Tag Archives: Uniforms

Another Side of General Washington

General Washington

Another Side of General Washington

Hanging in the visitor center at Colonial Williamsburg is this 1799 portrait of General Washington that was pained by Charles Willson Peale. This painting is breathtaking in person and truly presents the General as a figure larger than life.

One of the most amazing things about Washington was how down to earth he was. Even during the Revolution, his legend was well on the way to mythic proportion. There were times when his words alone spurred his men to fight. His promises were enough to keep the army together. Even when there was no food, no pay, and no prospect of victory.

The time though that he proved the most worthy of being a myth and legend was the time when he showed his officers how human he was.

Newburgh

The British were defeated at Yorktown, but the war would continue for several more years and the Continental Army had to stay in the field. Many officers and soldiers had not been paid for six years and dissatisfaction was mounting. In January 1783 a group of officers asked Congress to consider the back wages it owed the army. Congress refused. Tensions between the army and Congress worsened to the point that calls came to march on the Congress and collect the payments by force.

In Newburgh, NY, the officers gathered to plan the coup. Faced with the disgruntled offers and a recalcitrant Congress, George Washington called his officers to a meeting. He explained that Congress was doing what they could, he promised to do everything possible to have the issues resolved. Washington was loved and admired by his men but not even he could divert them from the course they were on, mutiny seemed inevitable.

Sensing he was losing the room, Washington started reading a letter from a Congressman that supported the officers. A few words in Washington had to pause and put on a pair of reading glasses to continue. Apologizing for the delay Washington said, “I have already grown gray in the service of my country. I am now going blind.” The officers saw the personal sacrifice of their commander. This one simple remark reached into the hearts and minds of the assembled men and placed their struggle into perspective. Instead of preparing for a military coup, the men asked Washington to do all he could and the war continued.

A gesture, as simple as putting a pair of glasses, saved the Revolution from becoming a dictatorship. If not for that one personal, and embarrassing moment for Washington, who knows how the story would have ended.

The Sound of Drums

.The Sound of Drums

The Sound of Drums

Since the beginning of warfare leaders needed to be able to communicate with their troops from a distance. To get their commands heared through the din of battle. during the roar of battle. In many places in the world, the drum has always been one of the most favored methods of battlefield communication.

Drums would be used to men where to gather, and when to attack. When to leave the battlefield and when to curfew had fallen on the camp. From a distance, units could communicate with other to coordinate. Drums would also help the soldiers keep their pace when marching.

Since our military heritage is drawn mainly from European tradition, it is interesting to note that prior to the Crusades, drums were not used in European armies. In fact, when facing off against the forces of Islam, who made heavy use of large kettledrums to command the troops, they found that their horses reacted poorly to the noise to which they had never heard. Early battles were heavily affected by the enemies drums until they grew accustomed.

Returning armies worked the drums into their operations. By the time that the European powers came to the American continent, they found themselves up against indigenous people that had been using drums for communication for thousands of years.

Drums, bugles and other musical instruments found their way into the US military. They only started to fade from use during the Civil War when the telegraph began taking its place in the command and control realm. Eventually, the radio would provide the most direct communication method and the drums fell silent as a battlefield tool.

A Doughboy In The Trenches

Doughboy

A Doughboy In The Trenches

The term doughboy was used for members of the American Expeditionary Force that fought in France during WWI. The name itself though was used long before that. During the Napoleonic wars, a doughboy referred to a fried flour dumpling that was popular among the British in Spain. Eventually, this small cake would evolve into the modern doughnut.

Mexican War

The term doughboy in reference to soldiers, however, started a little after that. During the Mexican – American War (1846-48) the term was used for American infantry and while no one knows for sure where the term came from there are a number of possibilities.

One theory has to do with the environment that the infantry marched through in Mexico. It was dry and very dusty. As they marched mile after mile they became covered head to toe in a fine layer of dust. To some, it looked like they were covered with flour. The cavalry, with no love lost for the infantry, took to calling them doughboys as a derogatory term.  Sounds about right and would fit in with other appellations for American soldiers such as dog face, grunt, joe, etc.

