Uniforms How practical and popular were leggings/gaiters for Civil War soldiers?

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Aug 25, 2012
Many of the world's armies before, during, and after the American Civil War wore leggings/gaiters so one could assume leggings/gaiters were practical and useful. Why else would so many armies wear them? Still not very many units with the exception of Civil War units that wanted to dress like Zouaves or chasseurs wore them. The Army of the Potomac issued over 100,000 and some units wore gaiters later in the War. Legging/gaiters do not seem to have been popular in the Western Theater or the Trans Mississippi Theater.

Gaiters must of had their uses or other nations would not have spent money issuing them. So why does it appear that they were so unpopular with American Civil War soldiers? The US Army used leggings after the Civil War right up to the end of World War II.

Civil War leggings/gaiters came in several styles and none of the styles appear to have been very popular. Some buttoned, but most used laces. Leggings/gaiters issued by the Army of the Potomac came in linen duck, cotton duck, linen canvas, and canvas. I am not sure Civil War soldiers liked either style over the other, nor did one type of cloth prove more popular than other cloth with the soldiers.

Other questions: which was the preferred term during the Civil War, leggings or gaiters? What term should we use for them?
 
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major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
The US Army paid between 53 cents per pair of gaiters to 74 cents per pair of gaiters so it appears that Army though leggings/gaiters worth the cost.
 

mofederal

Major
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Jun 27, 2017
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Southeast Missouri
I can imagine gaiters looked sharp, but I suspect many soldiers fossed them, because they took time to put on. Socks were no doubt easier to put on and wear. I have an idea that they were heavy when wet, and were just unpopular among the men. I am also sure the officers thought they looked good in parades. In actual Combat in WWI we used leg wraps, or puttees. During WWII the G.I's hated leggings, and many installed zippers on them, or rather they arranged for someone to install them. In the Pacific they wore them at night because of the bugs. Later in 1944 double buckle boots or retro fitted low quarter boots replaced them, but they were worn in Combat in Europe by some units until the end of the war. Now they are pretty much restricted for ceremonial use or by MP's or SP's.
 

7thWisconsin

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 21, 2014
The old conventional wisdom was that gaiters were an early war thing and as the war progressed, the government stopped issuing them, and the men stopped wearing them. Turns out, like a lot of overgeneralizations, that that doesn´t seem to be the case. They were issued and worn throughout the war, even by Confederates. There´s an 1864 photo of a Confederate color sergeant wearing button up gaiters. The white French style gaiters that the Iron Brigade got were only issued once, in the spring of 1862, and by fall, after a season on active marching and campaigning were a dingy grey. They were not reissued and were gone by December of that year. So they might have been cheap for the government to procure and issue, but they certainly weren´t long-lived. I suspect they were issued right before major inspections to those regiments that wore them. Of course, it´s hard to know how many were actually worn campaigning, or if they were sent to storage with overcoats. ¨Leggins¨ ¨leggings¨ and ¨gaiters¨ appear in period letters and diaries, so I´d say the terms were used interchangeably. The 19th Indiana swore that they wouldn´t wear them when they were issued; General Gibbon said they would or ¨by God, he would turn artillery on them.¨ The regiment fell in for parade without them and suddenly they heard artillery near the end of the parade ground. They fell to the ground yelling ¨We give up! We´ll take the gaiters!¨ Turns out it was a battery drilling nearby. The ¨Legging Mutiny¨ of June 1862 was memorialized in verse by Cpl. Robert Patterson 30 years later: ¨But when that little fighter General Gibbon/ began to pull the regular army ribbon/Every one of you got down and went to begging/ but he couldn´t make you take the leggings!¨ (On Many a Bloody Field,¨ Alan Gaff)
My own experience with them is they are hard and time-consuming to put on if you lace and unlace them, and try to fasten the heel strap. If you throw that away, leave them laced and pull them on before you put your shoes on, they´re not hard to put on and off. They are hot, and heavy. Of course, I never had to try to keep mine clean, so I probably missed the soldier´s biggest gripe with them, too.
 
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
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Gaiters were a practical piece of uniform kit that was a pain in the donkey to put on. They were not worn because they looked cool.
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US Civil War

They protected the foot and ankle from brambles, sticks, and thorns. They helped to keep insects out of the trousers, and were thought to prevent snakebite. They helped to keep the cuff of the trouser from becoming soaked with moisture (especially from the dew in the morning and the snow through which one might walk). However, their main purpose seems to have been to keep the shoes on, especially in thick grass and the mud, which tends to "suck" at the laced shoe or bootee. The strap UNDER the shoe was a functional part of the gaiter in this regard.
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Scene from the film The Field of Lost Shoes (2014). The film's title refers to the large number of soldiers' boots left on the battlefield due to the muddy conditions during the battle. Ten VMI cadets died in the battle.


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[“Field of Lost Shoes” is about one of the minor battles of the Civil War, wherein the VMI cadet company at New Market marched into battle, and when the smoke had cleared, there were shoes — sucked off their feet in the mud. Many cadets lost their footwear in the freshly plowed soil, turned to thick mud after several days of rain. May 15, 1864] Cast photo from the film. No gaiters!

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17th to 18th century European mitasses
Gaiters have had a long history going back into the 17th century when they were adopted from Native American leggings [leatherstockings] by European Armies. Called by many names such as spatterdashers, mitasses, or Indian gaiters, all were essentially the same item of clothing in function. White frontiersmen quickly recognized the utility of these garments and adopted them in leather, wool, and canvass. Even the great armies of Europe made the leggings, somewhat modified into button festooned gaiters fitted to the lower leg, part of their standard kit. CW gaiters similar in function to the WWI leg wraps (puttees adopted from British India) that soldiers really hated, to jambieres (derived from the French word jambe for legs, hence leggings) that were part of the uniform of Zouave kit, to the WWII canvass ankle gaiters.

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Puttee leg wraps -- They consist of a long narrow piece of cloth wound tightly, and spirally round the leg, and serving to provide both support and protection. The British Indian Army found this garment to be both comfortable and inexpensive, although it was considered to lack the convenience and smartness of the gaiter.


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US issue WWII -- It is said that airborne troops took grave offense at any non-paratrooper or Glider infantry types that bloused (ballooned) their trousers over their boots or gaiters.

U.S. forces in WWII did not wear the standard Army leggings issued with the field service shoe. Late in World War II, after experiments with general issue of high-top combat boots and jump boots for soldiers, leggings began to disappear from military service. In 1943, the United States Army modified their field service shoe by adding a taller leather upper that reached to the lower calf; secured by a combination of laces and buckles, the new design was designated the Type III Field Boot. However, the Marines retained canvas leggings throughout the war, and used them in combat as late as the Korean War. The 1937 Canvas Gaiters (w/o understraps) were called anklets in the British Army and were worn by the British Army and all Commonwealth forces in WWII. These were made in Khaki Webbing and completed with tan leather pads and metal buckles. Clearly made to close off the trouser leg in tropical climates, these anklets were in use until the 1980s. [Military Wiki]
 
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Joined
Apr 8, 2018
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PA
Just for you being a horse person like myself. The puttee was wound differently dependong on the infantry or cavalry. One went from top to bottom, the other from bottom to top. Which is which? According to the British author and soldier Patrick Leigh Fermor, infantry puttees were wound up from ankle to knee, but in cavalry regiments they were wound down from knee to ankle.

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Fermor (center) is in German uniform as part of a special services under cover operation in Greece. To his right is another British officer dressed as a German using puttee style wraps.
 
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