Definitions of Leather and US Infantry Cartridge Boxes: A Guide to Their Use

By Larry McIrvin


While it is many times stated in Civil War Living History circles that one must "Move beyond the Gear," it is the Gear that comprises a key part on one's total impression. There seems to be a general lack of knowledge among Federal Living Historians regarding US Infantry Accoutrements (i.e. Cartridge Box and Box Sling, Cap Pouch, Waist Belt and Bayonet Scabbard), so I felt a handy guide to the development of US Infantry Accoutrements would be helpful to those who are not totally familiar with this topic, and would serve as tool in putting together this element of one's impression. I will deal with each type of Accoutrement in turn (an Accoutrement is a piece of equipment that is, or is used in conjunction with, the Waist Belt). Knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, straps and tinware are worthy of separate articles. However, it will first be necessary to discuss the various types of Leather used in the making of US Accoutrements just prior to and during the Civil War to fully understand how things progressed. As a side note, this article will not discuss the numerous experimental and limited production Cartridge Boxes that saw use in the War. These types, such as the Mann's Pattern Accoutrement sets, saw a very limited issuance and use.



US Infantry Accoutrements in the 1839-1851 Antebellum period ( specifically Frogs on Bayonet Scabbards, Waist Belts and Cartridge Box Slings) were made from White Buff Leather. Without getting too technical, this is Leather that has been whitened through a complex, expensive and time consuming chemical process. In 1851, the US Ordnance Dept. changed the Leather used in these items to "Buff Leather, Blacked." Hence, all existing Accoutrements in the US Arsenals made with White Buff Leather were Blackened and all new Accoutrements were made with Buff Leather that was processed without the whitening elements and was Blackened. White and Black Buff leather will have a rough appearance on both sides (the smooth, or grain, part of the leather is removed during the chemical process).

Prior to the Civil War the US Arsenals would have had a large stock of Blackened Buff Leather Accoutrements on hand, although it is apparent through examination of surviving originals that White Buff Accoutrements still existed in limited numbers at some State Armories. Many pre- and early-War Militia also had their Accoutrements made from White Buff leather.

In the later part of the 1850's, the US Ordnance Dept. allowed the substitution of "Waxed Leather" in lieu of Blackened Buff Leather due to the expense and time required to make the latter. Waxed Leather (also referred to as "Upper Leather" as it was used in the production of US Army Shoes) is simply Leather finished and Blackened on the Rough Side out. Unlike Buff leather, Waxed (and the following Grain) leather is a Vegetable tanned leather. This is a less involved process of preparing the leather as opposed to the Buff leathers already described. From the late 1850's into the Civil War US Arsenals and Contractors were making Waist Belts, Cartridge Box Slings and the Frogs on Bayonet Scabbards with both Blackened Buff and Waxed Leather. These were, for the most part, the primary types of Leather used until Sept. of 1862.

In Sept. of 1862 the US Ordnance Dept. authorized the exclusive use of "Grain Leather" (also referred to as "Harness" and "Bridle Leather"; these are actually different types of leather) in the making of Infantry Accoutrements. Grain Leather is leather that is finished and Blackened on the smooth side, with the rough side (the side finished and Blackened on Waxed Leather) facing the body. Cartridge Boxes and Cap Pouches had, even in the Antebellum period, been made with Grain leather, but from Sept. of 1862 on the US Ordnance Dept. required that all Accoutrements be made from Grain Leather. Despite the US Ordnance Dept. mandate, many surviving original Accoutrements examined by the author and known to have been made after Sept. of 1862, were made with Blackened Buff and Waxed Leather. There is also evidence that shows some of the US Arsenals made Cartridge Box Slings from Grain Leather before Sept. of 1862, although these were less common at this point. It is obvious that the Arsenals and Contractors wanted to use up all remaining stock of Blackened Buff and Waxed Leather before implementing the Sept. of 1862 changes.

Now, we will discuss each type of Infantry Accoutrement in turn.



There were several varieties of Cartridge Boxes made by the US Arsenals and Private Contractors before and during the Civil War. I will summarize each in the order it was produced. Each type, with the exception of the Pattern of July, 1864, was designed to have a brass "US" plate installed on the front flap. While ornamental, this was designed to help keep the flap closed if the soldier neglected to close the Box properly. Each was also designed with an implement pouch to hold musket tools.



This is many times referred to incorrectly as "The1842 Box." This box replaced the older US Cartridge Boxes used through the Mexican War with wood block inserts to hold the cartridges. This 69 Cal. Round Ball Box could hold 40 rounds of Musket ammunition in 2 tins and was designed to be carried on a Cartridge Box Sling only, with no provision for waist belt carriage. This pattern was produced exclusively by the Arsenals and Contractors for the Government from the early 1840's into 1857, when a new series of patterns were introduced. Surviving examples the author has seen indicate some of this pattern were still being produced early in the Civil War by some Contractors specifically for State Militia units, and was used as the basis for many CS Cartridge Boxes. This is the pattern of Cartridge Box that would have existed in US and State Arsenals by the thousands before the War. Most early Volunteers, North and South, undoubtedly used a Pattern of 1839 Cartridge Box. This pattern was designed for use with 1822, 1840 and 1842 Pattern 69 Cal. Muskets.