WWI

In the years between the Mexican War and WWI, the name was not used very much though, only becoming popular again when the Americans showed up in France. This time though it may have come from another source. It seems that along with hundreds of thousands of infantry, the Americans also sent the Salvation Army volunteers to support the troops. One of their best-known services for the men was the making of doughnuts. Millions of them that were delivered to the American troops serving on the front-lines. It would not be a huge jump in logic to see French and British troops chiding the Yankees and amount of fried dough they were subject to. Doughboy would not be that much of a leap. (It could also have been used to mock the perceived weakness of the raw and unblooded American troops.)

Whichever theory you want to subscribe to the fact is the term doughboy is one that will always bring to mind the American soldiers in the muddy and dark trenches in France, much like those young men in the picture above.

You Audie Know This Guy!

You Audie Know This Guy!

You Audie Know This Guy!

 

Quick question. When asked to name a WWII hero, what names come to mind? If Audie Murphy is not one of the first names you think of, you need to learn more about this man.

Born  June 20, 1925, In Texas, he lied about his age to join the military during WWII.  He tried to get into the Navy and the Marines before finding a home in the Army. In 1945, at the ripe old age of 19, he won the Medal of Honor after single handily holding off an entire German company. For over an hour! BY HIMSELF! What did you do today?

But wait, that is not all. After holding them off he helped to lead the counter-attack even though he was out of ammunition and wounded.

During the war, he served with distinction in Tunisia, Sicily, Naples, Anzio, Rome,  France, the Ardennes and on into Germany. During that time he won every single award for valor that the US Army had. Then added several from France and Belgium for good measure.

After the war, Audie became an actor, best known for playing himself in the movie To Hell and Back and numerous westerns. For the rest of his life, he fought against what would be known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and worked hard for the cause of getting this disorder into the spotlight. Even our greatest heroes did not go untouched by their experiences. In 1971 he finally met a foe he could not defeat and died in a plane crash.

The picture above shows one of his caps and just a few of the multitude of ribbons that this man earned. There is no greater example of the American Warrior than this man and I behoove you to find out more of the details of his life and actions.

 

The War of 1812

Uniform from The War of 1812

Soldiers of the War of 1812

 

In a recent comedy bit on one of the late night talk shows, the host was asking random people questions about American History. One of the questions was “When was the War of 1812 fought?”  That was apparently a stumper for most of the respondents. It would be easy to laugh and make fun of those people, I mean the answer is right there in the question, but it really isn’t their fault. The War of 1812 gets glossed over in history class and seldom is talked about like the other major conflicts. Which is kind of weird considering it was one of the few wars fought between the United States and another nation here on this continent.

It is sometimes called a continuation of the American Revolution, Round 2 if you like, but that is a little dramatic. The British had no desire at that point to “reclaim” their former colonies. In fact, during the bulk of the conflict, they were more worried about beating Napoleon.  The US really wanted Canada. It had conquered it in 1775 but could not hold it. Now it was thought that it would be an easy grab from the distracted British.

Numbers

By the end of the war, the United States Army had ballooned from about 7,000 before, to more than 35,000. To supplement the regular troops over 458,000 militia were called up. Of those about 15,000 died during the war.

The photo above is of a uniform worn by a regular soldier. One interesting little tidbit regarding it. Blue was the official color of the uniform coat. When the ranks increased at the start of the war, the blue cloth was in short supply. For uniforms issued it that range, it was not uncommon for the colors to include black, brown, drab, or even gray. Yep, for a short period of time, the US Army wore gray coats. Not unlike another North American army would wear fifty years later…

 

The Philippine Campaign 1899-1913

The Philippine Campaign 1899-1913

The Philippine Campaign 1899-1913

 

In 1898 during the Spanish-American War, the United States liberated the Philippines from the Spanish. Unfortunately, many Filipinos were not any happier to be under American control than Spanish control. Even after the war with the Spanish ended the war in the islands continued. For three years, until July 1902 the United States and the Philippines remained in a state of war. Even an official peace did not stop the fighting. Rebel factions continued to fight the US until June of 1913. Yep, what started in 1898 continued until 1913. This particular conflict had a huge effect on our military and policies.

