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Thursday, 28 June 2018

Military Uniforms of the Nineteenth Century

One book that was in no danger of being 'culled' during the downsizing of my book collection was my copy of AN ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MILITARY UNIFORMS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.


Even a quick glance through this book is enough to make the reader aware that military fashion during the period from 1850 to 1900 was dominated by certain influences. Initially most troops wore updated versions of Napoleonic uniforms, although the coats were shorter and had lost their tails and trousers had become almost universal. The shakos of the Napoleonic era gradually became less elaborate and eventually evolved into the shorter kepi or were replaced by the leather helmet. The latter started off as being quite tall, but over time it also became shorter and evolved into the pickelhaube. The peaked cap also seemed to have been popular, especially with officers of certain armies.

The colour of infantry uniforms also tended towards predominately blue jackets (there were some notable exceptions to this!) and dark-coloured trousers (again with some notable exceptions), sometimes worn tucked into boots and sometimes into gaiters worn with short boots. The trousers tended to follow civilian fashion and varied between tight to very baggy.

Towards the end of the period the growing number of colonial wars being fought by the European powers saw the introduction of predominately dust-coloured field uniforms, often worn with some form of light-weight cork helmet or wideawake hat.

So, what does this mean for the wargamer who – like me – likes to get lots of use out of the figures they have in their collection and who isn't too bothered about absolute uniform accuracy?

What it means is that with a little judicial buying of certain generic figures that are then painted in basic uniforms, several different armies can be represented on the tabletop using the same figures. For example, a Union infantry man in kepi, dark blue jacket and light blue trousers can make a passable Danish infantryman for the Second Schleswig War or a Greek infantryman from the First Balkan War. Likewise, a Confederate infantryman in a butternut-coloured uniform and slouch hat can easily pass as a Boer, and one in an all-grey uniform and kepi looks very similar to a British rifle volunteer of the 1880s.

One of the less obviously generic uniforms worn during the period was the Zouave-style uniform, which was first copied by the French and then by the Americans. It became the uniform worn by the Ottoman infantry until they adopted the ubiquitous brown uniform of the latter part of the era … and it was even adopted by the West Indian Regiment of the British Army.

Now I know that there are some wargamers who might read the above and want to shout at their computer or tablet screen that I am some sort of heretic who should not be allowed near ‘proper’ wargamers and wargames … but frankly, I don’t care. Let them enjoy the hobby their way, and I’ll enjoy it my way … and I suspect that is a view that is shared by quite a few of my regular blog readers.

AN ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MILITARY UNIFORMS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY was written by Digby Smith, Jeremy Black, and Kevin F. Kiley, and published in 2009 by Lorenz Books (ISBN 978 0 7548 1901 1).

32 comments:

  1. Great book and one worth keeping. As for multipurpose, generic uniforms, sometimes “close enough” is close enough!

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    1. Jonathan Freitag,

      Some iof the other books in this series are also very good.

      I've always been an advocate of using genetic figures wherever and whenever possible, and as long as the end result is acceptable and doesn't jar when seen on the tabletop, I can live with it.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. The principle is sound. Military fashions do tend to spread in 'fads' like civilian ones do.

    I might differ about details such as "dark coloured" trousers given the popularity of light blue pants in the Austrian, Danish, American, various German states etc and of Red in French and Spanish though it does hold for British and Prussians, but the principles hold.

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    1. Ross Mac,

      You are right about the trouser colours ... but I couldn't think of a way of mentioning all the possible variations when I wrote the blog entry.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Replies
    1. Tim Gow,

      It is ... and I am very pleased that I bought it.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. Bob,
    Good reference to keep...unfortunately I traded a uniform book that covered everything from 7Yrs war right up to the 1980s- regret this greatly. Yes, I can recall changing my ESCI 1/72nd Zulu War British into Colonials Germans and Italians - just with a color change. I'll be working on a Fictional uniform shortly and I only have myself to please in this regard. Cheers. KEV.

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    1. Kev Robertson,

      I've tried to keep all my uniform reference books ... just in case!

      Designing imagi-nation uniforms can be a very rewarding task, and I look forward to reading and seeing yours when they are finished.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. Well said! I have always thought wargaming was one of the most personal of hobbies and how each of us wishes to represent our armies is strictly our own affair!

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    1. David Bradley,

      Hurrah! Its nice to know that I am not alone in thinking this way ... or should the be 'a loon'?

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. I have long though that a generic and whimscal 30mm force made up of Napoleonic and later 19th century (Spencer Smith?) figures in various uniforms and headgear would be terrific. There just needs to be a bit more time and a bit more money in the ol' warchest to do it. Then, there is the matter of finishing the 18th century Minden figures already here. Still, a guy can dream, right?

