Military Uniforms: Important Military Forces

 Union drummer boy
Figure 1.--The American Civil War was one of the major military conflicts of the 19th century. Most European military experts, except perhaps the British did not take it seriously, believing the Americans were not up to the same standards as the Europeans. Many did not see the American Republic as a rel nation. The Germans in particular were not impressed with the Americans. A partial exception was the British who already saw the Americans as a serious competitor, but begun to see Amneica as a potentially powerful ally. One little English boy who was impressed with the Americans from an early stage was Winston Churchill. This is an unidentified Federal (Union) drummer boy wearing a rather plain Federal uniform.

Our knowledge of military uniforms of early cvilizations varies depended on their archeological and sculptural prowess. These civilizations that left buildings decorated with sculpture give us important insites on military iniforms. Art often did not survive the ages with a few exceptions with burial trditions that preserved at like the Egyptians and Etruscans. And civilizations levaing a literary heritage like Greece and Rome tell us much more. Uniforms only became possible with the dawn of civilization and the wealth created by agriculture as opposed to hunter-gathering societies. Uniforms developed for several reasons. Early unifiormd depending on the society could help express familial pride. Their were obvious military reasons. The uniform helped the front-line soldiers differentiate themselves from their enemies. And as armies increased in size, the unifirms were helpful in command and control porposes, helping commanders identify their and opposing units from a distance. And uniforms as armies grew larger in the Iron Age allowed commanders to ensure that the ordiary soldier, commonly men of modest means, were properly equipped. The uniforms appearing on battlefields and changed dramatically over time and affected by the type of soldiers and the different miitary missions. Even in modern times, nit all soldiers had uniforms, although officers usually did. Despite the wide range of uniforms some elements and components have remained essentially unchanged.



Persian Forces (6th-4th centuries BC )

The Persian Empire was vast compared to a tiny Greek city state or even all of Greece combimed. The Persian Empire had Persian and Meidan base, but included forces furnished by the many different people conquered by the Persians (Asyrian, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Lydians, Sythians, and many others). The massive Persian Army not only included forces from different parts of the empire, but many more specialized forces than the Greeks. This meant that the Persians had units with vary diverse uniforms and equipment. The Persians has some of the most marvelously uniformed soldiers of the ancient world. Many of the Persians had highly decorative ubniforms, some made with rich fabrics. The Greeks were drably uniformed in comprison. Elite units even incorporated gold and silver metal threads in their uniforms. The Persians wore a variety of tunics and trousers. Headwear included tiaras and soft felt caps. Armor also varied. The metal armor of the Greeks was less common with the Persians. In contrast, the Persians wore scale armor under their beautifully decorative clothing.

Greek Hoplites (6th-3rd centuries BC)

Greece was a small part of the ancient world, but burst upon the Meditrranean world with a powerful navy and the famed Hoplite Phalanx who stopped a massive Persian army at Marathon. Greece was a loose assembly of independent city states. The one most noted for their uniforms were the Spartans. Spara was a militarized society, Ancient accounts comment on the Spartan uniforms. The Sparatan uniforms were notable for both their unifomity and their strikig appearance. A bright red red tunic and cloak instantly identified the Spartan hoplites. Other features included the muscled breastplates, a cheek-plated helmet, and shin armor. The shields were essentilly a part of the uniform in that much of what opposing forces saw was the shield of the Phalanxa in a tight formation. The shields were of a uniform size and shape to add to the strength of the phalanx. The decoration, however, could vary. The men often decorated their shields with their family crest. Long hair was often part of the uniform look,but this varied over time and from city state to city state.


Romans Legions (3rd century BC-4th century AD)

The Roman legions during both the Republican and Imperial phase wore somwwhat although not entirely standardised uniform and personal armor. The concept of uniforms was not part of the Roman and most other ancient cultures. Here Sparta was an exception. Given this mindset and both the long history and geographic distances meant that there were substantial differences in detail. Clothing was important to the Roman soldier. One aspect to consider is that a Roman soldier spent a realtively shor part of their military careers in combat. Many were involved in engineering assignments. As a result of scupltures, wall painting, and writtem focuments, we know a great deal about Roman military uniforms. There are even some surviving textile fragments. Cloth garments consisted of a tunica, a cloak-like jacket, and a pair of very durable marching boots. A sarcina was worn over the shoulders to carry free weapons. The tunica was the primary garment. It was often dyed red, but undyed (off-white) wool was also common. Senior commanders were often destinguished with white cloaks and helmet plumes. The centurion who as aan officer made up the core of the legions were identified by transverse crests on their helmets as well as chest ornaments (comparable to modern medals) and long cudgels. Persional armor, primarily helmets ad breastplates, were much less sandardized and varied more over time. There were stae factories to rquip the men, but there were no central standards set. Thus the armor varied from province to province. And variation occurred because many legioneers handed down their armor to their sons. Armor was the most expesive item worn by legionaires. It was thus not discarded id still serviceable. Thus it was common to see legions with the men wearing a variety of armor.

Arab Warriors (7th-8th centuries AD)

Vikings (8th-11th century AD)

Vikings had no uniforms and no factories to manufacrure them. They wore what their wives and mothers wove and sewed or looted from raids. They thus wore what they had and the garments in which they believe looked good. Protective armor was important when raiding. This include a cap or helmnet if they had one. Contrary to the popular image, horns were rare. Swords, knives and axes were placed in various positions on their outfit to provide for their outfits for easy access. They also armed themselves with spears, bows and shields.

