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An Album of U.S. Army Shoulder Straps by Dr. Howard G. Lanham

Shoulder Straps of the Pre-Civil War Period

Shoulder Straps of the pre-Civil War period 1830s-1851 used a bimetallic system as a branch and grade indication. They always have a dark blue field as branch colors were not used until 1851. Compared with shoulder straps dating after 1851 they seem very long and narrow.

[Shoulder Strap]
Pre-Civil War Infantry First Lieutenant's Shoulder Strap

This strap has silver bullion embroidered bars and border, but color can be hard to appreciate because old bullion will tarnish. It has quarter-inch all dead bullion embroidered border. The field is dark blue velvet. The back is not finished off in any way.

The oddest feature of the bimetallic era shoulder strap is the manner that grades were designated. This is as follows:

Straps for Officers of Infantry
Grade Border Color Device
Second Lieutenant Silver None
First Lieutenant Silver One Gold Bar at either end
Captain Silver Two Gold Bars at either end
Major Silver Gold Leaf at either end
Lieutenant Colonel Silver Silver Leaf at either end
Colonel Silver Gold Eagle

Straps for Officers of Other Branches
Grade Border Color Device
Second Lieutenant Gold None
First Lieutenant Gold One Silver Bar at either end
Captain Gold Two Silver Bars at either end
Major Gold Silver Leaf at either end
Lieutenant Colonel Gold Gold Leaf at either end
Colonel Gold Silver Eagle

Straps for General Officers

Grade Border Color Device
Brigadier General Gold One Silver Star
Major General Gold Two Silver Stars
Major General Commanding Gold Three Silver Stars

The important feature was the color of the border, which indicated the branch. The color of the device was secondary and in the main contrasted with the color of the border. Thus, a colonel's eagle might be either gold or silver, a lieutenant colonel's and major's leaf either gold or silver and the bars of company officers either gold or silver.

In 1851 new regulations changed all this and branch colors became a major feature of the American uniforms, both for officers and enlisted men.

MORE: Post-Civil War: Company Officers' Shoulder Straps
Modern Shoulder Straps
Plate with Shoulder Straps of 1872
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