    Best Regards,

    Stokes

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    1. Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke (Stokes),

      It sounds like an excellent long-term plan ... and one that I hope you start once your current project is finished.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  7. A great book and an essential on the shelves. The interweb is good for pictures but nothing quite beats a real book.

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    1. Lee Hadley,

      Books have an aesthetic appeal that my computer or tablet do not - and never will - have. I just wish that there weren't quite so many good books out there!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  8. I have some favorite wars I have researched in detail for uniform accuracy - for example the ACW. Then when I want to dabble in another war I'll make particular units accurate for that war and supplement with ACW to fill out the rest. Then again, I'll do totally fictitious countries and wars and use whatever I want but then having some custom made 'accurate' uniforms for those invented countries!

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    1. James James,

      Interesting. When I start out wargaming the ACW, there were all sorts of odd-looking units being fielded by some wargamers. I well remember facing a brigade-size unit of 'Rush's Lancers' that had been converted from ordinary Airfix US Cavalry figures. The uniforms were accurate, even if the number of soldiers in the unit was not!

      One of the joys of imagi-nations is designing the uniforms the troops will wear.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  9. An important reference for the era, and indeed the essential components of many uniforms do lend themselves to multi-use figures: play on!

    Might I recommend a good companion volume, Farwell's Encyclopedia of 19th Century Land Warfare

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    1. Ed M,

      Well said! I have a copy of Farwell's book on my shelves, and frequently look at when I need some inspirations.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  10. Totally with you Bob on the use of figures with 'inaccurate' uniforms. At tabletop distance I find it hard to tell uniforms apart anyway. Setting aside flags, the biggest determinant for me is the shape of the hat, then the coat colour. Anything else just gets lost.

    It's a good use of space and resources, and is the 2nd R of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. So you're saving the planet too ;-)

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    1. Nundanket,

      One of the most annoying things that can happen when one is wargaming is having an 'expert' pick up your figures, look at them at a distance of a couple of inches, and then hear them say 'Those facings aren't quite the right shade of ...'.

      Who cares? That sort of detail isn't noticeable on the tabletop. As you state, what does stand out is hat shape, jacket colour, and possibly the colour of the trousers being worn. Nothing else really matters.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  11. Heresy!......Nah, not really. I chose figures in greatcoats for my 1830s Imaginations set up. It helps that they are 6km too.

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    1. Barry Carter,

      Greatcoats can cover a lot of things, and soldiers in the field wore them almost all year round.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Barry carter,

      When I first read you original comment my first thought was ... 'how big a brush does he use'?

      All the best,

      Bob

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  12. The "curse of the expert" really gets to me, too. After attempting to do correct uniforms, some goober comes by to criticize some pretty detail anyway! If the "expert" happens to be a player in the game, I do have a sure-fire remedy, however: I simply advise him the troops have become aware of their commander's disdain for how they are dressed, and they have deserted the cause--i.e., they leave the table and go back into the box. Works every time. :)

    Best regards,

    Chris

    P.S. I just bought your latest book and am awaiting delivery!!

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    1. Chris,

      I seem to remember that the RAF refer to experts as 'ex' (no longer) 'spurts' (drips under pressure).

      What makes an expert? In the case of most wargamers I have met, it's someone who once read an Osprey book on the subject! I know quite a bit about the Spanish Civil War ... but at one wargames show I was subjected to a long diatribe from an 'expert' who was very dismissive about the uniforms worn by the figures being used in a SCW wargame that was being staged ... and cited my book as his source. He had no idea who I was, and when I gently tried to correct him, he told me that I ought to do a lot more research before challenging his opinion!

      I like your idea for penalising players who get too big for their boots! A real case of the punishment fitting the crime.

      All the best,

      Bob

      PS. I hope that you enjoy the book when it is delivered.

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    2. Splendid remedy for button counters, Chris! Well played!

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    3. Jonathan Freitag,

      It certainly beats telling someone to 'go forth and multiply'!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  13. "Let them enjoy the hobby their way, and I’ll enjoy it my way … and I suspect that is a view that is shared by quite a few of my regular blog readers."

    Quite right! Apparently like many others here, I have that book, too. I use references like that for inspiration, not for "button-counting" or niggling details. Some people do get joy out of exacting detail and that's great for them. For myself, I've always leaned much more towards "Hollywood- inspired" gaming than historical accuracy. Although I do enjoy reading history, when I play a game my focus is more on a good "story". But then I am more of a fantasy and sci-fi fan/gamer, so who am I to talk. ha ha

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    1. Fitz-Badger,

      All the best wargames I have ever taken part in were ones where the 'story' was the driving force behind events on the tabletop ... and long may that continue.

      Hollywood wargaming? Nothing wrong with that! I know of one wargamer who has a so-called 'Hollywood' panzer division. The vehicles are all US vehicles painted in German panzer grey and covered with Balkan crosses.

      All the best,

      Bob

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