Mongols (13th-14th centuries AD)

The Mongols were one of many war-like which came from the vast steppes of central Asia. Led by Gengiss Kahn, they carved out the great land empire in history. Their adversaries commonly referred to them as the Mongol hordes, but they often defeated much larger armies because if their speed and mobility. The Mongols aquired weath by dominating trade routes. The Steppe Momgols did not have uniforms, but tghere clothong was made for battle. Their helmets included both metal and leather to cover the ears and the neck area. They herded livestock and made extensive use of animal leathers. They commonly made their outerwear out of protective leather which they treated with a lacquer to make it water proof and protect them from the elements. They had felt socks to keep them warm in the winter. They also had boots without heels. They commonly felt and wool to line the inside of their clothes. This was a comfortable way of protecting their skin from body armor which was often chain mail. They adapted belts and clothing to hold these weapons. Once they conquered China, they had access to vast wealth. Wealthy Mongols might wear silk underwear as protection from arrows, sometimes with poisoned tips.

Spanish Conquitadores (16th century)

Spanish Conquistadors not only achieved the Reconquista, feeing Spain fro Mulim rule, but them achieved amazing feats in the Americas against huge Native American armies. They were some of the most feared warriors of the 16th century. Conquistadores did not have standardized uniforms. They were not a national army, but more like private armies. Many conquistadores had very humble origins and often outfitted themslvs from what they could find on the bttlefield. They were paid by a share of the booty won. They commonly wore what we would call today long-sleeved shirts with a a doublet, and coverings for below the waist. Medieval styles were hose similar to modern tights which were worn with leather leggings. Gradually pants developed (17th century). Many Conquistadores fought dressed with leather and quilted cotton and jackets and pergaps a few pieces of armor. Only the more sucessful conquistadores had extensive body armor other than chain mail.

British Royal Navy

Uniforms for the British Royal Navy developed much later than army inoforms. Officers began wearing uniforms from an early stage. Ratings began wearing uniforms much later. It was not until the 19th century that standardized uniforms fir rathings began adopted by the Eotal Navy, but once adopted they became the standard for naval uniforms around the world.

French Napoleonic Army

Napoleon Bonaparte and his armies dominated Europe for more than a decade. And his armies were some the best oufitted and decorated in the history of warfare. French styles set army styles throughout Europe. Their uniforms could be elaborate, especially for the officers. Some might call them veritable works of art. Even so, they were worn on he battlefield. It was not just the officers. Some soldiers such as hussars also had elaborate uniforms. And bright colors wre used, in prt for battlefield recognition. Headwear included tricorns, bicorns, shakos, chapkas, helmets, bearskins, and peaked caps. The men wore outer garments including coats, undercoats and waist coasts. The infantry wearing an overcoat and the calvary needing freer motion wore a cloak. Napoleon seized control at the time that long pants were just beginning to replace knee breeches. Thus we see soldiers wearing trousers, breeches, and gaiters. The cavalry sometimes wearing overalls. The soldiers commonly had knapsacks and haversacks.

American Civil War (1861-65)

Both Federal and Condederate soldiers had similar uniforms, and the difference was not just the color. Federal soldiers at the beginning of the War wore a variety of uniforms although blue was the widely accepted color. Many regiments were raised by the states. And this meant they were often uniformed differently that the U.S, Army. Some regiments adopted destinvtive dress. Gradually a prescribed standard uniform emerged as the uniforms ordred by the War Department began to be widely worn. Federal infantry officers and enlisted soldiers would wear long, dark blue coats that would stop at the thigh area. Single-breasted coats were for low-ranking officers, and double-breasted coats were worn by high-ranking ones. Buttons were used to show rank and the exact rank was was displayed on shoulder. The Federal soldiers were almost always well uniformed. There were differences among Federal units. Federal soldiers were issued 'sackcoat'. Arsenal made coats were lined. Army Regulations called these 'recruit coats'. Many commercial contract blouses were unlined. Arsenal made blouses were typically made from 12 oz wool flannel, while contract blouses were made to the specifications given by the Army to the contractor at time of order. Army sutlers sold commercial grade blouses to soldiers who preferred not to take the Army issue clothing. Confederate uniforms were very different. They were more varied than Federal uniforms. Confederate officers had unifirms, mostly done in grey and which they provided themselves. Many Conderate soldiers infact fought without standard uniforms. TheSouthern states had cottin, but they did not have many mills producing garments. Nor did the Confederate Government have the money to buy uniforms for their men. Condererate soldiers wore their own clothes, often dyed in butter nut rather than grey. Footwear waa a very serious problem for the Confederates, especially after the first year of the war. Drummer boys in both armies were uniformed in standard enlisted uniforms. We note some period images of boys in uniform. Some of these are students at military schools rather than drummer boys. We have not yet assessed major fashion changes associated with the Civil War. We note that some boys' suits were styled like military uniforms such as Zouave uniforms. We note Zouave styled suits in the 1850s even before the War. There were both Federal and Confederate Zouaves such as Zouaves, based on a French North African style. .

German Army

Soviet Red Army


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Created: 11:45 PM 5/7/2013
Last updated: 11:45 PM 5/7/2013