There is also a Pattern of 1839 Rifle Box as well as a Pattern of 1839 Carbine Box. The Rifle Box was designed for the Hall Rifle, and later the US Pattern 1841 "Mississippi" Rifle in 54 cal. The Carbine Box differed from the Rifle Box in that it had no implement pouch. Both of these Boxes were designed for Waist Belt carriage only (with 2 belt straps sewn to the Box) and had a single tin for cartridges. Many of these were also used by both Northern and Southern Volunteers early in the War with "Mississippi" Rifles, Hall Rifles and Sharps Infantry Rifles.

An interesting point is that many of the Pattern 1839 Musket Boxes early in the War were modified so they could be carried on either a sling or waist belt. The author has seen originals that have had loops cut into the leather of the rear of the box (possibly a field modification), as well as straps riveted to the back of the box after the original manufacture of the Box. This came about early in the War due to the fact that the Ordnance Dept. ran short of Cartridge Box Slings and ordered that boxes be made for both sling and waistbelt carriage. It appears that many State Authorities modified 1839 Pattern Boxes in State Armories in this fashion.



The US Ordnance Dept. authorized a Pattern change in 1857 to accommodate new Weapons being used by the Army. These changes also came about due to studies in the field and feedback from Officers.



Essentially the same as the Pattern of 1839 Musket Box, this pattern was different in that sewn belt loops were added, allowing a soldier to carry the Box on either a sling or his waist belt. The dimensions of this Box were slightly larger than the 1839 Pattern Box. While this is referred to as an "1857" Pattern Box (because it was designed for belt and sling carriage), it was not actually produced in quantity until April of 1861 when the Government ran short of Cartridge Box slings and Boxes which could be carried on a sling and waistbelt were in great demand.



This pattern was developed to accommodate 40 rounds of the 58 cal. Minie Bullets required for the new US Pattern 1855 Rifle Musket.



This pattern was designed to accomodate 40 rounds of 69 cal. Minie Bullets required by the number of older 69 cal. Smoothbore Muskets that had been upgraded and altered by the Armories to Rifle Muskets.

These patterns were in production well into 1862 by the Armories and Contractors. Production of the 1857 69 cal. Round Ball Box ceased in Feb. of 1862, so Volunteers issued 69 cal. Smoothbore Weapons were many times issued a 69 cal. Rifle Musket Box from that point on. Due to the difficulty of arming hundreds of thousands of Volunteers early in the War, the Ordnance Dept. adopted a "If the Ammunition fits, issue the Box" mentality. Also, the author has examined "transitional" Pattern of 1857 58 cal. Boxes that had the same dimensions required of the pattern, but had riveted belt loops as required by the 1861 pattern changes discussed next. Many of these Boxes were unmarked as to maker. Mandatory marking of accoutrements was required starting in July, 1862.



The revised US Ordnance Manual of Nov. 1861 required another pattern change to the Cartridge Box, although many Contractors did not implement these changes until the early to middle part of 1862. Also, as required by an Act of Congress and Ordnance Dept. regulation, all Contractors were now required to stamp their names on the Accoutrements they produced effective July of 1862. This came about as a result of the amount of Contractor fraud the Government had to deal with early in the War. Marking the items allowed substandard items to be identified as to maker if a problem arose with the construction or quality of the item. Prior to this, the US Arsenals did not mark the Accoutrements they produced in their facilities. The US Government dealt exclusively with 4 Contractors prior to the War: Henry Dingee, NY, John Pittman, NY, Emerson Gaylord, Chicopee, Mass. and James Boyd and Son, Boston. Many pre-War manufactured Boxes examined by the author are stamped with the names of these makers (other makers, such as "Jewell" , also marked their items before July of 1862) even though it was not required, most likely due to pride on the part of the makers. Dozens of Contractors entered the Accoutrement Business after the War started due to the need to provide a terribly unprepared US Government with equipment for it's fast swelling ranks of Volunteers.



Essentially the same as the 1857 pattern with some minor dimension changes, this pattern was different in that rivets were required in the belt loops to help reinforce them. Field studies had shown that the belt loops, which had been sewn only on the 1857 pattern boxes, tended to rip off with extensive field use. Federal Troops with the 1855 Rifle Musket, the new US Pattern 1861 Rifle Musket, Enfield Rifle Muskets or Lorenz Rifle Muskets would have received this Box.



Again similar the the 1857 pattern 69 cal. Rifle Musket Box, the belt loops were reinforced with rivets.

