Marking Union Infantry Soldier Equipment: How Did They Do It?

By David A. Welker;

There has been considerable confusion over the years about just how Union infantrymen marked their individual equipment during the war.  This has led some to assume that every soldier marked their gear in a uniform way; others that soldiers often personalized equipment by elaborately embroidering or painting items; still others declare that soldiers simply didn’t mark gear at all.


My research suggests that many soldiers did mark their gear (sometimes entire companies or regiments together) but perhaps even more men did not, despite what official army documents indicated.  US Regulars were probably more likely to mark equipment according to these guidelines, and probably used a variety of methods—chiefly writing in ink or carving/scratching with a knife—marking gear often in a variety of locations, usually somewhere that only the soldier himself could see.  These diverse marking styles and locations probably were duplicated throughout the volunteer ranks. 


  • Few soldiers seem to have indulged in the “personalization” of gear so popular among some living historians, probably because these were government-owned and -issued items which men were accountable for upon muster out. [1]   


What evidence stands behind these conclusions and how did Union soldiers mark their individual equipment during the Civil War?


First, a couple of basics…


It’s important to know a few facts of mid-Nineteenth Century US Army life before addressing the question at hand.  These facts are important because knowing them helps us understand what the army did and why, as well as helping (sometimes) to understand what they didn’t do or why the army wasn’t clearer about explaining marking. 


  • The Army differentiated between “arms and accoutrements” and other personal equipment.  In the case of Union infantry, “arms and accoutrements” consists of small arms and the equipment necessary to operate them; muskets and gun slings, bayonets and scabbards, cap boxes, cartridge boxes and “slings” (“belts” to the army), and waist belts.  Other soldier items—canteens, haversacks, knapsacks, etc.—were considered “camp and garrison equipment,” while clothing was considered another separate category.  The distinction arises from different, distinct Army elements “owning” or being responsible for accounting for the items.  “Arms and accoutrements” were the Ordnance Department’s responsibility, while managing “camp and garrison equipment was the regiment/company’s responsibility (as was clothing).  Most living historians today view these items as indistinguishable personal gear, probably because it’s all privately purchased and often from the same merchant.  [2] 


  • The Army assumed that knowledge would be passed on in person or verbally, so some important details of implementing the regulations have been left out.  Using diaries and other written records from the war can help fill these gaps, but often these seemingly mundane details—like where and how to mark gear—goes left unstated in official documents.  


  • Procedures in the regulations and manuals apply chiefly to the US Regulars and volunteer and militia units were expected to follow most of these same practices.  That Article LII (Volunteers and Militia in the Service of the United States) is barely three pages of a 559-page book reinforces this point.  This suggests that in general, those marking practices used by the volunteers probably mirrored what was already being done in US Regular units before the war.


  • Marking replacement gear issued to men isn’t explicitly required and may explain why so few surviving items are marked as the Regulations direct and the variety of marking styles and locations on those items (as well as the wide use of initials).


  • With this understood, let’s move on the issue at hand – how did Union soldiers mark their gear?



    Official Army documents help, but…


    Official documents explicitly indicate that individual soldier equipment should be marked but in most instances, fails to indicate precisely where on the item or how this was to be done.  According to these documents, markings on personal items (canteens, haversacks, knapsacks, etc.) should include the soldier’s regiment, company, and his individual “soldier number.”  Arms and accoutrements should include a letter or number (perhaps the company letter and soldier number, but it remains unclear).  How and where backpacks should be marked is clear and explicit, while marking of haversacks is detailed but confusing.   


    The Revised Regulations for the Army of the United States, 1861 notes that “Every article, exempting arms and accoutrements, belonging to the regiment, is to be marked with the number and name of the regiment” and that “Such articles as belonging to companies are to be marked with the letter of the company, and number and name of the regiment; and such as belong to men, with their individual numbers, and the letter of the company.”  [3]


  • “Knapsacks are to be painted black.  Marked in the centre of the cover with the number of the regiment only.  In figures of one inch and a half, of the character called full face.  Those for the infantry will be marked …in white paint.”  “The knapsacks will also be marked upon the inner side with the letter of the company and the number of the soldier, on such part as may be readily observed at inspections.”  [4]

  • “Haversacks will be marked upon the flap with the number and name of the regiment, the letter of the company, and number of the soldier, in black letters and figures.” [5]
  • This is clear as mud. Should the marking go on the outside or inside of the flap?  If the haversack is black, why use black paint (this may be dated to a time when haversacks were unpainted canvas)?


Kautz’s The Company Clerk notes that the “Register of Public Property Issued to Soldiers is kept…for purposes of keeping an account of the arms and accoutrements issued to soldiers.  When the articles are numbered or lettered, the number or letter should [written] be under the heading…” [6]


  • Kautz’s closing sentence—"When the articles are numbered or lettered…”—suggests that individual marking of arms and accoutrements didn’t always occur. 


