“A Splendid Appearance:” Extracts from the 146th New York Volunteers, 1862-64
By Paul Luks, Jason Spellman, and John Yoho
“On June third  occurred an event of great importance in the history of the regiment,” one writer exclaimed from the camp of the 146th New York at Falmouth, Va. The new uniforms the regiment had been promised three-months earlier had finally arrived. The men eagerly divested themselves of the regulation fatigue blouses and New York state-issued jackets they had grown accustomed to for much more attractive dress: exotic uniforms of French “Turco”-inspired design.1
Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan and Col. Gouverneur Warren had envisioned an entire “Zouave Brigade” a year prior. “These regiments are to be organized, armed, equipped, and uniformed in the same manner as the 5th Regiment of New York Volunteers,” instructed McClellan, following the battle of Antietam. Unfortunately, a few units were assigned elsewhere and the ability to issue Zouave-type uniforms wasn’t feasible at the time. But according to Lt. Henry Curran of the 146th, the regiment was still being assured the Zouave dress at the end of 1862.2
Serendipitously, a major event transpired that permitted the creation of the “Garrard’s Tigers” uniform. For many Federal units, two-year enlistment terms were expiring. Among them were members of the notorious “Duryee’s Zouaves” (or 5th New York Volunteers), however some 325 members who had joined after its formation were still required to finish-out their service. It was determined that 234 veterans of the 5th were to be transferred into the ranks of the 146th regiment. Thus, because of the influx of their veteran members, the men were re-issued similar Zouave dress to appear a cohesive regiment.
Specific details about the ensemble are mentioned in the unit’s history, Campaigns of the 146th Regiment, New York State Volunteers:
The zouave uniform consisted of large baggy trousers, blue in color, which were fastened at the knees; a fez cap, bright red in color, with red tassel; a long white turban which was wound around the hat, but worn only for dress parade; a red sash about ten feet long which was wound about the body and afforded a great comfort and warmth; and white cloth leggins (sic.) extending almost to the knees.3
While the beauty of its appearance had been long-desired, dressing oneself proved to be a humorous affair. “It required laborious work and considerable time to adjust them properly,” a member recalled. “The turbans, especially,” he added, “caused us no end of trouble, until we found that the best way to wind them about our heads was to have a comrade circle round and round with the sash in his hands until it was properly draped about the fez cap.” But after “much perspiring” and “considerable profanity,” dressings would become routine and simply habit, like much of army life. In one instance, Sergeant D. Marshall Porter of the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry (a sister Zouave unit) struggled to find a new uniform to fit his six-foot nine-inch build. His colonel resolved the problem by ordering the Regimental Quartermaster to issue Porter two uniforms that were made long enough into one, which thereafter presented “a most singular and grotesque appearance”.4 But for most, “the new uniform greatly pleased us all,” continued the writer. “Not only because of its advantages in comfort and utility over the regulation infantry uniform.” Their first dress parade held at Falmouth, Va. in June 1863 was evidently a grand display to recall. “With our Turkish trousers and our turbans, we looked not unlike the soldiers of Mahomet.”5
As elaborate as the initial uniforms were, the quality began to deteriorate after much field-wear. “I have not seen a change of clothing since we left Maryland,” wrote Lt. Col. David T. Jenkins, following the Gettysburg Campaign. “But I have the satisfaction of being just as healthy as I am dirty.”6 During this time, many men wrote home asking for simple undergarments. “I would like a good red on blue flannel shirt,” Charles Brandegee asked his father. “Let it be double-breasted like a fire[man’s] shirt. I want it for an over shirt.”7 It was reported, however, that while in winter camp at Beverly Ford (two miles above Brandy Station, Va.) the regiment was once able to convalesce and regularly drill “with our new zouave uniforms” and presented “a splendid appearance”.8 A new regimental flag was also acquired to replace the former “unserviceable” one, originally presented to the unit by the citizens of Oneida County. Most importantly, the promotion and transfer of the original commander, Gen. Garrard, also brought a second-issue of new uniforms in January 1864.9 That clothing seemed to have endured into the month, as cited in a brigade review held on February 9th. “It was a very brilliant affair,” wrote Maj. Curran, “And the new uniforms of the brigade presented a very gay spectacle indeed.”10 Based on these accounts, it can be determined that the regiment was fairly-well attired before the Overland Campaign commenced a few months later.
