Uniform Study: A Boylan Contract Coat

The Quartermaster called them the "Infantry Uniform Coat". Soldiers referred to them as the "Dress Coat", "Frock Coat" or "The Sweat Box". All these terms refer to the official dress uniform of the Federal army during the Civil War. Hundreds of thousands of these coats were made and issued during the war by government arsenals and contractors throughout the north. One of these contractors was JB Boylan of Newark, RI. An extant Boylan coat is currently in the collection of the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

The coat exhibited no signs of being worn and was in fair condition. There are several modern repairs to hold the linings in place and keep the buttons secured, but otherwise there doesn't seem to be any major damage to the coat. The coat is an excellent example of a contract infantry uniform coat and is made from finely woven broadcloth. The coat has a 9 button front, a 6 piece body and a 2 piece sleeve.

While the coats straight seams and topstitching is done by machine, there is extensive handwork throughout the garment. The linings, buttonholes, collar, trim and facings are all set by hand. The time involved making this coat is extensive and it is truly one of the most detailed of all the Civil War garments.

The collar is 2" high in the front and 2 1/4" in the center rear. It also has hooks and eyes set into the seam for closures. The interfacing is attached to the collar by two parallel rows of stitching along the inside of the collar. There is also a wool collar tab on the inside of the collar which is 3.5" long.

The coat is only lined in the front panels and under the arm. It is lined with a wool alpaca that was originally black, but has oxidized to a greenish brown. All exposed seams have a 3/8" seam allowance. The chest is quilted with a zig-zag pattern and has a tapering facing piece.

The cuffs are trimmed with a light blue wool welt that runs in a chevron pattern which peaks at 4 3/4" and levels out at 3 3/8". It exhibits a functional cuff with a two button closure. The first button is 1 1/4" up and the second is 1 3/4" from the first. The cuff vent is 4" high. The sleeve is 23 inches long from the sleeve cap to the cuff.

There are no inside breast pockets as with most (not all) uniform coats, but there are the traditional two tail pockets. The tail pockets are brown polished cotton and the sleeves are lined with a light cotton sheeting. The 6" pocket opening is faced with wool and the pockets are 12" deep.

The skirt facings have hooks and eyes located 4 3/4" up from the hem inset into the facing. There is also a triangular piecing featured on the rear of the skirt which is 5" tall and 2" wide at the bottom. This piecing was primarily used when the contractors were using 27" wide yard goods and the skirt pattern was wider than the cloth. The skirt is 16" long and the facings are pieced in several places.

I'm not sure what the size the coat was originally issued as, but there is a "1/REMEASURE" marking on the sleeve which means it was reinspected at some point and found to be a size 1. Other markings in the sleeve are the makers mark; "JAMES B. Boylan/NEWARK, R.I." and an inspectors stamp "Wm. Phillips/U.S. INSPECTOR/NEW YORK"

William Phillips inspected clothing at the NY Depot for the entire War, from October 1861 until August 1865. There were two Boylan contractors, and I donít remember which is your mark. John Boylan delivered 2,000 infantry uniform coats to the NY Depot under an October 24, 1862 contract (for $7.00 each), his only contract for such coats during the War.  Under the name John Boylan & Co. he had two other contracts  that went to NY, 9.23.62 for 3,000 @ $6.80 and 10.08.62 for 2,000 @ $7.00. James B. Boylan had two contracts for inf uniform coats, but only one went to the NY Depot. 2.22.64 for 50,000 at $9.00 each.

If you have additional questions about this coat or frocks in general, please do not hesitate to ask. Top of page

I'd like to thank the staff at Gettysburg National Military Park for allowing us to use the photos in this article and to Fred Gaede for the contractor and inspector information.

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