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Union Army Uniforms and Insignia of the Civil War

Enlisted Dress Hat

Enlisted Jeff Davis Hat
Two Light Artillery Privates in Jackets
Courtesy of Bob Borrell
Enlisted Jeff Davis Hat
Detail of hats
Enlisted Jeff Davis Hat
Artillery Private in Frock Coat
Courtesy of Bob Borrell
Enlisted Jeff Davis Hat
Detail of Hat

The dress hat went by several names but officially was referred to simply as the hat. It is sometimes referred to as the Jeff Davis hat since it was adopted during his stint as secretary of war. It is also called the Hardee hat after William Hardee, who may have been influential in its adoption. Finally, it is occasionally called the Kossuth hat, after Lajos Kossuth who was a popular Hungarian revolutionary. Hats were used by some European units of the period.

In 1855 Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was instrumental in the creation of two regiments of cavalry. A board of officers, appointed to consider their equipment, recommended a distinctive hat for cavalry. In 1858 the hat with minor differences was approved for the entire army, replacing the cap (shako) of 1851. The hat was made of black felt and had a six and one-quarter inch crown and a double row of stitching around the edge. The trim included various brass insignia for enlisted men. It was looped up by an eagle plate one side and decorated with a single ostrich feather on the other. The hat was looped up on its right by mounted men and left by foot soldiers. On the front of the hat was insignia of the branch of service and in some cases the regimental number and company letter. The one example above shows hats with only the battery letter "C." Although the regulations called for both letter and number in practice many units wore only the letter or neither as in our other example. Hat cords were made of worsted wool dyed in the branch color for enlisted men.

There is a general consensus based on period photographs that the hat was much less popular with the Civil War soldier than the forage cap, which was also introduced in 1858. The hat was intended as an article of dress wear and the forage cap for fatigue duties. Civil War diarist Elisha Hunt Rhodes mentions that when the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry departed for the battle of the First Manassas (Bull Run),

“Our large felt hats with a blue cord and brass eagle were left in the First Sergeant's tents."

Additional evidence is that the use of the hats in the field by the Iron Brigade of the Army of the Potomac was considered distinctive.


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