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Brown vs Butternut

Discussion in 'Campfire Chat - General Discussions' started by catspjamas, Jan 16, 2010.

  1. catspjamas

    catspjamas First Sergeant

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    Is there a difference between a brown confederate uniform and a butternut uniform? We had a guest speaker at our UDC meeting today, a reenactor, that spoke on how the common soldier felt about Lee & Jackson. (It was our annual Lee-Jackson luncheon) Another lady was asking about his uniform, which was grey and he stated it was a Richmond Depot jacket. I described the uniform the sharpshooters wear in my unit, a NC Shell Jacket and said the color was brown. He corrected me and said it was called butternut. Now, I'll admit, I don't know that much about the mens uniforms, and I'm doing good knowing that our guys wear the NC Shell jacket. The material is brown and white flecked. I though butternut was that yellowish/green brown color, and was a solid color, not flecked. I have seen descriptions of the NC Shell jacket with the fabric described as brown. Can someone tell me the difference between brown and butternut? Was butternut the generic, catch all term for any brown uniform?

    Cats
     

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  3. Glorybound

    Glorybound Major Retired Moderator

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    Good question. I believe 'butternut' was the kind of catch-all for any shade of brown, worn by the Southern soldier. I live in an area that was heavily butternut during the war. It's a color and also a reference to an area of the country that had mixed Union and Confederate sympathies, such as southern Indiana/Kentucky. I'm not aware of any uniforms manufactured for Confederates that were brown. Of course I could be wrong.



    Lee
     
  4. TerryB

    TerryB Captain

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    Many Confederates in the Western areas preferred homespun to regulation uniforms, especially after the original gray uniforms wore out. Those homespuns could be almost any shade of brown. The word butternut comes from the nut used in the dyes that turned out that shade (or shades) of tan that took the place of scarce gray cloth. There is an account of the 3rd Tennessee (Clack's) in Mississippi in 1863 in which they make great sport of a new recruit dressed in a butternut "suit" as they called it. Ambrose Bierce wrote a story in which he remarked that butternut was the color worn by all men, even citizens, in the Confederacy late in the war.
     
  5. larry_cockerham

    larry_cockerham Southern Gentleman, Lest We Forget, 2011

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    There's a thread on here from not too long ago, I believe down in the Re-enactor's forum, that talks about the effects of the various dyes that produced the variations in the butternut colors and talks about that process in some detail. There was less and less control over uniforming as there became less and less Confederacy. Mostly, they kept the cost down and made sure they didn't have blue bellies. A man could get shot if he turned too blue.
     
  6. larry_cockerham

    larry_cockerham Southern Gentleman, Lest We Forget, 2011

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    Here's a photo of some Tennessee re-enactors:
     
  7. catspjamas

    catspjamas First Sergeant

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    Ok, if you use a dye on fabric, the fabric will pretty much be a uniform color. The brown fabric that is used for the uniforms of the guys in my unit, has not been dyed. It is brown and white flecked, because of the weaving of brown fibers and white fibers. Think of Barney Fife's salt & pepper suit, only brown. To me, that would not be butternut (result of dye), it would be brown. (I just realized, the brown fibers would have been dyed. I was thinking of the dye process after the fabric has been woven.)

    But if I understand y'alls responses, butternut is a generic, catch-all term for a brown uniform, no matter how the fabric was processed.

    Cats
     
  8. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    I think you were right in your first post, PJ: butternut is not brown with white flecks.

    Butternut, in my understanding anyway, was a color derived from dying garments in a solution (presumably hot) made with butternut shells. (They might have also used black walnuts, English walnuts, etc.) But the fabric would not have been a uniform color. How many shells were used, how hot was the water, how long did the cloth soak, how many yards of material were dyed in the same solution? All factors affecting the depth of color achieved.

    I can see butternut ranging from a fairly dark brown all the way up to that faded, orangish tan.

