What Did Soldiers Wear Under Their Uniforms?

Soldiers of the 23rd Infantry using a net to catch fish in the Devil’s River in Texas in 1898. Most of the men are wearing their blue shirts, but the second soldier from the left appears to be wearing his undershirt. The men wearing light-colored pants could just be wearing their drawers into the river, but they might also be the white trousers authorized for summer wear in 1888.

   If you’ve visited Fort Mackinac, you’ve probably seen our historical interpreters performing demonstrations and leading tours while wearing the uniforms of the U.S. Army of the 1880s. We strive to have accurate reproductions, but what did the historic soldiers of Fort Mackinac wear under their uniforms?

Soldiers of Company K of the 23rd Infantry relax inside the barracks in the 1880s. The card-playing soldier at left, wearing the straw hat, may also be wearing his gray undershirt.

   The British and early American soldiers on Mackinac Island probably wore a single piece of underwear in the form of a long-sleeved linen shirt. The shirts usually reached almost to the knees, allowing the soldiers to wrap them around their upper legs and groin. Shirts were changed and laundered regularly, as having clean linen against the skin was considered essential to staying healthy. By the 1880s, the American army provided considerably more complex undergarments, which could be mixed and matched in layers depending on the climate and a soldier’s needs. By the mid-1870s, soldiers were regularly issued drawers to wear beneath their uniform trousers. Made of unbleached flannel, the drawers issued by the mid-1880s had a reinforced crotch and a full-cut seat, and closed with two metal buttons in front as well as buttons to close the ankle cuffs. Beginning in 1881, soldiers also received an undershirt to wear against their skin. Made of a 50/50 blend of fleece wool and cotton, the gray pullover shirts had knit cuffs to ensure a snug fit around the wrists. Soldiers received three undershirts as part of their yearly uniform allowance, but they often complained that the shirts were too hot and heavy, especially for men stationed in the south or the deserts of the southwest. Soldiers also began receiving blue flannel shirts, worn over the undershirt, in 1881. After receiving feedback (meaning complaints) from soldiers about the 1881 shirts, the Quartermaster Department issued a new design in 1882, and again in 1883. The 1883 model shirts were cut in much the same way as the undress blouse, with a falling collar and fitted cuffs. These shirts featured three black rubber buttons at the throat and down the front placket, which extended to mid-chest. The shirts also included two breast pockets, each with a single black rubber button for closure. The army always intended for these shirts to be worn as outerwear in hot climates, and soldiers were issued three every year.

Soldiers of the 23rd Infantry police the grounds near the East Blockhouse in the 1880s. The two men standing at right are wearing their blue flannel shirts. The
man standing at center, sideways to the camera, may also be wearing his gray undershirt- note his forearm.

   By layering these garments as needed, soldiers could somewhat adapt to changing weather and keep a ready supply of clean undergarments on hand. Although it’s not something that visitors to Fort Mackinac ever see (and would have only rarely seen back in the 1880s), these pieces of underwear were critical to creating the look of the U.S. Army in the late 19th century. Be sure to ask the interpreters about their uniforms next time you visit Fort Mackinac, and don’t forget to check out Mackinac Associates, which helps fund the purchase of uniforms and other supplies every year. Also, if you’re interested in seeing more images of army life in the 1880s, this summer Mackinac State Historic Parks is pleased to offer a new book featuring over 120 images collected by a Fort Mackinac officer: Through an Officer’s Eyes: The Photo Album of Edward B. Pratt, U.S. Army 1873-1902. The three images illustrating this post all come from the book, which will be available in our visitor’s centers and museum stores.

African American Soldiers and Fort Mackinac Officers

On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger, accompanied by 2,000 federal troops, read out General Order No. 3 to the residents of Galveston, Texas. Gordon and his troops were part of the federal forces occupying the defeated states of the defunct Confederacy. The order informed the people of Texas that all formerly enslaved African Americans were free, and although American slavery would not be completely abolished until the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 18, 1865, June 19th is now celebrated as Juneteenth, marking a significant episode in the defeat of slavery in the United States.

William Manning

   While General Granger was reading General Order No. 3, two future Fort Mackinac officers were also on occupation duty in the south. William Manning and future post commander Greenleaf Goodale were both stationed in Louisiana in the summer of 1865. Goodale served as a captain with the 77th Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops, while Manning acted as major to the 103rd Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops. Both units were comprised of African American enlisted men, some of them formerly enslaved. Manning had served alongside African American soldiers since 1863, when he accepted a lieutenant’s post with the 35th Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops. The regiment saw heavy fighting at the Battle of Olustee in Florida in 1864. During a fierce rearguard action, the soldiers of the 35th, along with African American members of the well-known 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, helped repel Confederate cavalry attacks. Manning was severely wounded in the battle, and transferred to the 103rd Regiment.

