Southern Unionist guides and scouts: the theory (?) of clothing

Posted on June 20, 2013 by


It’s a picture we’ve seen many times, and… I know, I know…  he’s not even a Southern Unionist…

Alfred R. Waud

Alfred R. Waud

Still, what’s Waud wearing? He’s a sketch artist/war correspondent, and his clothing appears to be half civilian, half military. The jacket appears to be either a civilian sack coat or perhaps a short frock; perhaps brown or charcoal gray (I’m guessing… I don’t think it’s black) in color. The pants are either sky blue, tan (wheat jean, perhaps). The hat… is one which we might expect on a civilian. But then, we get to elements that appear to be more military. The boots appear to be more typical of a horse soldier (though, certainly… civilians would wear these also, especially if “in the field” in some capacity), and that vest… that vest… hmmm… sure does look like a military vest. Then too, note… the sidearm in the shiny black holster. What sort of encounter did Waud anticipate? Was he carrying because he ventured, sometimes, too close to the front?

So, this stirred some thought. I’ve seen a fair number of Southern Unionists who remarked that they had served as guides and scouts (though, regretfully, not a picture of one in that capacity). What would they have worn? In Waud’s case… (again, not a Southern Unionist), the man was in camp and field with the Union army, to wit…

Waud (far right), with officers from the artillery brigade, 3rd Corps, Army of the Potomac, Brandy Station, Virginia (late 1863/early 1864)

Waud (far right), with officers from the artillery brigade, 3rd Corps, Army of the Potomac, Brandy Station, Virginia (late 1863/early 1864)

Not all Southern Unionist guides and scouts hung out in the camps of the Union army… but some did. This picture has me thinking. Considering the role of scout… most especially… would they dare wear any military clothing interspersed with their civilian ensemble? Would it not put them in jeopardy (more so than normal) by wearing anything commonly identified with association with the Union army? I think of Waud’s wearing of that vest more than anything. I just don’t think that is a civilian vest. Yet, in any encounter, would he be able (would have time to do so) exclaim his neutrality as a war correspondent? In the case of a Southern Unionist, how could that possibly be explained away? “Why, I picked it off a dead Yankee!” Sure you did…

As far as a sidearm is concerned, I think that was just good judgement knowing the miscreants that one might encounter along a road… if alone.  

Why does this matter? Well, has anyone really given this much thought? Whenever we get down to the nitty gritty… the minutiae… in our effort to best understand circumstances of a group of people about whom we so often study, I’d say it’s worthwhile. It’s particularly worthwhile when one begins to order his ensemble as a living historian. My order for a civilian sack coat, by the way, has been placed.