2d Wisconsin Gray Uniforms

The Grey Uniforms of the 2d Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

Gary Van Kauwenbergh

Have you ever been asked what the gray uniforms worn by the 2d Wisconsin looked like?  The answer to that question depends on which gray uniform you’re talking about.  Some soldiers in the 2d Wisconsin could have worn as many as three different gray uniforms by the time they fought their first battle at Bull’s Run.  Their first gray uniform may have been a hometown militia uniform, the second, a State-issued wool uniform, and the third, another state-issued one made of cotton.

Note: For links to all published photos of 2d WIsconsin soldiers, go to the bottom their teams web page at: http://acwsanew.acwsa.org/?page_id=450

Hometown Militia Uniforms.

Each town that recruited a company sent their soldiers off in various stages of dress, with as much uniform and equipment, as time and budget allowed.  Not one company looked like another.  Here’s what each hometown’s militia uniform looked like:

Co. A – Citizens Guard (Fox Lake): Arrived at Camp Randall with two thirds of the men wearing gray suits, trimmed with red, having red epaulets, and blue caps similar to 7th NY Regt.  See the picture of Wm H. Harries in Gaff’s “If This is War”

Co. B – La Crosse Light Guard: Gray coats and pants trimmed with black, dark blue caps. Glazed linen havelocks.

Co. C – Grant County Grays: Arrive at Camp Randall unequipped

Co. D – Janesville Volunteers: Arrive at Camp Randall in civilian clothes.  Janesville later contracted with a manufacturer for 78  uniforms that had coats and pants made of gray cloth “in the regulation pattern.”  Ladies of Janesville made the men shirts, and various Janesville shops supplied shoes.

Co. E – Oshkosh Volunteers: Arrived at Camp Randall with no equipment or arms

Co. F – Belle City Rifles (Racine): Arrive at Camp Randall without arms or uniforms.  The uniforms components they later received were made of various shades of gray, and did not make for a uniform appearance.

Co. G – Portage Light Guard:   Dark gray coats, caps of the same material, black pantaloons, all trimmed with red.  Every man received a havelock, sewn by the ladies of Portage.

Co. H – Randall Guards: Gray cap, coat, and pants with black stripe on pants and black cloth buttons on coat.

Co. I – Miner’s Guard (Iowa County): Arrive wearing matching gray pants with a narrow stripe.

Co. K* – Wisconsin Rifles (Milwaukee): Arrived at Camp Randall wearing dark pants and red shirts.

* Note:  Co. K, The Wisconsin Rifles, replaced the Beloit Cadet Rifles (Rock County) when they did not change their enlistment from 90 days to 3 years in May 1861.  The Beloit Cadet Rifles arrived at Camp Randall wearing gray woolen shirts, but were later uniformed in dark gray pants with black stripes, red shirts, gray frocks with nine ‘lasting’ black buttons, and 7th New York Regiment styled gray caps.

The First State-Issued, ‘Bull’s Run’ Gray Uniform

This is the uniform the 2d Wisconsin Regiment wore at the battle of Bull’s Run.  Even though the weather was oppressively hot and they had a newer and lighter cotton uniform available, the unit leaders still chose to go into battle wearing this wool uniform.  Presumably because the nights were still cold and this uniform was more durable.

It was made of strong, coarse, gray, all-wool, broadcloth manufactured in Dane county. The entire coat is handmade, and is a single-breasted frock style of gray wool, with nine evenly–spaced, domed buttons bearing the State emblem adorning the chest and two more buttons sewn at the rear waist in the rear.  Black ribbon chevrons are set one inch away from the seams of the sleeves designate the wearer’s rank. The soldiers did not care for the “ungainly” shako-styled caps that came with the uniforms, and quickly learned that removing the stiffening turned them into a respectable forage cap.

Frederick Lythson, and perhaps Asa Griswold, are pictured wearing this uniform in Gaff’s “If this is War”.  The Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum has the uniform of this style that was worn by Corporal Milton Ewen of Fond du Lac. The museum also has Lucius Fairchild’s officers uniform that was made to match this issue.

The Second State-Issued, ‘Ragged-Assed’ Gray Uniform

This uniform earned the regiment “the Ragged-Assed Second” nickname.  After the battle of Bull’s Run, the first state-issued wool uniforms were in such disrepair, the unit reverted to wearing this uniform.  The uniform was made of cottonade in the roundabout pattern, and the gray color was a little darker than the first issued uniform.  The trousers had red stripes on the seams and the short jackets had red mountings.

These uniforms were issued to the regiment on July 5 at Camp Peck, and unfortunately, the lighter cotton material was not as durable as it needed to be. Just 18 days later on July 23, as President Lincoln circled the rear of the formation during a review of the troops, the unit was given an “About Face” to prevent him from seeing the men’s backsides through their worn-out pants.  Replacement uniforms, were obtained as soon as possible, but that’s another story for a different time.


If This Is War, Alan D. Gaff

Parade Ground Soldier, Phillip Langellier