Greenleaf Goodale

   By the time Goodale and Manning served at Fort Mackinac with the 23rd Infantry in the 1880s, the U.S. Army had shrunk considerably, with far fewer units than had existed during the war. African American soldiers were still forced to serve in segregated regiments with white officers. None of these segregated units, the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments and the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments, served at Fort Mackinac. However, Goodale and Manning both carried the experiences they gained (and for Manning, the wounds he sustained) serving alongside African American troops during the war for the rest of their careers. The American military remained officially segregated, with African American officers and soldiers serving in separate units, until 1948.

   Today, as Juneteenth celebrations mark a victory over the system of American enslavement, we hope that you’ll reflect on the legacies of slavery and the service of African Americans during the Civil War. If you would like to learn more about Goodale, Manning, and their experiences during the war, two of Mackinac State Historic Parks’ recent publications, The Soldier’s of Fort Mackinac: An Illustrated History and Through an Officer’s Eyes: The Photo Album of Edward B. Pratt, U.S. Army 1873-1902 discuss these and many other officers’ careers. Fort Mackinac has officially opened for the season, so we hope that you will join us soon to hear more about how the Civil War shaped the lives of the men of the 23rd Infantry in the 1880s.

At Last…

The site being prepared for the field season. The plastic containers protected wood posts under the plastic sheeting and straw over the winter.

   After a very long wait, MSHP archaeologists were excited to remove the straw and plastic sheeting from the archaeological site and begin preparing the site for excavation. Unfortunately, there was a lot of slump, especially along the north wall, so there is a lot of clean up ahead. The next step is to re-establish the grid strings used to record where features and artifacts are found relative to the overall master map.

   This will be our fourteenth season of excavation at House E of the Southeast Rowhouse. The rowhouse was constructed in the 1730s and this unit was owned by Charles Gonneville for most of the French era at Michilimackinac. By 1765 the house was owned by an as-yet-unknown English trader. Our initial research question for the project was how does an English trader’s house look different from a French-Canadian trader’s house? The early answer is that there is more trade silver and ceramics. This trader not only had fashionable furnishings, but dressed stylishly as well, based on the sleeve buttons and other adornment items we have recovered.

   Our main goals for this summer relate to the deep features previously exposed. We think we are nearing the bottom of the root cellar in the southeast corner of the building and hope to complete its excavation this season. There are two more deep features, which intersect, in the west and south-central areas of the house. We hope to better define them this season.

   As with any archaeological excavation there will be surprises that raise new questions. You can come watch history being uncovered at Colonial Michilimackinac every day from June 12 – August 22, from 9 am until 5 pm, weather permitting. You can also follow along all season on the MSHP blog and social media channels.

Quilt Along: A Star Pattern Quilt Square

The earliest quilting was done not for bed coverings, but for clothing. The layers of fabric and padding stitched together gave garments protection and warmth. As quilting evolved, it began to be used as bedcoverings. The earliest quilted bedcoverings were typically made of large pieces of cloth and called “whole cloth” quilts. By the 1830s, though, pieced quilts used on beds were becoming more popular. These quilts often incorporated depictions of current or local events into the design. Many people began to see designing and sewing quilts as a way of commemorating events, showing off their needlework skills and keeping busy. It certainly could be a practical use of fabric, but some quilt experts today also note that quilting was perhaps more commonly seen as a socially acceptable pastime, even on Mackinac Island.

When Mackinac Island merchant Edward Biddle died, nine quilts were listed in his probate records. We have some idea of the patterns used for these quilts are based on letters exchanged between Edward’s daughter Sophia and her cousin in the Detroit area. These letters mention Irish double chains and star pattern quilts. There were many different types of star pattern quilts around by the time these letters were written, so we will probably never know the specific one Sophia had chosen.

We have chosen a common and simple square from the 19th century for you to take a stab at and make yourself. Piecing and sewing can be a creative and satisfying way to connect to the past. Try your hand at this “star pattern” quilt square. Be sure to share a picture of the finished product with us on Facebook!

