Authentic Attire & the “Non-Hollywood” Military Alias

Written By
Captain David P. Barrett, SASS #20268L

As First Published in the April 2003 Issue of the Cowboy Chronicle

     Given SASS is NOT NCOWS, nor NSSA, great opportunity exists for those with whom the costuming requirement means more than just jeans, a shirt, some boots and a hat. This is NOT a rambling diatribe against the barest of clothing minimums nor an exalted backslap for “from the skin out” authenticity. I HEARTILY APPLAUD all Cowpokes for exercising your Second Amendment Rights at a time when even owning a firearm may be looked down upon by neighbors, friends, sometimes family. What Cowpokes of both genders “avail” themselves to a few times a month is amazing, but that is why they are here in the first place! But for those with the desire, the “non-Hollywood” Military Alias can experience another plateau of satisfaction and pride by truly connecting with the Soldiers of Old on very real, historical level.

     To begin achieving historical accuracy, one must become well versed with how the Military attired both Enlisted and Officer. Paraphrasing an old adage, Research, Research, Research using all available venues to confirm findings. On the Internet, find pictures of soldiers in uniform, relaxing after hours, on duty in garrison, on campaign and on parade. Peruse the Civil War, Indian War and Spanish-American War sections of eBay. Borrow a library book or buy a few good ones from a sutler. Keep profuse notes and cross-reference to verify everything. Repro copies of Uniform Regulations make good “private time” reading. Dog-eared pages and bookmarks become second nature, so once all is under control, the fun REALLY begins.

     Since SASS encompasses a large time span, one must consider exactly what period to emulate? While approaching things with a Post-bellum Yankee viewpoint, in a nutshell, there are three “eras” to consider: the Civil War Era of 1858 to 1871, the Early Indian War Era of 1872 to 1880 and the Late Indian War Era of 1881 to 1902. These eras, “created” by circumstance, political and budgetary decisions and evolving manufacturing technology, clearly delineate the styles and types of uniforms worn. Additionally, world events, such as the Franco-Prussian War and France’s support of the Confederacy, changed Army thinking from French influences in uniform and weaponry to Prussian ones. Indeed, while in Paris in 1878, Major Anson Mills, of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry Regiment, almost sparked a riot just by wearing his Model 1872 Full Dress Uniform with the new German-influenced Dress Helmet. Branch assignment and duties also determined the uniform worn, especially while on the Parade Ground. Each branch had its own traditional color, but Infantry and Cavalry colors were changed due to the Western sun’s effects on the period’s poor quality clothing dyes. And while ensuring Enlisted troops complied, Officers often strayed widely from regulations on campaign, but stayed strictly within them in garrison. So, in the interests of completeness, the table below details the Branch Colors used during all three eras:

Branch Color Dates Used
Infantry Light Sky Blue 1858 - 1884

White 1885 - 1902

Cavalry Lemon Yellow Until 1887

Orange-Yellow 1887 - 1902

Artillery Scarlet

Staff Officers Dark Sky Blue

Signal Corps Orange Until 1891

Black with White Piping 1891 - 1902

Commissary Gray with White Piping

Engineer Scarlet with White Piping

Ordnance Crimson with White Piping

Quartermaster Buff with White Piping

Medical Emerald Green

Indian Scouts White with Scarlet Piping

     Once ready, one must investigate prior to initial purchases into a sutler’s quality and accuracy levels. Today’s sutler works with today’s technology and production techniques; hence sutlers may alter items to make them better suited for cost-effective reproduction. Also note a Soldier of old paid a lot more in terms of real buying power than we do today. Example: from the 1895 Raymold Military Uniforms and Equipments catalog, a Foot Officer, say a Second Lieutenant with the Inspector General branch, bought one complete set of all Full Dress and Undress Uniform items with the highest quality, the cost was $223.50. With a simple interest inflation rate of 3.25% over 107 years, that equates to $6,847.22, quite a tidy little sum indeed, so today’s Cowpokes actually get quite a bargain with whatever they buy.

     Now we come to the real nitty-gritty: how authentic does one wish to be? While NOT suggesting anyone give up air conditioning, indoor plumbing, running water and electricity in any way, shape or form, what I recommend for those choosing 100% military authenticity is to just do the very best they can to be as accurate as humanly possible. Why? Military Aliases are arguably the most singularly visible Cowpoke at matches the moment they step on the ground simply because folks “know” what a Soldier looks like. While hoping NOT to ignite a “flame war,” I clearly did NOT state the Military Alias is “superior” than any other type. It is just the Soldier has a lot more pre-held notions to “live up to.” Soldiers of old were photographed more than the average person because the Government is good at recording daily events for posterity, so more photographic evidence exists of an ordinary soldier’s life, whether in garrison or on campaign, that forms a quite handy reference to verify things. Now try tying all that in with 1940s and 1950s movies and television shows depicting a stylized version of the West and one can easily get confused. Additionally, with today’s entertainment arenas, Hollywood tries to be more authentic, but failures occur, since bottom line profit emphasizes “the story” drawing folks into the Cineplex over accuracy.

     The “non-Hollywood” Military Alias is often the most expensive costuming route. It is a path many do not take and even fewer even desire to. But for those who do, joining a glorious brotherhood, devoted to preserving the traditions of Liberty and Freedom, can help span the years between the Soldiers of Old and those of Today.