“Boots and Saddles” has Sounded…Second Semester is Upon Us

“Boots and Saddles” was the bugle call which was sounded to tell  cavalrymen during the American Civil War that it was time to saddle up and get ready to move out. I find this to be quite appropriate for our situation in Research Methods, as we are saddling up for another semester.

My name is Kevin Dawson, but my friends call me “Tiny.” I am a first year MA student at Virginia Tech. I have been a student of history for as long as I can remember. It actually started around the time I was four years old, with my discovery of a photograph of my great uncle who had been killed in World War II. I was hooked on history from then on. I became a Civil War reenactor/living historian when I was ten years old,  to experience some of the same things that I read about in many of the Civil War books that I kept my nose buried in.  From that time forward, I have been a student of history and have had a lot of interest in the American Civil War, the “Great War”, and World War II. I also have a great interest in the United States Life Saving Service, the forerunners to the modern day United States Coast Guard. I have a wide variety of interests, that it is very difficult to decide on a particular one to write about, however, my first experience with learning about history was with my dad and our passion for the American Civil War.

For this reason, I am interested in researching the probable myth of the “ragged Rebel.” This research would be on the Confederate Quartermaster Supply System, (Post “Commutation Period,”) 1862-1865. This would include a survey of uniforms and equipment used in the field by the Army of Northern Virginia. The research will openly examine the present historiography, as well as build upon it to perhaps dispel the myth of the “Ragged Rebel.” The established popular memory is one that soldiers who fought for the Confederacy were clothed in tattered uniforms, went barefoot, and faced the problem of a dwindling supply of uniforms, arms, and equipment, as the war drug out, is something that scholars, historians, and history buffs alike, have been led to believe over the last century and a half.

Some of the sources I plan to utilize are surviving Quartermaster depot records which help to paint a picture of what the average Confederate soldier was wearing and fighting with throughout the four years of conflict, in which over 750,000 died. This research will use original photographs, period sketches, and various first – person, eyewitness accounts, as well as post war “remembrances” of the veterans themselves.

This topic is oft overlooked as it deals with studying photographs of Confederate soldiers killed in action. This is not meant to be morbid, yet this project is meant to glean as much information on the subject. For many years, I have been staring at the same pictures that everybody sees in the thousands of books on the Civil War. I used these photos to continuously try to improve my overall knowledge of the common Confederate soldier. However, through many years of reading diaries, letters, quartermaster reports and any number of other primary sources, I came to realize that the generic “Johnny Reb” fighting in the ANV, had a different appearance which changed throughout the war. Another factor to consider is the time of year, and specifically which year, and or battle that they were fighting in, (i.e. Longstreet’s ANV men fighting in the western theater in the fall/winter of 1863.)

I began noticing the little details in various photographs, from the way that the canteens were worn, whether they were wearing a bedroll or a knapsack, how they wore their accoutrements, etc. I also have read, like many others, that the Confederate army became more ragged as the war drew to a close. If you look closely at these primary source photographs, period paintings, and period sketches, I find that you begin to see a pattern emerge, which shows Confederate soldiers (in many cases,) actually looking better uniformed and more well-equipped later in the war. I began to question how this was possible and upon further investigation, discovered that the Confederate States of America were successfully establishing quartermaster depots throughout the South. The Confederacy was receiving uniforms, wool broadcloth, arms, equipment, and ammunition through the Union blockade, even as late as early spring of 1865. The blockade became more effective as the war progressed, but it was not foolproof, which allowed many Confederate blockade-runners to bring supplies in and take raw materials and goods out.

For the study of period photographs and sketches, I will examine the Library of Congress’ collection of photographs and prints. The selection of pictures located there is very clear and have been digitized for easy access, as well as clarity through a high-resolution process. One can find these pictures in books and such, but the clarity is not the same as in the digitized pictures. Many of the photographs contain very graphic, gruesome images of death, and this research is in no way any attempt to glorify war, or to show any disrespect towards those men that laid down their lives for their beliefs. This source will help research, analyze, and document the progression of uniforms, equipment and gear worn by the common Confederate soldier from the ANV, 1861-1865.

I firmly believe that the scholarly contribution of this research, will allow current and future generations of historians to get a better, and truer picture of what the average Confederate soldier looked like during the war years from 1861 – 1865. If my findings prove this to be the case, that Confederate soldiers were better equipped later in the war, then the myth of the “Ragged Rebel” can be confirmed as part of the post – war perpetuation of the “Lost cause.”

I hope to use this blog to record my thoughts, ideas, and drafts along my path towards my research project or thesis. I also welcome any input or suggestions from people who read this blog, so that I may have a source of information from which to draw along the way. It is always good to get suggestions from others, from a different point of view, as I firmly believe that one can get too close to the writing and therefore can lose focus on the end project, I hope not to do that and again, welcome any ideas. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from many of you.



One thought on ““Boots and Saddles” has Sounded…Second Semester is Upon Us”

  1. Makes me think of Tom Seabrook’s thesis on VA memorials. Did he find “ragged rebel” imagery in the monuments? If it is a “lost cause” myth–what purpose did it serve? I see lots of interesting directions for what could be a fascinating cultural history of southern mythmaking!

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