Pattern:

You will need:

– Scissors
– Sewing thread
– Sewing needle
– Two colors of fabric
– Backing fabric (about 12” square, at least) 2.5” strip of fabric for binding the edge or pre-made tape
– Ruler or other measuring tool

Notes: Be creative when you are gathering supplies. If you don’t have quilt batting, try using an old towel, layers of scrap fabric or anything else that you might have around the house. It is sometimes a good idea to work your pattern out with paper. You can play with the layout and may even end up creating your own unique design.

Step 1: Cut out four squares from your first color that measure 4.5” square, and one that measures 5 3/8” square. These will be your background pieces.

Step 2: Cut out three squares from your second color that measure 5 3/8” square and one that measures 4.5” square. These pieces will make your star.

Step 3: Cut your larger squares into four equal triangles. Draw or press lines into them from corner to corner to get straight lines.

Step 4: Arrange your pieces into a star pattern with the main fabric square in the center and the background color around the edges.

 

 

 

Step 5: Piece your block together using ¼” seam allowance. Press each seam open as you sew.

 

 

 

Step 6: Layer your quilt block, filling material and back together and baste, baste, baste!

 

 

 

Step 7: Quilt your block! Stitch along the seams or use your own pattern.

Step 8: Trim the block to cut away any unevenness and bind the edges.

 

 

 

 

Step 9: Consider adding the year and maker to the block with ink or thread.

Step 10: Admire your work and send us pictures of your finished quilt block.

Battlefield Archaeology at Wawashkamo Golf Club

One of the most unusual archaeological projects to take place on Mackinac Island was a metal detector survey of the portion of the 1814 battlefield located on Wawashkamo Golf Club. The project was carried out in May 2002 by the Heidelberg (Ohio) College Center for Historic and Military Archaeology under the direction of Dr. Michael Pratt and funded by the Wawashkamo Restoration and Preservation Fund.

1814 Battle of Mackinac Island.

The August 4, 1814 battle was always known to have taken place on the Dousman farm on either side of what is now known as British Landing Road. This survey was designed to determine what might be left in the ground on the western side of the battlefield after 85 years of farming by the Dousman and Early families, followed by 102 years as a golf course. Three different types of metal detection instruments were used in order to locate ferrous, brass, copper, silver, lead, nickel and gold artifacts. The fairways were systematically “swept” to locate possible concentrations of artifacts. Four areas of interest were located, which were then intensively surveyed. Two hundred sixty-five artifacts related to the battle were located. These included United States Infantry and Artillery buttons, spent and dropped rifle, musket and buck shot, a piece of iron canister shot, trade gun parts, an 1807 U.S penny, and three nearly complete clasp knives. Additional artifacts recovered related to the Dousman and Early farms and all eras of Wawashkamo Golf Club.

U.S. Army buttons recovered during Wawashkamo battlefield survey. Credit: CHMA

The clusters were located on fairways 1, 5, and 9 and the east end of fairway 8. Spatial analysis of the battlefield artifacts indicated that the survey area included the path of Lieutenant Colonel George Croghan’s regular troops advancing and retreating along British Landing Road, and the possible location of Major Andrew Holmes’s unsuccessful flanking attack and death. The 2002 survey demonstrated that significant archaeological resources have survived at Wawashkamo. The results did not re-write the story of the battle, rather they fleshed out the written record and provided a tangible link to the only battle ever fought on Mackinac Island.

Archaeology at Old Mackinac Point

The station grounds as they appeared around 1918. The privy and oil house are located at right. Courtesy State Archives of Michigan

Restoration of the Old Mackinac Point Light Station includes not only the ongoing work at the lighthouse, but the restoration and reconstruction of support buildings and landscape features. As with all ground disturbing activities at Mackinac State Historic Parks, the impact on potential archaeological resources is a consideration.
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A Model 1884 Springfield Rifle

The .45-70 Springfield Rifle.

The Buffington sight. A second adjustment screw (not visible) swiveled the entire sight left or right.

During the summer months, visitors to Fort Mackinac are able to see a real piece of history in action every single day. Historical interpreters representing soldiers from the 23rd Regiment of Infantry perform rifle firing and drill demonstrations throughout the day. The weapons they carry, the .45-70 Springfield rifle, are all 19th century originals, making them at least 130 years old. Let’s take a closer look at one of these fascinating weapons.

