Uniform Study: Officer's Capes
by Christopher Daley
capes in the 21st Century are limited to superheroes, in the
19th Century they were a common part of men's civilian
clothing. This fashion translated to the military wear for
officers when the war broke in 1861. Clothiers such as Tiffany
and Co, and Brooks Brothers offered capes to their customers
marching off to war.
In August of 1861
the U.S. Army ordered 10,000 complete suits of French Chasseur
[light infantry] uniforms. Originally intended to be the
uniform of the entire Union Army, the Chasseur uniform would
initially be issued to the division of General Fitz-John
Porter. Competitions within the division were used to
determine which regiments would receive the new uniform. The
winning units were the 62nd PA, 83rd PA, 18th MA, 49th NY and
72nd NY. All of these units were issued the new uniforms. Part
of the uniform included a hooded talma/cloak for the
enlistedmen and a cape for the officers. The enlisted talma
can be seen in Echoes of Glory. Recently a
private collector in NY showed me a single breasted officer
frock and cape that came from Porter's Division. Below are
some of the details of that cape.
MATERIAL: The cape itself was made from blue-grey kersey. The
collar was made from a black cotton velvet and was lined in
the shoulders with a black silk. Both the collar and lining
have now turned green/brown from age.
MATERIAL: French kersey which compared favorably to swatch
samples of English army cloth currently available from Family
Heirloom Weavers. The silk will be woven to meet the original
thread count and the collar will be cut from 100% cotton
The original buttons are 1/2" French pewter buttons and have
an eagle with thirteen starts in an arch at the top.
BUTTONS: We are unable to find any suitable reproduction
buttons to match the original so the reproductions will have
cuff sized Eagle "I" buttons.
PATTERN: The body
of the cape has four panels and has a two piece collar. It is
pieced in several places and is 38" down the center back seam
and 30" along the front facing. We've drafted a pattern from
the original cape and will reproduce the cape in one size that
will work for our 21st Century body types.
The cape was assembled with a mixture of machine and hand
sewing. The topstitching down the front and the inside
straight seams are done by machine, but the lining and collar
are set in by hand. All the construction features of the
reproduction will mimic the original garment. The thread
count, types of stitches, thread color and even the size of
thread will be an identical clone of the original.
NOTE: The cape may
be identified with some detective work. The cape and an
officer's frock coat belonged to a Lieutenant in one of the
four units mentioned above. There was a hook and eye on the
left arm indicating that he had lost his arm at some point.
His shoulder boards were black so he was probably on staff. If
someone could check (hint, hint) the 49th and 72nd NY or the
83rd ot 72nd PA pension records for a one armed adjutant in
these units, then it may clue us into his identity.