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Western Federals in...Forage Caps?

Today I came across a Civil War photo I'd never seen before. It features at least 100 soldiers, in line standing ramrod straight at attention. None of the identities are known, except the photo is captioned as the 33rd Indiana Infantry. Studying the photo, one detail struck me about these men. Every man - or at least most of them - appear to be wearing forage caps.

I imagine many here know the forage cap. It's that floppy hat with the leather visor with the round, flat crown that angles maybe 30 or 40 degrees and has an expanding, accordion quality to it. I believe it descends from the tall, formal shako with the stiffener removed. And its name comes from the sport of foraging, or scrounging the countryside and using the hat as a basket to collect apples, eggs, or whatever goodies a soldier was lucky enough to find. I think when most people envision Civil War soldiers, they picture this cap.

But not for Western Federals.

Yankees of the Western armies are supposed to have distinguished themselves with a different headgear - some kind of wide-brimmed hat like the Hardee, or a slouch hat, or even a pork pie. Reenactors certainly know this when they're putting their impressions together. So is it possible the photo could be misidentified? Sure, as unfortunately some photos have been discovered as such. But let's just assume this isn't a mistake (and I'm not sure how to prove that is is an error). In any case, the 33rd Indiana served with the Armies of the Ohio and the Cumberland, and participated in the Tullahoma Campaign of June-July 1863, the Atlanta Campaigns of 1864, and the Campaign Against the Carolinas in early 1865. According to their entry in Dyer's Compendium, the 33rd lost close to 300 men in its service, including 180 by disease.

I can't tell what time during the war the photo was taken. Based on the size, is it early war? Or late in the war, when the men are about to muster out? I don't know, but it is very interesting to see that they stand in defiance to many who expect them to have worn different headgear than what they have on. Hats off to the Indianans.

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Scott Bumpus
Scott Bumpus
Dec 03, 2022

I can't tell much, but there seem to be a decent amount of short "state" jackets in the mix which might denote an earlier war picture where "caps" might have been more common.


Dec 01, 2022

Nothing really to back up my comment but I think you may be "confusing" the slouch hat/bummer hat headgear common with the Army of the Tennessee, especially in their March to the Sea, with the forage cap worn by the Army of the Cumberland.

But whatever headgear was more common, that is a very good pictorial find!


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