 

Introduced in 1873, the .45-70 remained the standard issue arm of the American army for 20 years. A single-shot weapon, the rifle derived its name from the cartridge it fired: a .45 caliber bullet propelled by 70 grains of black powder. Over the course of its service life, the army refined the rifle several times, making almost yearly changes to the design to reflect the realities of daily use and at the suggestion of officers and enlisted men. Only rarely did these design changes cumulatively result in the designation of a new model, but in 1884 the army approved a “new” design incorporating improved features.

 

The improved cleaning rod, with tapered button tip.

Note the knurling on the trigger and on the hammer.

This Model 1884 displays many of these design elements. The two most prominent “new” features are the sight and the cleaning rod. The sight, designed by Lt. Col. A.R. Buffington of the Ordnance Department, includes a leaf that can be flipped up and adjusted to sight the weapon at ranges up to 1,400 yards. It also includes an adjustment screw to compensate for windage- by turning it, the entire vertical leaf swivels right or left. The cleaning rod, meanwhile, incorporates the flared button head adopted in 1879 and put into widespread production in 1882. The breechblock is stamped U.S. MODEL 1884, although in reality these stamps were not added to new rifles until 1886, and weapons marked this way did not enter widespread service until 1887. The rest of the rifle incorporates several other design improvements adopted over the years, such as knurling on the trigger and hammer, which was intended to improve a soldier’s fingertip grip on these critical pieces.

 

The star symbol stamped next to the serial number (it looks like a flower) indicates that this rifle was probably rebuilt at an arsenal at some point.

The rifle’s breech in the open position. When opened after firing, the weapon automatically ejected the spent cartridge, allowing a soldier to quickly reload.

This particular rifle has a serial number in the 141000 range, indicating that it was probably originally produced in 1879 or 1880. How, then, can it incorporate features only authorized in 1884, and not actually put into service for a few more years? The small five-pointed star or flower next to the serial number most likely indicates that this weapon is an arsenal rebuilt. In 1879 the Springfield Armory began collecting older .45-70 rifles and using some of the parts to build new weapons, which were held in reserve or eventually issued to various state units (the forerunners to the National Guard). Furthermore, since the rifles were built using entirely interchangeable parts, after the weapons left frontline military service and entered the civilian market (which many did- they are still relatively easy for collectors to obtain) it was simple for gun brokers and owners to cobble together “new” weapons with a mixture of parts from different model years.

 

In any case, this rifle, and the others in daily use at Fort Mackinac, are truly history that you can see, smell, hear, and touch. Our interpreters carry rifles of both the 1873 and 1884 models, with many of the small variations added each year. We even have a few rifles equipped with ramrod bayonets, an experimental design attempted on three different occasions in the 1880s. These weapons had a small, sharpened metal dowel mounted under the barrel in lieu of a cleaning rod in an effort to eliminate the need for soldiers to carry a separate bayonet and scabbard. Historically, one of the two companies of the 23rd Infantry stationed at Fort Mackinac from 1884 to 1890 were issued the experimental ramrod bayonet rifles for evaluation. When you visit us at Fort Mackinac, be sure to ask the interpreters about their rifles- they’re a fascinating link to the past!

The Short Jacket

Our new short jacket.

Much of the work that we do in the winter is to prepare for the upcoming summer season, when Mackinac State Historic Parks’ museums and historic sites are open to the public. This winter we have been busy building a number of new garments for our interpretive staff at Colonial Michilimackinac. This allows our interpreters to not only talk about the history of the Great Lakes, but also to demonstrate what it looked like and how people worked within it. The newest addition (completed just last week!) to our interpretive clothing collection comes to us from the last quarter of the 18th century. It is double-breasted wool jacket, with a short body and narrow sleeves. Genre paintings from the later 18th century show people wearing jackets of this type while selling things on the street, working on a ship, farming, or toiling at any number of other trades. This style of practical, yet fashionable garment was common amongst all sorts of working people. Laborers, seamen and many others would have found a jacket to be infinitely more practical when there was work to be done, and long tails or large cuffs would have impeded movement or simply been in the way.
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The Grenadiers’ “Mutiny” of 1780

The summer of 1780 was not a happy time at Michilimackinac. Patrick Sinclair, the lieutenant governor since October 1779, found himself at odds with most of the community he nominally governed. Much of the discord seems to have been of Sinclair’s own making (he was quick to take offense and vain about his prerogatives as lieutenant governor), but in mid-summer he faced a new problem: the grenadier company of the 8th Regiment, which made up half of Michilimackinac’s garrison, refused one officer’s order and started submitting petitions with grievances to another.
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