Saturday, June 25, 2016

Historical Sew Monthly #6 - A Majors 1860's Fatigue Blouse

Father's Day this year coincided with the current Historical Sew Monthly Travel challenge. Since I was in the middle of reading more about Ulysses and Julia Grant and about how she helped the ladies of Galena, IL outfit their soldiers before sending them off to Springfield in early 1861, and how later she helped her husbands officers sew insignia onto their uniforms I thought I could incorporate my current sewing project into the travel theme quite well!

Who travels more than a soldier? Ulysses traveled often and Julia and children accompanied him whenever it was possible. From Cairo to Louisville to Vicksburg and beyond he was a man of the field and went with his men. 

Ulysses was noted during that time for his remarkable plainness of dress and his distaste for finery. He was often seen in a sack coat, muddy boots and a slouch hat with the stub of a cigar stuck between his teeth. During the famous Appomattox surrender when General Robert E. Lee, carefully attired in his best clothes and with his fine sword hanging at his side, accepted the terms offered to him by General Grant, Ulysses wore a soldier's blouse with only the shoulder insignia giving any hint at his status as commander of all Union armies. Later, when he was asked what his thoughts were at that moment, he is said to have replied, "My dirty boots and wearing no sword."

This fatigue blouse is a plain four button unlined sack coat that also bears no hint of rank beyond the shoulder boards and the officer style buttons. It was, however, happily received and was a good Father's Day gift! 

I had very little fabric to work with so the fatigue blouse is as modest and plain as can be - its on the shorter side of normal (period sack coats are usually seen ranging from just below the hips to just above the knees) and I had to use a different, though similar wool to face the inside of the fronts, make the under collar and face the sleeves. 

It is unlined so as to be comfortable when worn in hot summer weather and all seams are finished to prevent fraying. While it seems that most federal sack coats were lined, some unlined ones do exist as well as documentation that sometimes soldiers would cut out the lining of their coats in hot weather. 

I did have enough scraps to put in a small pocket for a pocket watch. General Grants sack coat has a similarly placed pocket so I used that as my inspiration. I made a nice, crisp new white shirt to go with it. General Grant was said to have traveled to the field needing no more than an extra shirt and a toothbrush. This was a great contrast to General McClellan, who is reported to have needed several wagons to haul his personal gear to the field. At any rate, a new shirt from home was always a welcome gift. 

Challenge #6: Travel.

What the item is: A federal 1860's unlined fatigue blouse with Majors shoulder boards

The Challenge: Travel

Fabric/Materials: 100% wool flannel

Pattern: My own, based on originals

Year: early to mid 1860's

Notions: cotton thread, black silk button hole twist, 4 staff officer buttons

How historically accurate is it? as best as I could make it!

Hours to complete: About 18

First worn: Not yet! 

Total cost: Stash stuff, but new the materials would come to around $60 or so, not including the shoulder boards. 


  1. Oooooh! I love the color of this sack coat! And so very wonderfully made! Job super well done!

    1. Thanks! It's the W&W wool flannel and I love the color too. A real true, bright dark blue. I'm so glad I had enough to make this coat!

  2. I love everything you sew!! Your blog is always very interesting!!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!