Imported Confederate Uniforms of Peter Tait & Co.,
By Frederick R. Adolphus
(April 2011 Civil War News)
Illustrated, photos, appendices, notes, 72 pp., 2010, Frederick R. Adolphus, www.adolphusconfederateuniforms.com, $14.95 softcover.
Many years ago Les Jensen became curator of collections at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. An astute scholar with an insatiable interest in Confederate uniforms, Les began a lifelong study of every aspect of these garments, including thread count, pattern cut, manufacturing techniques, cloth variations, and button types, manufacture and methods of attachment to uniforms.
In other words, Les may have been the first to apply a scientific approach to cataloging and closely analyzing period uniforms. Over the years Les’ in-depth study and knowledge have paid tremendous dividends to the scholarship in this relatively unstudied field.
One aspect of Les’ work was the discovery of Confederate uniforms made abroad, specifically by the firm of Peter Tait & Co., Limerick, Ireland. Over the years others have taken the baton and begun to pursue a deeper study of uniforms.
One of those students, Frederick R. Adolphus, a protégé and friend of Les Jensen, has begun a series of publications he has subtitled, “Civil War Sesquicentennial Uniform Series.” His first volume is a piece-by-piece photo-study of the uniforms produced by Tait.
Adolphus describes and pictures, in color, several different Tait uniform jackets. He explains the cut, construction and trim details of each. Some “Tait” jackets actually were made by two British companies from the same template provided by Confederate contract agent Maj. J.B. Ferguson.
The cut of each jacket follows the basic five-piece construction following “clothing specifications routinely practiced by British clothing manufacturers” rather than the more familiar six-piece patterns of American production.
Most of these jackets and trousers came to the Confederate States via blockade runners in 1864 and early 1865. Both the Confederate Quartermaster Department and at least one state, Alabama, contracted for and received Tait uniforms.
Tait’s firm or its subsidiaries also provided such extras as overcoats, shoes, boots, blankets, caps, shirts, woolen stockings and haversacks to the Confederacy. Whether all of this material reached the soldiers is not known. However, there are photographs of dead Confederate soldiers wearing Tait uniforms in the trenches at Petersburg, and some Tait uniforms have been found in Texas.
The historical documentation portion of the book lays the groundwork for the actual physical study of 11 Tait jackets and two pairs of trousers. Finally, a study of the jacket buttons and their fastening devices is given and shown in clear, large color photographs.
This book is as close to a “scientific” historical study of uniforms as any “cloth” collector would relish. It examines sewing techniques, lining materials, manner of attachment, and trim and shoulder tabs.
For the uniform collector and aficionado, this is one book you will definitely want to add to your library. This is the caliber of study I hope will be forthcoming during the Civil War Sesquicentennial and later.
Adolphus plans to follow this study with similar ones of other Depot issues throughout the Confederacy. Its high quality of research, writing and exceptional color photography are commendable and certainly a welcome contribution to the study of Confederate military uniforms.
Reviewer: Michael J. Winey
Michael J. Winey, who has a BS in history and MS in history museum training, was a curator for more than 25 years and is retired from the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pa.