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Figure 2.(left) A confirmed mid-war usage of a shell jacket in the 16th Michigan: Private Eugene Thompson, killed 7 May, 1864 in the Wilderness Campaign (private collection); (right) Another Eastern theatre usage of the shell jacket, in this case Corporal J. Umstead of 51st Pennsylvania Infantry, Co. C (reproduced from Military Images 3(4):13).

Is there a Union ‘Shell Jacket’ typology?

Defining the Union ‘shell jacket’ is made difficult by the scarcity of individual garment studies. Back issues of The Watchdog and recent issues of Military Collector & Historian yield nothing. One must return to Frederick P. Todd’s (1980) dated (though monumental) American Military Equipage: 1851-1872 for a starting point. Concerning the Federal issue shell jacket, also confusingly known as the ‘fatigue jacket’ (as opposed to the ‘fatigue blouse’):

The fatigue jacket of 1851 carried a standing, hooked-up collar about 3 inches high. By 1861 the collar was reduced to barely 1.5 inches and was open in the front. It was commonly fitted with cloth shoulder straps and sometimes with cloth belt loops on the sides. There were 8 to 12 small buttons down the front, and two on the cuff of each sleeve. Originally these cuffs had been slashed

  • thus the buttons – but by 1861, with wider sleeves in vogue, the slash was often sewed up for much of its length.

However, this definition was from early in the ‘systematic uniform research movement’ and seems to be conflating both State and Federal Shell jacket elements. In my cursory study of definite images of Federal infantry use of this broad jacket type the following variables can be enumerated:

  • Presence or absence of eye-hooks on collar (closed or open collar)

  • Pesence or absence of epaulettes

  • Presence or absence of belt loops

  • Presence or absence of external pockets

  • Number of buttons: 8, 9, 11, or 12

  • Type of Buttons (‘fatigue blouse’ or ‘cuff ‘size)

  • Plain front (cut straight across) or ‘polka-skirted’ front (dip at centre front midline).

  • Plain cuffs (straight across) or chevron cuffs

  • Piping or no Piping and -- if piped -- its location.

The only constants appear to be the presence of 2 cuff buttons and the use of good quality dark blue wool broadcloth!

The variation in these jackets may eventually be ascribable to some definite ‘types’, such as Schuylkill Depot Issue, New York State Issue, Ohio Issue, and Illinois Issue (maybe more) . Unfortunately, only the New York State type (known as the ‘1861 New York State Pattern’) is currently well documented.

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