 First and foremost it was during this conflict, that was primarily a guerrilla war against unconventional forces, that the book was written on how to deal with this sort of war. In fact, the original blueprint for dealing with the unconventional tactics of the Viet Cong, came from the lessons learned during this war.

 So how did one get this ribbon?

 

 The following is from the USmilitary.about.com Page: 


The Philippine Campaign Medal was awarded for military service in the Philippine Islands under any of the following conditions indicated in AR 600-8-22, between the dates 4 February 1899 and 31 December 1913:

  • Ashore between 4 February 1899 and 4 July 1902.
  • Ashore in the Department of Mindanao between 4 Feb 1899, and 31 Dec 1, 1904.
  • Against the Pulajanes on Leyte between 20 July 1906 and 30 June 1907, or on Samar between 2 August 1904, and 30 June 1907.

With any of the following expeditions:

  • Pala on Jolo between April and May 1905.
  • Datu Ali on Mindanao in October 1905.
  • Against hostile Moros on Mount Bud-Dajo, Jolo, in March 1906.
  • Against hostile Moros on Mount Bagsac, Jolo, between January and July 1913.
  • Fighting hostile Moros on Mindanao or Jolo between 1910 and 1913.
  • Any action in which U.S. troops were killed or wounded between 4 February 1899, and 31 December 1913.

Considering that the Spanish-American war is barely remembered today, it is not a surprise that this conflict gets overlooked. It also doesn’t help that the dates of when it ended are up for discussion. Casualties are hard to quantify because of this also. For the US it was somewhere around 10,000 killed and wounded. For the Filipino’s between 12 and 20,000 killed and wounded with civilian casualties estimated at around 200,000 thousand.

That medal above represents a lot of lives in a forgotten conflict.

The Iron Cross

The Iron Cross

The Iron Cross

 

The Iron Cross is probably one of the most distinctive military decorations that there has ever been.  Beyond just a commendation it also became part of the identity of the German army in the past and into the present.

Its design can be traced back to the Crusades when the King of Jerusalem gave the Teutonic Order permission to combine their solid black cross to the silver Cross of Jerusalem. The first award as a military decoration goes back to 1813 and the Napoleonic Wars. The Prussian King decided that it would best symbolize courage and strength. The decoration would be used again during the Franco-Prussian War, World War I and World War II.

As a symbol of the German Army it was used during World War I and retired at the end of the war. Only to be brought to the fore again by the Nazis in 1939. Sometimes even adorned with the swastika. After the war, it fell out of favor but was reinstated in 1956 by the West Germans. After reunification, it remains the symbol of the German Army today in various forms.

Interestingly enough, the Iron Cross citation was never revived in Germany post WWII. Though they did reissue the awards won during the war without the Nazi symbols attached to them. There has been somewhat of a movement to reinstate the Iron Cross award. In the meantime, though a new award has been put in place at the same level, The Cross of Honor for Bravery.  Which is more reminiscent in design to an older Prussian medal.

A Well Dressed Johnny Reb (Confederate Infantry)

Confederate Infantry

A Well Dressed Johnny Reb (Confederate Infantry)

The photo above is a representation of what a regular Confederate Infantry Soldier would have looked like. Notice the nice clean uniform. The musket, canteen, nice hat, bayonet hanging from his belt. There is even a backpack to hold rations and personal belongings. Wow. Looking at this you would think that this fellow was part of a well supplied and outfitted army.

Of course everyone started off with a nice clean uniform. There were a number of regulations that attempted to standardize the type of shirt and pants, the color of the fabric and the hat that should be worn. Unfortunately the South had a difficult time with the mass fabrication of uniforms.  There ended up being a lot of variety.