Soldier accounts confirm these marking practices, partly…


For most soldiers, marking equipment was a minor event which—assuming it happened—usually went unremarked upon in diaries or letters.  One notable exception is the 12th US’s Charles T. Bowen, whose account backs up some of what was recorded in official documents. 


  • Bowen wrote his wife on 19 February 1862 that “We have had our canteens & haversacks given us, & everything marked with the letter of our Company, the number of the Reg't & every man, has a gun numbered and the same number placed on all his equipment, my number is 51, this is very handy in case a man is killed and disfigured so they did not know him, his number by refering to the company books would tell his name. So remember my number, in case I am unlucky it may be useful in finding me (No. 51 / Co. G).” [7]


Physical artifacts add more detail.


Surviving examples of Civil War infantry gear suggest that marking occurred but was hardly universal because many—perhaps most—items available today bear no markings at all.  My hands-on review of infantry equipment in Gettysburg National Battlefield’s extensive collection reinforces this and indicates the diverse range of marking locations and methods.  It also suggests that official document guidelines were followed in spirit, but not in detail.  Although most items in Gettysburg’s collection were unmarked, those that were are listed below, identified by Gettysburg’s collection item number. 


Cartridge boxes:

#9483 – “H.W.” carved on back of the box

#28359 – “R. Nece” stamped on the inside flap

#29344 – “C.N.” carved on the center back of box

#9058 – “B.F.” carved and “BFurrey” written upside down in ink on inner flap.

#13591 – “HK 14” carved on outside flap.

#31938 – “Co G 5” stenciled and “R.Qui” written in pencil on inside flap.


Cap boxes:

#134 – “J” (or T) carved upside down in cursive script on the inside flap

#329321 – “W.Z.” carved on outside front

 #5923 – “C.I. Co B 55” carved on front

#29296 – “8” (or 68) written in pencil on back


Waist Belts:

#29772 – “JWW” stamped in the back, center

#10468 – “ED” and “JC” carved on front

#11802 “HS” written in ink on the back



#38565 – “John Smith” written in ink on front; “TH” written below

#27714 – “LFK” scratched on the neck/spout

#38561 – “T. MCNAMAR” scratched on the neck/spout

#28229 – “ENL” faintly stitched in blue or black thread on cover



No haversacks in the Gettysburg collection bore soldier markings. 



Marking types

Below are different types of soldier markings on surviving items, which include:


Cartridge box, showing carved regiment and company.[8]
Cartridge box showing carved soldier name (George A. Myrick, 30th NY)[9]


Cartridge box sling bearing India ink marking[10]
Haversack bearing markings in India ink[10]
Cap box bearing markings written in ink[11]


Canteen neck/spout bearing scratched markings[12]

Knapsack Markings:  An example of a backpack marked per Regulations guidelines:

“Knapsacks are to be painted black. Marked in the centre of the cover with the number of the regiment only. In figures of one inch and a half, of the character called full face.. Those for the infantry will be marked …in white paint.”[13]
“The knapsacks will also be marked upon the inner side with the letter of the company and the number of the soldier, on such part as may be readily observed at inspections.”[14]


[1] August V. Kautz The Company Clerk (Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1865), Sec. 100, p. 50.  Kautz emphasizes the importance of accounting for and returning soldier gear; “Articles which are issued to the soldiers…when lost or destroyed by their neglect are entered against their pay…  If the articles are lost or injured by the neglect of any one, they (the sergeants) must report to whom they are to be charged, or else they will be charged to themselves.”

[2] Also included in this list—but not or rarely marked and beyond our topic—are swords and scabbards, picks (issued with cap boxes), Cartridge box plates (US and breast plates), waist belt US plates, and various musket tools.   

[3] US War Department Revised Regulations for the Army of the United States, 1861. (Philadelphia; J.G.L. Brown, Printer, 1861), Article XII, pp. 19-20.  Kautz The Company Clerk, Sec. 41, pp. 27-30.

[4] Revised Regulations, Article XIII (Companies):  Sections 110-111., p. 22.

[5] Revised Regulations, Section 112, p. 23.

[6] Kautz The Company Clerk, Section 27, p. 27.

[7] Edward K. Cassedy, ed. Dear friends at home: The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Sergeant Charles T. Bowen, Twelfth United States Infantry 1861-1864 (Baltimore, Butternut and Blue, 2001), p. 55.

[8] George A. Myrick, 30th New York Infantry, Co. E, cartridge box.  Private collection.

[9] Paul D. Johnson Civil War Cartridge Boxes of the Union Infantryman (Lincoln, RI; Andrew Mowbray Publishers, 1999), Joseph M. Crippen, 1st Minnesota, Co. K, cartridge box, back cover photograph.

[10] Civil War Times, August 2016, p. 72.

[11 Dave Taylor’s Civil War Antiques;

[12] Union Drummer Boy Antiques;

[13]Revised Regulations, Article XII, pp. 19-20.

[14] Revised Regulations, Article XII, pp. 19-20.

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