These Boxes, particularly the 58 cal. Box, saw the largest production of the all the War-time Cartridge Boxes produced by US Arsenals and Contractors. Despite the requirements of the pattern by US Ordnance Manual Specifications, a cursory examination of 6 original pattern of 1861 58 cal. Boxes by the author showed a wide variation in flap dimensions, finial shape and other details. Some Boxes examined had inner flaps made from Waxed leather while others had inner flaps of Grain leather. Since many of the Contractors sub-contracted the work out, and had dozens of individuals working for them to produce these items, it is understandable why these variations exist.

Another interesting note about these Boxes is the placement of the belt loops. Pre- and Early-War manufactured Boxes tended to have the belt loops spaced widely apart under the sling loops. The New York Arsenal tended to contract for Boxes with this characteristic, hence this is many times referred to as "The New York Arsenal" Pattern. Allegheny Arsenal in Pa. made their Boxes with the belt loops centered under the sling loops and later set this as the standard placement for all Cartridge Boxes produced. Western Contractors such Sickles and Corbet in St. Louis, MO made Pattern 61 Boxes that featured implement pouches and belt loops made from Waxed leather while the body of the Box was made with Grain leather. This is one distinguishing characteristic of Western manufactured Boxes.

There are also some 69 caliber Round Ball Cartridge Boxes that survive with riveted and sewn belt loops as per the 1861 pattern change. These are apparently State manufactured items intended for specific units and did not see widespread issuance.

Allegheny Arsenal was the US Government's primary location for the production of Accoutrements until 1863, when Watertown Arsenal in Mass. took over as the largest facility producing Accoutrements.



In addition to Government Arsenal and Contractor production of the aforementioned Boxes, many of these same Contractors entered in contracts with the various States to supply Accoutrements for their specific Troops. This was a major source of frustration to the Ordnance Dept., as many Contractors put priority on a State Contract order over that of a Government order, many times because the State paid a better rate per set of Accoutrements than the Government!

In many cases the Boxes produced for specific States conformed to the patterns set down in the Ordnance Manuals, but there also were Boxes similar but different from the prescribed patterns. James Boyd and Son of Boston, for example, produced a 58 cal. Box under a Massachusetts State contract which had no implement pouch, unlike those produced for the Government. The author has also seen 58 cal. Boxes designed for Sling carriage only (like the Pattern 1839 Box) which was later modified with rivited belt loops for belt carriage. As a result of this, some surviving originals exhibit unusual features. These are, of course, less common than those originals produced for the Government. The State of Massachusetts also purchased surplus Infantry Accoutrements from the British, and a small number of Mass. Regiments were equipped with the Snake Belt, Ball Bag and unique Cartridge Box. Massachusetts seems to be the only State that did this, however, so use of these British Accoutrements was quite limited at best.



By early 1864 the US Ordnance Dept. had successfully set up a supply system that more than adequately provided the US Army and it's Volunteers with equipment. Gone were the frantic days of trying to provide thousands of soldiers with gear, so once again the Dept. could concentrate on Field Studies and look for improvements in Accoutrement pattern.

It had become apparent, with over two years of Field Study, that other areas of weakness in the Pattern of 1861 Boxes existed. These included the Buckles for the Cartridge Box Sling (located under the Box) and the Closure Tab, which allowed the Box flap to be secured to the finial. Both tended to rip off with heavy use, hence making the Box difficult to impossible to use.

In March, 1864 the US Ordnance Dept. introduced a new pattern change to the 58 cal. Cartridge Box. Rivets, in addition to stitching, were now required to reinforce the closure tab and Buckles. The finial shape was also changed from a rounded shape to a pear shape (finials prior to this tended to come in a variety of shapes, including round and pear shapes, but now the pear shape was required exclusively). The belt straps were also changed, being slightly more narrow than the 1861 Pattern and still, as with the 1861 Pattern, being sewn and riveted in place.

Arsenals and Contractors began to produce this pattern Box in the months following the March, 1864 pattern change. By late Spring/early Summer of 1864 these Boxes found their way into the ranks. This Box was also issued along with the new US Pattern 1863 Rifle Musket on many occasions. This is not to say that the Pattern of 1861 Boxes vanished at this point. So many of these had been made that they saw issuance through the end of the War. This pattern saw a rather limited production of about 5-6 months. In July of 1864 another pattern was introduced.



Virtually the same as the 58 cal. March, 1864 Box, this pattern saw the elimination of the Cartridge Box plate from the flap (used to keep the Box closed) and instead utilized an embossed "US" in the flap. The rising cost of Accoutrement sets prompted this change. The elimination of the plates on both the Cartridge Box and Box Sling saved the Government a great deal of money and reduced production time. Originals of this pattern are typically the ones that exhibit Inspector Stamps.

There was also a 69 cal. Rifle Musket Box of this pattern ( similar to the 1861 Pattern but with the Embossed "US"). This came about due to the number of older 69 cal. Rifle Muskets being issued to Troops in Garrisons, Forts and other locations farther back from the Front.

These Boxes were issued in the last few months of the War and saw continued issuance in the months following the War.