Camp Randall Quartermaster
Federal Sack Coats
I ORIGINALLY chose to study Civil War sack coats back in the 1970's. Originally, I chose to make the J.T. Martin contract sack coats, after 45+ years of extensive research of original sack coats. The John T. Martin contract was an obvious choice because the coat was issued in both theatres of the war. J. T. Martin was the largest contractor for the Federal government, with plants in New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati and St. Louis. (NOTE: Martin and Brothers was in the commercial clothing business before the start of the Civil War, so naturally the government went to them right away for uniforms as they were all ready set to produce. Their first contract was on July 26,1861 by Major D.H. Vinton, Quartermaster for the New York City Depot for 3,300 infantry uniform jackets. On August 19, 1861, Major Vinton again contracted Martin and Brothers for 20,000 infantry overcoats and 4000 infantry trousers. JT Martin was also contracted by the Federal government for the following orders: August 26, 1862 - 50,000 flannel sack coats (lined), September 18, 1862-75,000 flannel sack coats (lined), Nov. 11, 1862 50,000 flannel sack coats (lined), February 22, 1864- 25,000 flannel sack coats (unlined), 60,000 flannel sack coats (lined), August 12, 1864 - 50,000 flannel sack coats (lined), and March 15, 1864 -50,000 flannel sack coats (lined).
In retrospect, John T. Martin was among the most prominent contractors to the Federal Quarter Master Department during the Civil War. He had a wide variety of goods under his name, beginning in August of 1862 and going through January of 1865. (As Martin & Bro., he had contracts as early as July of 1861. The exact composition of that partnership is still basically unknown, but their contracts coincidentally cease when J.T. Martin's begin.)
John T. Martin's 72 contracts included 800,000 infantry trousers and an additional 230,000 trousers for mounted soldiers, 1,200,000 white and grey flannel shirts, 320,000 infantry great coats and 125,000 great coats for mounted soldiers, and finally 1,060,000 wool flannel sack coats!
When I decided to reproduce the J. T. Martin sack coat 35 years ago few had even heard of a contract coat and no one I knew of was even interested in reproducing one. Contrary to general and even authentic reenacting belief, the overwhelming majority of Civil War uniforms were not tailored to perfection. The majority (which surprisingly includes uniform ("frock") coats as well as shell jackets and great coats) were made in such a rush that the general construction of them left something to be desired in the workmanship at the very least. The original Civil War Federal uniforms in my collection, which include a sack coat, two uniform (frock) coats, two cavalry shell jackets, two artillery shell jackets and a great coat all show this lack of sewing "perfection". My reproduction coats are purposely manufactured to match the "hastily made" appearance of original sack coats. They are made like the originals. You can compare the construction of the original J.T. Martin sack coat in a private collection on my "compare with the originals" link with my replica of that coat.
NOTE: I did study coats from Schuylkill Arsenal, Cincinnati and St.Louis Arsenals and offer those coats also!
Some sub-standard reproduction garments on the market today exhibit some of the following inaccuracies. (This is not an exhaustive list by any means):
1. Some "cookie cutter" sack coats available on the market today appear to be done by a professional tailor or even worse they exhibit hand sewing that attempts to show hasty construction by means of gigantic spacing between stitches. While stitches per inch did vary on original coats the trait usually exhibited was a "meandering" of stitching. The stitches per inch remained within a close tolerance.
2. The "REMEASURE" Stamp
In 1866 and 1867 the military embarked on an endeavor to re-check the sizes of their clothing stockpiles left over from the Civil War. Those uniforms that were checked and found to be sized inaccurately were stamped with a black "REMEASURE" stamp (and restamped with a new and correct size stamp, number one through four) .Unfortunately some modern day makers of Civil War Reproduction Uniforms use and charge for using the "REMEASURE" stamp in their reproduction uniforms. No uniforms worn, manufactured or inspected from 1862 - 1865 bore a "REMEASURE" stamp! If you have that in your uniform, you be basically in the regular army of the Unite States, stationed out west fighting Indians, not fighting Confederates during The American Civil War.
Source - Robert Huntoon. Information accompanying Past Patterns # 710 Federal Issue Trousers [Schuykill Arsenal] 1851-1876, and Mr. William Brewster, Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
3. A button hole sewing machine did exist during the Civil War period, but it was mainly used for civilan clothing. Some uniform makers offer machine sewn button holes using this type of machine. Civil War uniforms with machine sewn button holes would be VERY VERY RARE. The exception, rather than the norm so to speak! The odds of an individual enlisted man being issued any part of a uniform with machine sewn button holes was 0 %).
Most original sack coats were made 5 -5 1/2 oz. Indigo dyed wool flannel that shows an obvious diagonal weave. The vast majorities of sack coats were made in four sizes and most were lined with approximately 5oz. wool in the body and muslin in the sleeves.
NOTE: Most Civil War sack coats were sewn with logwood dyed linen thread. The original color was dark blue, but changed to a brownish color very quickly. In Ann E. Cordy's, Investigation of Thread Color Change in American Civil War Uniforms, (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Maryland), she states that in an experiment "the logwood colour thread turned brown within ten hours of artificial aging with light versus no colour change for the Prussian and indigo with over 200 hours".
An article in Scientific American, August 24, 1861 also substantiates this color change:
STABLE AND CHANGEABLE COLOURS - FRAUDS
A regiment belonging to this city (of Washington, D.C.) lately returned after three months' service, and the blue coats of all the companies but one seemed to be as bright as they were on the day the men left. The exceptional company had not been in service over eighteen weeks, as it was a reserve raised after the body of the regiment had gone to Washington; and all coats of this company were entirely new deep rich blue color, but they had become a dirty drab color on the shoulder and all parts that had been exposed to sun light. This cloth had been colored with logwood instead of indigo, and it was a fraud, as logwood can be applied for one-fourth the cost of indigo at the very most. Such frauds should be traced to their source and the guilty parties disgorged.
1. Correct pattern of a Federal issued sack coat.
2. Coat made out of 5 oz. indigo blue wool flannel
3. Correct lining and construction of a Federal Sack coat
4. Correct maker and inspector stamps
5. Hand sewn sleeve linings for a J.T. Martin sack coat
6. Hand sewn button holes.
7. Correct Federal eagle buttons (Jim Kindred, Military Warehouse)
8. Finally, the appearance of a hastily mass-produced uniform simulating an issued sack coat of the Civil War.
(I would like to give thanks to Mr.Paul McKee, Mr.Brian Baird, Mr. Ken Smith, Mr.William Brewster , Mr.David Jurgella, Mr. Robert McAfee of West Point Nation Military Academy Museum, and a special thanks goes to Mr. Don Kloster and Mr. Dan Stanton of the Smithsonian Institution for their help with research on original sack coats).
NOTE: I make "Fatigue" Sack Coats from NOT ONLY J.T. Martin, BUT, Skuylkill, Cinncinatti & St Louis Arsenals!!!