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Shoes, Shoes, Everybody’s Got To Have Shoes

Union Civil War soldiers were issued what item of personal equipment that they affectionately referred to as “gunboats”?

Contract issue shoes which were mostly, but not always, provided without right or left varieties. They were black in color, three-quarter high, laced up and smooth top grain out but sometimes rough out. They were often referred to as “Jefferson bootees” because Thomas Jefferson started the trend in laced rather than buckled shoes to show his support for the French Revolution. Considering the amount of marching done by Sherman’s army they were always a major supply problem and they referred to them as “gunboats”, a term not uncommon today referring to large shoes. Civil war soldiers often wore thich socks to limit the development of blisters. Sometimes they were referred to as brogans, a British term for work shoes, since the majority of Confederate shoes were supplied through the blockade from English factories. The “Monticello” was the name of a Confederate shoe reportedly manufactured by a shoe factory in Monticello, Florida or possibly Alabama. It was memorialized on shoes worn by southern soldiers around a statue of RE Lee at Gettysburg.

Before the war, almost all army shoes were made at Susquehanna Arsenal in Pennsylvania. The pieces were cut out in the arsenal and then “farmed out” to independent workers who put them together in their homes on piecework basis. The same system was used for uniforms.

In a letter dated January 1862 from Colonel George W. Crosman, Assistant Quartermaster General, he described the purchase of 1,102,700 pairs of boots and bootees from contractors all over the North. Contracts were as large as 120,000 pairs from one manufacturer at Sing Sing, New York, to as small as 300 pairs from another factory in Pennsylvania.

Everyone was not happy with the issue. One complaint that was registered by the Washburn Congressional Committee regarding the short life span of a specific lot of shoes was answered by the comment that these shoes were supposed to be issued to the cavalry, who theoretically did not need a tough a shoe! (credit for much of this information to http://www.fugawee.com)

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