Once the Southern industrial base caught up to war effort the uniforms became more standardized and better supplied. Being able to access cloth imported from Britain also helped. Some of the CSA units at the end of the war were better uniformed than at the start.

The hat worn here is not the regulation Kepi, but a wide brimmed usually wool hat that provided much more protection from the weather. These hats were popular among the enlisted and officers and were almost always of civilian origin.

Colors

The grey color of the uniforms was chosen for a number of reasons. First, many of the state militias uniforms were of that color. Or at least a shade or two off. Secondly, is was a cheap color to dye the cloth. Third, even though not actually intentional, the grey provided a basic level of camouflage against the tree lines.

Uniforms that came out of the the Richmond facilities maintained their color.  The grey uniforms that were made in the Western and Deep South facilities often faded to a brown or tan color.  Sometimes homespun fabric was used that was a similar color. This “butternut” color became almost as iconic as the grey you see above.

 

The Soldiers of Imperial Japan

The Soldiers of Imperial Japan

The Soldiers of Imperial Japan

In 1931 the Imperial Japanese Army numbered just under 200,000 men and officers. It was with this force that they invaded Manchuria under the guise of protecting Japanese owned railroads against Chinese bandit attacks. This eventually blossomed in all out war between China and Japan. That war that lasted until 1945.

Not content to be fighting bandits and the Chinese army, they used their client state in Manchuria as a launching pad into the Soviet Union. Yes,  from 1932 to 1941 the Russians and Japanese were fighting all along the Chinese border. Remember that from the history books? In 1941 the two sides agreed on a non-aggression pact that ended that conflict. There were only a few actual battles. Most of which the Russians won. Very little territory changed hands. Bigger wars were on the horizon for each.

The Men

The men that made up the army were conscripted, given medical examinations and classified with Class 1-A. The highest classification that said the men were fit for duty. There were a total of five classifications. Depending on if the nation was at war or not would depend on what happened to the men after they received their classifications.  It was possible that a full mobilization of the male population would have been serving in the military in some way shape or form.

In 1941 the Imperial Army numbered around 1.7 million troops, most of which would be serving in China with the rest spread out across the Pacific.  By the 1945 the army numbered more than 5.5 million.

The Casualties

As far as casualties suffered during World War Two, approximately 2.5 million killed. Presumed dead and missing totaled around 800,000 and just about 7,500 prisoners of war. Yes, that number is correct and reflects that something in the men behind those numbers. Death was preferable to capture and dishonor.  Let that sink in for a minute when you look at the photo.

One other thing to think about. The last official surrender by an Imperial Japanese soldier occurred in December 1974, almost thirty years after the war ended.

 

The Weight of the World

Average Weight Carried by a Union Soldier

The Weight of the World

A soldier during the Civil War. heck all wars, have to carry their entire world on them. Everything the need to live and fight needs to be within reach. Sure when times were good units would have supply wagons to take some of the burden, but when speed of march is an issue it would not be unusually for the men be a day or two ahead of the wagons. This diagram breaks down how much each piece of a soldiers kit weighed. A little hard to read, so I will break it down here.

Knapsack that contained a wool blanket, gum blanket, shelter half and personal items 16 lbs

Canteen with one quart of water 3 lbs

Haversack with 3 days marching rations 7 lbs

Cap pouch, Waist belt, Bayonet and Scabbard 3 lbs

Shoes and Clothes 5 lbs

Cartridge box and 40 rounds of ammunition 5 lbs

Extra Ammunition (In pockets) 2 lbs

Rifle-Musket 9 lbs

In total about 50 lbs of kit. A normal march would be between 6 and 8 miles a day (sometimes up to 20 or more). In the warm weather of campaign season wearing a wool uniform that does not make for a comfortable day. One thing that the Union troops found out early in the war was that all that equipment tended to make running away much more difficult, so they would ditch anything they could. A long trail of debris would mark the path of a retreating unit. Of course to the pursuing Confederate forces this was a windfall as they could pick up the leftovers and do pretty well.