    Ole
     
  9. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Not only that, but homespun probably isn't going to be totally uniform in one piece -- example -- some areas may be more tightly woven, the person may not have kept it in constant motion while dyeing, so some is darker than others, wool, especially, has lanolin, which can affect the way the fiber takes the dye, and on one piece of fabric you have fibers from numerous sources (sheep) in many cases. I purchased some from a local knitting shop (about a 1/2 yd. piece) and it's quite variegated.
     
  10. gary

    gary 1st Lieutenant

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    Darn good point catspajama. I wonder how the folks at Authentic Campaigner would respond?
     
  11. catspjamas

    catspjamas First Sergeant

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    When I used the term "uniform color", I meant that the whole article of clothing or fabric would be dyed, and would be pretty much the same color. I understand about dye lots, fabric being folded in the dye bath so not receiving the same saturation, etc. I just used the term in order to differentiate between brown and white flecks. If you have another term that would encompass all the nuances of the dyeing process to describe the end results, better than "uniform", please let me know. Maybe solid color?

    Cats
     
  12. larry_cockerham

    larry_cockerham Southern Gentleman, Lest We Forget, 2011

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    I think the main element to consider is the fading process. That's one of the reasons the color is not consistant.
     
  13. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    "Level" is the term that indicates the same color throughout. I was rackin' my poor old brain; I knew there was another. I found a neat little site with a recipe for walnut "butternut" dye if you want to experiment. I may have my students do it!

    http://www.janisherbertforkids.com/html/cw_sample_activity.html

    I did go back and do some research; I had forgotten one of the most important things in dyeing is to wet the fabric thoroughly before adding dye, or it will be blotchy; the fibers will not absorb dyes evenly and it won't be LEVEL. (Sorry--I was the original Martha Stewart, and I'm OCD)
     
  14. catspjamas

    catspjamas First Sergeant

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    No, I don't want to experiment with dyeing anything, and I'm not talking about fading. Y'all are missing my question completely, it's not about the dyeing process to obtain a "butternut" color.

    My question is this: Is butternut the term you use to describe a brown uniform, regardless if the uniform is made from fabric that is pretty much a uniform/solid/level color (allowing for errors in the dyeing process and fading) or if the uniform is made from fabric that is woven from brown threads and white threads, so that the fabric has a flecked appearance? Are both versions of uniforms "butternut" or is one butternut and the other brown?

    I thought it was a pretty straight-forward question, I didn't expect a lesson on 19th century dyeing processes.

    Cats
     
  15. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Sorry again....OCD kicked in.
     
  16. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Trying to make up for stupidity... the book below might be helpful:
    Cadet Gray and Butternut Brown: Notes on Confederate Uniforms by Thomas M. Arliskas (Paperback - Jan 1, 2006)


    I also found several discussions -- apparently even gray dyes faded to brown, and with the Confederate uniform mfg. situation, there was little to do about it. I always had the impression that butternut was more a homemade thing--that Mom or Grandma might make you new pants or a jacket to replace your original issue (or I suppose if your unit was poor, that might be the original) and use butternut at home to dye it. Does that make sense? Most of the reenactment sites suggested not to overdo it because of these reasons; that you might have one or two pieces, probably pants (I guess you might wash those more often or replace them?) :angel:

    Of course, that still doesn't answer your question the way I've explained it! I would think that people didn't plan on brown, is my point--it just turned out that way. Lordy!
     
  17. larry_cockerham

    larry_cockerham Southern Gentleman, Lest We Forget, 2011

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    Butternut when bought from a sutler is usually a bit of an orange/brown color. Butternut, if you will. After a little sunshine, the fading happens. On the other hand I believe these guys get fabric from a variety of sources, so yes, there is a range of color. Rarely is the whole company matching exactly. Those guys in my thumbnail posted earlier are from different SCV camps around Nashville, but most of their material probably came from the Blockaderunner in Bellbuckle, TN. Give their website a peek. Another sutler with a website and lots of info is Jarnigan's in Corinth, MS.
     

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