By Craig Ross, 3 rd US Regulars; firstname.lastname@example.org
Just like today, the Civil War Army continued to modify and adapt the soldier’s equipment to better suit the Army’s needs or to save money and resources. You can see this in the changes to accoutrements from the late 1850’s until the end of the war. This primer will explain some of the changes and make suggestions on what is most authentic for the various timeframes we portray through our living history. Regardless of what type of accoutrements you own, you should be familiar with what would have been used and the differences. Following is a brief description of each element of the accoutrement set and changes over time:
Waistbelt and Plate - Until September of 1862, waistbelts were made of “upper leather”. In other words, leather with the rough side out and waxed. The belt would have had a sewn leather keeper on the end and a “puppy paw” waistbelt plate. In 1862 the Army changed waistbelt leather to bridle leather with the smooth side out. The sewn keeper and puppy plate remained until late in 1863 when the brass keeper replaced the leather one. And earlier in 1863, arrowhead plates replaced the puppy paw. If you are making your first purchase of accoutrements, a waxed flesh belt with sewn leather keeper with puppy paw plate should be your first choice. It will be appropriate for all our events from Bull Run to Appomattox. If you have a belt with a brass keeper, you should try to save it for events after July 1863. As for the belt plate, there is evidence of arrowhead plates being used before 1863 on equipment from the Allegheny Arsenal, so if that is what you have, then use it.
Cartridge Box and Sling - Cartridge boxes were made from bridle leather before and during the war. The primary changes to the cartridge boxes were to strengthen them and to save money. At Bull Run and until perhaps the middle of 1862, the Buffsticks would have used the M1857 cartridge box. It had both belt loops and buckles for a sling. In November 1861 the Army directed two changes to the cartridge box, 1) rivets on the belt loops to strengthen them, 2) makers stamps so that the manufacturer could be identified if the item was substandard. In fact, all parts of the accoutrements should have been marked from that point. These changes resulted in the M1861 cartridge box. In March 1864, the box was strengthened again with rivets added on the closure tab and buckles. In July 1864, the box plate was removed and replaced with an embossed “U.S.” as a cost cutting effort. Also the interior flap was removed. The boxes from March and July are the M1864. The slings for the cartridge box went through the same evolution
as the waistbelt, being changed from upper (waxed flesh) leather to bridle leather in 1862. And in 1864, the round eagle breast plate was removed to cut costs. If you are purchasing your first set, either an M1857 or M1861 cartridge box should be your first choice. The M1857 will be appropriate for the entire war and a M1861 will cover everything except Bull Run. The wax flesh cartridge box sling will also be good for any of our events. Bridle leather slings should be used for events after Antitiem. While we are discussing the sling, you should know there is evidence the Buffsticks put their cartridge boxes on their waistbelts beginning at least in 1863 and perhaps earlier since there was a shortage of slings as early as April 1861.
Cap Pouches - Like the cartridge box, the cap pouch was made of bridle leather before and during the war. And like the changes with cartridge boxes (rivets, markings, etc.) the cap pouch was similarly changed by adding markings and rivets in 1862 and economizing in 1864 with the removal of the interior flap. Cap pouches were produced as either shield front (with a separate sewn closure tab) or standard with the closure tab integral. If you are making your first purchase, M1850 or M1861 should be your first choice and will be suitable for nearly all our events.
Bayonet Scabbards - The last item of your accoutrements is the bayonet scabbard. All in all, the scabbard changed very little during the course of the war. The main difference is in the number of rivets on the frog. Until 1863, there were two rivets and after there were seven. If you are making your first purchase, the 2-Rivet scabbard should be your first choice and will be appropriate for all our events. A 7-Rivet would limit you to events after Gettysburg. Like everything else in the material aspect of our hobby, you get what you pay for. A good accoutrement set from a quality sutler will last you for as long as you are liable to be in the hobby. A cheap set from Pakistan will not. Several sutlers offer sets of M1861 or M1857 leathers (~$350.00 for a complete set) and either would be a good choice appropriate for the entire period of the war.
Here are several authentic sutlers to explore:
C.A Davisson Leather Works https://mycartridgeboxes.com/
Missouri Boot & Shoe Company http://www.missouribootandshoe.com/
S.E. Libby & Co. https://www.selibbyco.com/
L.D. Haning & Co. https://www.ldhaning.com/
Another option is to keep an eye out for quality used gear, which can often be found on theAuthentic Campaigner ads or the Civil War Trade Blanket on Facebook.