problem though as for the average Sailor, the clothing was expensive, and they were not payed regularly.  Thus, they would have to “buy on Account”, paying off the debt to the Navy at the end of their enlistment.  It was much cheaper for the Sailor to make his own or have made for him, extra clothing.  This extra clothing generally fell into the category of work clothing.  It was plain and made from what ever blue fabrics the Sailor could find.  Generally, frocks were made of light weight woolen flannel of the type used for shirts.  Many surviving uniforms are made entirely from the same fabric as Federal Army Fatigue Blouses.  Trousers tended to be heavier, a 18 to 20 oz kersey, along with the caps.  Historically, the enlisted uniform was made of light weight fabrics as it was a working uniform.  In 1886, the uniform was finally regulated id be made of the Federal Blouse flannel, and in 1933, when the jumper uniform was no longer a work uniform, it was changed to the heavier melton wool that was used until 1975.  So, the uniform worn by the enlisted Sailor was a relatively cool and comfortable uniform.  I do know that it was not uncommon for Sailors in warm climates to make uniforms of blue denim for work wear.  Cooler still and easier to clean (they did laundry every week).  Dress jackets were made of everything from the heavy kersey to flannel.  These jackets were designed only for Dress wear, and were not generally worn for warmth. Other jackets were used for that.

The last type of uniform of the Sailor was what they called “Homeward Bounders” We would call them “Liberty Uniforms”.  These uniforms were either made by the Sailor and decorated in their spar time or bought from vendors ashore.  The Navy did in fact have “Sutlers” just like the Army who were allowed to bring their boats and ships along side.  The Sailors were allowed to go over and buy the things they wanted ( same stuff as the Army).  Generally, the Sailor would be payed or partially paid the day before.   The Sailor was inspected in his regulation uniform every week.  This was called “Mustering” much like the Army “Dress Parade”.  If a Sailor was wearing a uniform that was not correct and regulation, he would be punished.  Usually, they did not stop pay or liberty as they were so rare that no one would notice.  Punishment was generally corporeal.  The Sailor could be assigned to extra duty, meaning more work after his section stopped work for the day, or something humiliating like four hours of rolling a round shot up and down the long seam in the main deck from bow to stern and then back again on his hands and knees.  Also common was several hours or days of wearing a ball and chain, sometimes while pushing the shot.  So, the Sailor kept the set of blues and the set of whites he was issued in immaculate condition.  His work uniforms could be stained with paint, grease, oil, rust or coal dust.  They could have repairs and be faded and thread bare, but not the Mustering Uniform.

Since on those rare occasions when he was let go ashore, he could not wear his work gear, he had to wear his Mustering uniform.  Many Sailor chose to have a separate uniform just for this.  The Navy made allowances for this uniform.  They in fact let the Sailors decorate them and these are the uniforms we see surviving.  Most had very subtle decoration such as small embroidery in a matching thread.  Many have stars on the back of the collar and some piping (striping on collar and cuff).  Most often it is a hat which has the “flair”.  The most common flair is a bow on the side of the cap.  Just a bow.  No plain black ribbons were used around the cap.  The bow was a separate thing, tied and then sewn to the side.  American Sailors did not wear a bow on the back.  Ribbons with a ships name (called Tallies by the British) were a separate thing from the bow.  They were mostly hand painted by the Sailor, wrapped around the cap and stitched down with the ends tucked under the bow.  These were non regulation and not worn on every day caps nor Mustering caps (there are exceptions to this, but only tow that I have found, so this is a “Not Worn” thing).

There are several surviving uniforms that a covered in bright colorful embroidery.  These are rare and fall into the category of true “Homeward Bounder”.  The origin of these uniforms was that for the first half of a cruise (a cruise being about 4 years) Sailors would collect fabric, buttons and other sewing notions.  On the day that marked the half way of the cruise, they would start to make a new unform.  These wer colorful and embroidered with Naval and Nautical themes. When the ship returned to home port, it would be decommissioned and put into the yards for rebuilding/.repair.  The crew would be “Payed Off” (discharged) and sent on their way.  The Sailors would then put on their “Homeward Bounders and leave the ship.  The embroidery showed that they were Sailors just back from a long cruise and discharged, so no longer under Naval authority.  This same idea was carried on to the honorable Discharge patch and pin which is still awarded to day.