Black or Brown? What is the correct color for tail pockets
©2004 NJ Sekela
A question was raised regarding the color of pocketing and the presence of black in reproductions. There is the widely held justification that the brown that people find on original dress coats was originally black. This position was first presented to me by Robert Huntoon, when I first was seeking information from the judges of the Robert L. Miller Award. The Quartermaster Manual calls for black alpaca serge to be used in the breast lining, however, on originals, one finds a greenish brown color. It is pretty much concluded that the breast lining had changed colors over the years. Therefore, if the breast lining changed color, then the pocketing was also presumed to change color.
Below is a picture showing the interior of a late war issue Federal frock coat, which is in my collection. It was cut into a pseudo tail coat at a theatrical costume house. The interior components are there, but the pockets have been cut. This clearly shows the alpaca in the chest turning to a greenish color and the tail pockets having a chocolate brown color.
It was found that very similiar, if not identical material was found to line the interior of forage caps, as was used in the tail pockets of frock coats. This material is mentioned in the 1865 Quartermaster manual as silesia, and it states:
Forage Caps:-are of 6 sizes, the bodies to be made of dark blue forage cap, or facing cloth. A cap of medium size is 15 inches in circumference at base, height in front 4 3/8 inches; in rear, measured from base to crown on a curved line, 5 3/4 inches; diameter of crown, 5 inches.
This manuscript, which was written in the 1864-65 period, is actually describing what is called today a "type I" style forage cap, which is surprising considering that it is widely held to be the earlier of the two types.
It also goes on to describe:
"...and the cap lined througout, inside, with good black silesia".
IN checking the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, section III, shows that in fiscal year ending 1865,
16,573 yards Black Alpaca(at a cost of $8,452.35)
88,992 yards of black silesia (at a cost of $26,895.02).
For the course of the war, the amounts of Alpaca purchased was:
Philadelphia 197,873 yards
New York 19,000 yards
New York 139,700
The point is that much more silesia was purchased, because the same material is found in cap linings, as is used in the pocketing of dress coats. What is more, the OR's clearly give amounts for black alpaca and black silesia.
Below is a identified so called "type II" JJ&IP contract cap, identified to a Massachusetts soldier.
This image shows a side by side view of the pocketing and lining of the federal forage cap, clearly showing the similiarity
In addition, if one examines original trousers, the linings for the front fly is of a very similiar fabric to that of the pocketing of enlisted frock coats. Again, checking the Quartermaster's Manual, it calls for "1 1/2 inches of black or dark 4-4 muslin". The thread has been proven to have changed color, but it is very difficult to difinitively state if the same holds true for the pocketing.
I had the good fortune of running accross the following contract proposal in the National Archives, from the firm of Slade and Smith, clearly showing and specifying brown, for what they called their "cold rolled drills". This was taken before the days of digital photography, so lamentably, they are only photocopies. The fabric was the same as one finds in the pocketing of dress coats.
While this is a good justification for the basis of black tail pockets, one cannot turn their back on the existence of brown lining materials. You will note the following request from Col. Crosmann of Schuylkyl Arsenal, BOTH brown and black linings.When Jerry Coates' article Brown Thread, a Civil War Myth came out, it irrefutably documented that the thread was originally blue and black. Everything at that point was called into question, and it got to be an unwritten rule. It would not have surprised me if someone had tried to assert that John Brown, was originally John Black.