Further evidence is provided in the highly-descriptive memoir of Cpl. Norton Shepard as the regiment entered the battle of the Wilderness. According to Out of the Wilderness, Shepard writes that the army halted just before the night of May 4th to prepare rations “consisting of hardtack and coffee” and slept the warm night with “no tent or covering except our blankets”.11 Wounded three times and captured after the battle, Shepard goes on to say that he ridded himself of, “cartridge box, knapsack and other things that would hinder my traveling”.12 This seems to refute the regimental history, which stated the men had “unslung our knapsacks and threw ourselves down among the bushes and trees to avoid unnecessary danger” just moment before entering Saunders Field.13
Surrounded by enemy troops, Shepard later states that a Rebel “took from my breast a silver corps badge and then asked me to trade hats with him”.14 Interestingly, he recalled, “I was not surprised that he wanted to trade, as I had good black felt hat that had been sent me from the North only a few weeks before.” Shepard was perhaps not the only person eager to dismiss the traditional zouave fez. Private Charles Brandegee of Co. A had also written his father three months earlier asking for “a good Black Felt Hat, 7 1/2 size” because he needed it “very bad”.15 This suggests that while the unit was expected to seem consistent, some individuals chose to supply themselves with more convenient items. For Norton Shepard, his belongings and person were subject to capture nonetheless. “Another [Rebel] came up and wanted to trade the contents of my haversack with me,” he continued. “I told him to help himself, so he took my [hardtack] crackers, coffee, sugar and pork, which composed my stock of eatables.” This apparently amounted to six days’ worth of prepared army rations, which his captors were very eager to receive. Shepard’s precise recollections of what he carried into the Wilderness remains a rare and unique opportunity to understand the regiment’s appearance overall.
Beginning with the origins of French-Turco culture to conceptualization of the “American Zouave,” the dress of the 146th New York Volunteers still remains an effective proliferation of individuality that instilled confidence within the ranks. Its reference seems the constant subject of discussion in post-war memory for the same reasons it was devised. “And for the remainder of the war,” historian Brian Pohanka reflects, “they fought and died wearing a light blue, yellow-trimmed Zouave uniform.”
Like written accounts, examination of surviving uniforms of the regiment can provide a wide-range of details. The following observations will focus on three uniforms from the collections of Gettysburg National Military Park and Heritage Auctions, Inc., which are divided into sections and will be compared individually (additional information on the “Gettysburg Uniform” can be found here). All are presumed to have been produced by the Schuylkill Arsenal of Pennsylvania based on extensive hand-sewing:
Gettysburg (Fig. 1)
The jacket consists of a Zouave patterned six-piece body and two-piece sleeves. Bbody is made of sky blue kersey and lined in coarse grey-brown jeans cloth. Sleeves are lined with off-white cotton osnaburg. The facings are whip-stitched (or overcasted) into place. It is trimmed with specially-woven ½” yellow wool tape around the entire edge (onset from the edge about 1/4”) in a rather disorganized fashion. Cording of 1/8” yellow wool is applied to the edge. As with all surviving 146th NY jackets, it has functional cuffs that close with three small eagle buttons and chevrons of ½" yellow wool tape. The tombeauxs measure approximately 5/16” wide, also of yellow wool tape.
Unidentified NCO (Fig. 2)
The jacket has a five-piece body and two-piece sleeves. It is lined in plaid wool/cotton shirting, typical of that found at Schuylkil Arsenal. Sleeves are lined with natural cotton osnaburg and marked “2/SA” and “14”. The sergeant chevrons are of ½” yellow wool tape and applied to a dark blue wool background.
W. Beriah Chandler Uniform (Fig. 3)
Based on the owner’s enlistment, this uniform was among the first-issue procured before the battle of Gettysburg. The jacket is of typical construction and consists of a six-piece body and two-piece sleeves. Body is made of sky blue kersey and lined in jeans material. The tombeauxs are of slightly smaller width and color tone than the rest of the trimmings. Perhaps the most striking addition are the chevrons, designating ‘Principal Musician’ which are of gold bullion on a red wool flannel backing.
Trousers are of the “Chasseur”-type which have a baggy appearance and thirty-two gathered 3/4" pleats around the waist. Body is made of sky blue kersey and lined around the waistband of natural cotton drill. Back adjustment belt and fly facings are of blue polished cotton. It has four paper-backed tin buttons on the front fly and one smaller sized 1/2" paper on the cuffs. It features a watch pocket near right side of the waist. Side-seam pockets are constructed of the same natural cotton drill.
Body is made of sky blue kersey and lined around the waistband of cotton drill. It also has a watch pocket near the right side, centered on the waistband. The pants have a Schuylkill Arsenal marking on lining and center back.
Both trousers feature standard paper-backed tin buttons for suspender-use found on standard Federal issued trousers produced at the Schuylkill Arsenal.
It is constructive of madder red wool flannel and is 10 feet in length. It was likely cut from a 25’ wide piece of fabric, folded in half, and sewn with a ½” seam to be formed at 12” wide. It is trimmed with ½” yellow wool tape around the entire edge applied with a running-stitch. The seam was hidden under the tape. It is interesting to note that the tape is not applied directly on the edge but offset about 1/8".
