Richmond Depot Jackets: Characteristics, Anomalies, & Myths, A Comparison Study of Fifteen Original Examples.  By Richard M. Milstead Ph.D.  ©2018   



This presentation is, strictly speaking, the result of a five-year journey investigating the products and operations of the Confederate Quartermaster Department’s clothing “manufactory” in Richmond, Virginia. More generically, its roots go back to the Civil War Centennial in the 1960s and its lineage is directly tied to Les Jensen’s ground-breaking articles that appeared in Military Collector & Historian, the Journal of the Company of Military Historians, in 1989. I was a “reenactor” during the Centennial who happened to “fall in” with an amazing “company” of historians and craftsmen, many of whom later rose to prominence in the arena of military history, militaria collection, and military “material culture” studies. Les was one of that “company” and his work in the two-part publication, “A Survey of Confederate Central Government Quartermaster Jackets”, MC & H, XLI No. 3 & No. 4 (Fall and Winter 1989) not only first defined the characteristics of “Richmond Depot” jackets but also those of other CS Clothing “Bureaus” that produced enlisted men’s uniforms during the conflict. His articles pioneered comparative study of such artifacts, using evaluation of their characteristics and their provenance to link them to the specific parts of the Confederate war effort which produced them.  In effect, Jensen’s research was the first published attempt to use modern “material culture” methodologies to study Confederate enlisted men’s uniforms. After nearly 30 years, the conclusions of his research remain largely validated. Although our paths diverged in the intervening years, I became an early devotee of Les’ work having read the original articles in copies of “the Journal” that I received in my mail box back when they were first published in 1989.

My recent focus on this subject began in the spring of 2013 when I embarked upon a yearlong project to research and reproduce a uniform for competition in the North-South Skirmish Association’s Robert L. Miller Competition. As part of the effort, not only did I wish to make an example of a Richmond Depot jacket (what was worn by the unit I was representing) but to accurately reproduce a specific original example worn during the time in the war I was portraying (spring 1864). The first issue became locating an original example datable to that specific period in the war. The second was determining what was truly accurate. Unfortunately, on the latter, most of what I knew was second hand or inferred information since I had never personally studied an original. Ultimately, I was able to identify a jacket issued in the appropriate time frame. In making my reproduction, however, I could only incorporate the general “characteristics” discussed in the literature, like Jensen’s paper, and use what photographs I could find of the specific jacket to complete the project. This was far from a satisfying approach.

After finishing that project, I became interested in learning what details really made a “Richmond jacket” distinguishable as such. This, in turn, started me on the quest to see and study original examples to find the answer. The first two I examined, provided an interesting result. One was in a small museum in Maine and was virtually unknown to most researchers. It was perhaps the most pristine specimen I had ever heard of and the perfect embodiment of exactly what characteristics I thought the Richmond Depot type II jacket was supposed to display. The other jacket, in a well-respected Southern institution, was a counterpoint to many of the “expected” characteristics of a RD type II but nevertheless “felt” like the product of the same production operation as the one in Maine. Ironically, my research into their histories strongly suggested that they both had been issued by Assistant Quartermasters attached to the Army of Northern Virginia within days of each other in May 1864 thereby eliminating the time of production as a factor in why they differed. So why were they different? My quest broadened with new questions about how such variations or “anomalies” could appear in different examples made by the same operation. Basically, I wanted to explore not only what identified them as “Richmond Depot” jackets but what about the manufacturing process yielded such significant differences.

Four years and nine more jackets later, I have finally decided that I should collect my thoughts on what I found. As an advocate for considering artifacts through a “material culture” paradigm, I have viewed these jackets as representatives of the manufacturing system that produced them and the context that that system operated within. My professional background in manufacturing process and supply chain analysis rather naturally led me to interpret what I have learned about the “manufacturer” and its “supply chain” through that lens. I have tried to organize this material into a cohesive story to provide answers or, at least, some rational speculation to address my original questions. To expand the sample set slightly I have also incorporated significant photographic evidence of four additional examples obtained from other researchers for comparison.

The result is captured in the presentation that follows. Photographs present the original garments, often comparing multiple examples through closeups to highlight details that emphasize similarities and relevant differences. This is, I believe, the best mechanism to convey the nature and character of these artifacts short of physically handling them. Hopefully, the viewer, without access to original examples, will be able to get a true feeling for these jackets through this format. The notes generally are intended to help the viewer by providing background or further explanation to what is presented here.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize the help, knowledge transfer, and editing expertise provided by many other individuals. First, Les Jensen, the “godfather” of this study, has spent many hours in discussions with me, making suggestions and pointing me in directions of investigation I would not have known to pursue on my own. Ross Kimmel, another noted Military historian and member of that “band of brothers” from the 60s, has been a major source of information and has consistently helped proof read my musings making substantive comments and usually helping to catch “English teacher” errors. Likewise, Fred Gaede and Dr. Larry Babits, two other compatriots from the “company”, have helped with numerous suggestions and insights along the way based upon their vast experience in such research. Special recognition is due to Paul Boccadoro, webmaster for the Liberty Rifles, for taking the slides and notes from my original PowerPoint presentation and transforming that material into a smoothly flowing, cohesive story suitable for web presentation. Also, thanks to Mike Clarke, Craig Schneider, Tom Gurnett, and Fred Rickard from the Liberty Rifles for their efforts in reviewing this material and active support for the project.

I also wish to thank many other individuals who have enabled this work by graciously allowing me access to these historic artifacts in both public and private collections or who provided photographic material from their own research. These include:  Joel Bohy, Skinner Auctions (Marlborough, MA); Rachael Cockrell and Chelsey Grayburn, South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum (Columbia, SC); Alexandra Deutsche and Allison Tolman, Maryland Historical Society (Baltimore, MD); Robert Hancock, The American Civil War Museum (Richmond, VA), Holly Hurd-Forsyth, Fifth Maine Museum (Peaks Island, ME); Paige Meyers, North Carolina Museum of History (Raleigh, NC); Patri O’Gan, Smithsonian Institution – National Museum of American History (Washington, DC); Tyler Putman; the Denis Reen family; Dan Wambaugh; Allen Wandling, Midwest Civil War Relics; Joseph Williams, National Park Service (Appomattox Court House, VA), and Gerard Wittstadt.

For those viewing the material in the study, I hope that you will find it useful if not educational and give you a better understanding of the products of the Richmond Clothing Bureau and how the Confederate Quartermaster supply system worked to provide clothing to CS field armies.

Dick Milstead
Annapolis, MD

© 2018 all Rights reserved