One of Forrest’s Enlisted Men’s Jacket


Description and Photograph




    The style of the “Short” or “Shell Jacket” shown here was the most widely made and distributed Confederate coat made during the War Between the States.  During the War approximately 1,050,000 men served in all branches of the Confederate Army.  It has been reasonably estimated that a jacket on campaign would wear out in three months.  The Confederate Government allowed two issued jackets per year.  Let’s go with the lower number and count the 1,050,000 men; this would require 2,100,000 coats and jackets per year.  Four years of this would come to an astounding 8,400,000 needed during the War; plus pants, socks, shirts etc... in proportionate amounts.  At first, when Johnny went off to war he wore either his pre-war state militia uniform or, more often, he wore a homemade coat of some design peculiar to his locale.  Yet, with all of these jackets having been produced, very few exist, far less of their jackets survive than did their officer’s frock coats, though there must have been nearly a 100 to 1 ratio originally.  This is because the destitute privates headed home after the surrenders with nothing to wear except the clothes he had on, and in most cases he had to wear it until it was in rags and falling off of him.  Though there were millions less of them manufactured numerous (relatively) officer’s frock coats survive because the officer was much more likely to be able to afford to put away a sacred uniform.  Also, the Federal government outlawed the wearing of any item with military insignia, which caused many to be put away and many more to be defaced.  The piping and two military buttons on this jacket may have been its ultimate cause of salvation since it could not have been worn in public.

     The Confederate Government had issued regulations for uniforms in 1861.  These regulations called for “Cadet Grey” double breasted frock coats with branch of service colors.  A uniform army, it was a nice idea; but reality quickly got in the way.  The frock was soon replaced by the “Shell Jacket.”  The short jacket with a single row of buttons required much less material; both in cloth and buttons than the regulation frock coat.  For some time, piping was used in place of facings for branch of service colors, but ultimately even this small concession to military fashion had to be abandoned; as did the brass buttons.  The provisional forces were to provide their own jackets, for which they were allowed $21, twice a year.  This commutation system was augmented by ladies aid societies, state government supplies and fundraisers. 

     The CS government set up its first Clothing Bureau on Richmond, Virginia’s Pearl Street in August of 1861.  “Every portion of the work has its appropriate department.  In the upper story of the building is the cutting room/ under the direction of superintendents and lively with the noise of shears.  Lower down is the trimming room. Then the department for letting out the making of the clothes, the work being given out to the wives and relatives of the soldiers, and to poor and deserving women.  Lastly comes the packing department, where the clothing, blankets, &c. are packed and forwarded to the camps.”  Other clothing Bureaus were set up in Athens, Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia,  Marion, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Enterprise and Jackson Mississippi, Nashville, Tennessee, Charleston, South Carolina. 

     The commutation system was formally ended in October of 1861 and from that point on; uniforms were made by the Clothing Bureaus and issued directly from Confederate Depots.  The pattern and color varied from Depot to Depot, but always in the “Short Jacket” pattern after 1862.  This does not mean the ladies were out of the manufacturing business; merely that it was more regulated and consistent in cut.  The clothing bureau operated on what we would refer to as a piecework system.  The Confederate government purchased the cloth from any firm or person that could supply it, from the largest manufactories to the smallest cabin, whether here or abroad.  The cloth was then cut to government pattern and issued to local women who stitched it together and returned it to the bureau for payment; so much per piece.  This system accounts for a wide variety of minor differences in jackets while all adhering to a particular Bureau’s pattern.  Also, field officer’s could, and did, requisition particular trims, facings etc… for their individual commands which accounts for the wide variety of cosmetic differences within a particular pattern.  The new system had the benefit of lowering cost to the government from 21 to 11 dollars per jacket, even during a time of moderate inflation.

     The women folk of Richmond, Virginia, Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Georgia, Nashville, Tennessee, Charleston, South Carolina, Marion, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa, Alabama turned out millions of uniform jackets for “the boys”.  These women were mostly mothers, sisters and wives of soldiers and had a vested interest in how well the uniforms were made.  It could be their loved one whom it protected from the elements.

     The difficulty of getting cloth and buttons, the minor variations within a pattern combined with the extreme scarcity of surviving enlisted men’s jackets make identifying which depot a particular jacket was produced at very difficult. 

     The material for this woolen, jeans cloth, six piece body, dyed “butternut” could have been produced at any of the South’s woolen mills.  The outer sleeves are made of two pieces each.  The cuff is turned inside for about an inch; this inside material being of a separate, but identical, single piece of cloth.  The unbleached osnaburg sleeve lining continues into the four piece interior lining.  There is a thin layer of cotton padding between the inner lining and the outer body.  A forward angled, deep pocket is set into each inner breast.  The four remaining Federal staff officer’s buttons are original to the jacket.  The collar is made of four pieces, two interior, two exterior, all of which are made of the same material as the jacket’s body.  A single line, of what now appears to be black, large diameter thread, sewn in such a manner that the outer line would form an unbroken line, outlines the collar, runs down each breast approximately .25 inches from the edge, and continues around the jacket’s waist.  This outline formed a sort of thin piping.  This same piping outlined the whipped buttonholes. 

     This particular jacket has a remarkable history and the most solid provenance one could imagine.  It was made for Lawrence Ewell Talbot by his mother in Jackson, Tennessee when he enlisted in Company D, Forrest’s 3rd Tennessee Cavalry in 1863 when he was 15 years old.  Jesse and Bill Forrest were part of the same company, which Bill Forrest would eventually command as General Forrest’s escort company.  General’s escort companies usually had a cushy job, not so with Forrest’s; in fact it was probably the most dangerous place on the field at any given time.  He fought through the remainder of the War, surviving the travails that beset Forrest’s Escort.

     Talbot’s was the last Confederate forces operating east of the Mississippi River when they surrendered May 11, 1865 at Gainesville, Alabama.

     After the War he married Jo May Talbot and practiced law in Jackson.

     In November of 1893 a regiment of Tennessee Veterans was raised with L. E. Talbot as Captain of Company C.  Mrs. Talbot had long been President of the Jackson Chapter, Number 5, Daughters of the Confederacy.

     L. E. Talbot was born June 25, 1847 to James Lawrence and Ann Pulliam Dickens Talbot at the Talbot family seat, Buena Vista on what was known as Talbot Hill in Jackson and died October 25, 1919 in Memphis. 

     In October 1956, Lawrence Talbot’s son James Lawrence loaned his fathers’ Wartime jacket to the Tennessee State Museum War Memorial Building, Nashville, Tennessee. 

     Private Talbot is buried in Riverside Cemetery back near his home in Jackson, Madison County, Tennessee, under a simple stone with the inscription: Co. D 3rd Tenn. Cav. CSA.  What prouder monument could he have?




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