It is made of scarlet red wool flannel and is approximately 8 ½ feet long and 11” wide. It is trimmed with gold soutache along the edge, which have been turned under approximately ¼” instead of doubling the fabric over. Possibly privately procured since it isn’t consistent with the typical issued-sash.
While the Gettysburg trousers have a non-functional waistband button to be buttoned to a vest, there are no known records of the vest being issued to the unit.
Two surviving examples were made of off-white linen canvas and form-fitted to the individual. All used 5/8” bone buttons for enclosures. The Chandler leggings close with six bone buttons and the foot straps are comprised of 3/4" cotton elastic.
Several examples of the leather greaves exist and each set differs considerably. Typically, they appear to be constructed of two different pieces of leather approximately 6 1/2-7 1/2” high. One example belonging to Charles S. Hopkins of the 5th New York Volunteers was of all-russet colored leather. However, photographic evidence shows members of the 146th regiment wearing jambieres of two-toned “French” leather and much shorter in length.
A few surviving examples have turned brims with no leather sweatbands present. All are made of madder red wool felt and are bound with ½” yellow cotton tape (either hand or machined in place using a running-stitch). The tassels are of yellow knit wool yarn and capped with a macramé net to form a head. In many instances, the cording is shortened to hang more closely to the back, likely to prevent movement. Supplemental details from the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry (a sister Zouave unit) adds that the fez “was always worn on fatigue or other duties”.16
There are no known surviving examples of the turban, other than what is stated in the regimental history. Under the Maltese Cross, mentions the turban was a ten-foot long sash of white flannel and about foot wide.17 It was worn for dress parade only and appear in several portrait images.
The women employed by the War Department at Schuylkill Arsenal crafted the Turco-style uniforms using a “piece” system. While a garment could be cut exactly the same by an arsenal drafter and cutter, its construction largely fell upon the skill of the seamstress. Thousands of different workers used different techniques, some adopting new methods over time. To compare, the government facility actually produced a smaller quantity of uniforms than did hundreds of private contractors who finished goods. This resulted in even minor variations to the original pattern.
This process was especially true of the uniforms made for the 146th New York Volunteers. Their clothing were made at Schuylkill Arsenal and by contractors and subcontractors as is evident in the lack of consistency visible in wartime photographs. It has been argued that no two uniforms were precisely alike, even given the standards prescribed by higher officials. For example, the tombeauxs or Arabesque trefoils were applied differently by seamstresses who possessed varying degrees of experience and personal talent. And at least one soldier was shown wearing a jacket devoid of any trim at all. In addition, because there were at least two different re-issues during the war, finished products once again varied. To conclude, while there were standards to be met within the unit, the truth is that perfect uniformity never actually existed.
- “Origins of the Zouave,” Duryee’s Zouaves, last modified 2011, accessed March 30, 2014, http://www.zouave.org/1_Origins.html/. Named after the Kabyli tribe in Algeria and Morocco, the “Zouaoua” served alongside the French colonial army since 1830. In 1852, President Louis Napoleon restructured those units into entirely French regiments, known as “Tirailleurs Algeriens” or “Turcos”. These original Zouaves wore distinctively light blue uniforms and became widely-acclaimed in their subsequent combat during the Crimean War (1854-55).
- Mary G. G. Brainard, Campaigns of the 146th New York State Volunteers, ed. Brian Pohanka and Patrick A. Schroeder (Daleville: Schroeder Publications, 2000), g.
- Ibid., 92.
- Under the Maltese Cross: Antietam to Appomattox (Pittsburg: The 155th Regimental Association, 1910), 226.
- Brainard, 92.
- bid., 132, 135. Jenkins had just been given command of the unit after the departure of Col. Kenner Garrard. A ceremony was held to commemorate his acceptance of command. And upon promotion, the “Royal Tiger” presented Jenkins with two pairs old shoulder straps, one Garrard had worn while in the field and the other acquired while at West Point Military Academy.
- Charles B. Livingstone, Charlie’s Civil War: A Private’s Trail by Fire in the 5th New York Volunteers (Lynchburg: Schroeder Publications, 2008), 164-65. Brandegee received the shirt he inquired for about three weeks later. “It’s just the article,” he approvingly replied.
- Brainard, 135.
- Ibid., 158. The regimental history also states that, “zouave uniforms were procured for all the regiments of our brigade” through Garrard’s influence in Washington, D.C. Until that time, only the 140th New York had worn the zouave-style uniform.
- Ibid., 159.
- Out of the Wilderness: The Civil War Memoir of Cpl. Norton Shepard, 146th New York Volunteer Infantry, ed. Raymond W. Smith (Hamilton: Edmonston Publishing, Inc., 1998), 2-3.
- Ibid., 8. Shepard was a member of Co. B under the command of Capt. Thomas A. Wilson during the battle of the Wilderness.
- Brainard, 188.
- Smith, 9.
- Livingstone, 175.
- Under the Maltese Cross: Antietam to Appomattox, 226.