Period Socks - Yep! Socks!

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#1
At the risk of stirring up more controversy than that of the slavery issue, I demand to know the "real truth" about the color of socks worn during "whatever" war you want to call it. And, as I have quickly learned, sutlers don't always provide you with the "real truth" either as to what is allegedly period correct.

So, here goes this "lightening rod" of a question: What were the typical color of socks worn by the soldiers of the 1860's? Were they primarily gray, brown and beige? Both sides? One side's color more prevelant than the other? Would you ever have seen white or black socks?

And, here is the bonus question: Would it have been typical to see virtually any color or pattern of socks worn by civilians during that period?

Well, this is sure to stir up a hornets nest worth of controversy, but I'm willing to take my chances, and simply hope the moderators don't ban me for being some trouble-making troll.
 

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#2
Not an expert on period dress, but -

Lots of people did their own spinning and dyeing, and there are plenty of colors of natural dyes.

Coal tar dyes were invented in the late 1850s, but weren't manufactured in America until after the War.

So if you knit your own socks from natural dyes, I can't honestly see anyone having a problem with that.
 

Nathanb1

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#3
At the risk of stirring up more controversy than that of the slavery issue, I demand to know the "real truth" about the color of socks worn during "whatever" war you want to call it. And, as I have quickly learned, sutlers don't always provide you with the "real truth" either as to what is allegedly period correct.

So, here goes this "lightening rod" of a question: What were the typical color of socks worn by the soldiers of the 1860's? Were they primarily gray, brown and beige? Both sides? One side's color more prevelant than the other? Would you ever have seen white or black socks?

And, here is the bonus question: Would it have been typical to see virtually any color or pattern of socks worn by civilians during that period?

Well, this is sure to stir up a hornets nest worth of controversy, but I'm willing to take my chances, and simply hope the moderators don't ban me for being some trouble-making troll.
I think it's an excellent question. Somewhere there's a photo of some period socks--maybe Civil War Times?--and I would have sworn they were modern. So this is an excellent question. BTW--they were white with little Union flags on the tops.....so there you go. Somebody answer us!
 
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#4
So if you knit your own socks from natural dyes, I can't honestly see anyone having a problem with that.


That sums it up right there. I have never seen any analysis of sock colors on soldiers in the War but I am confident that they ran the color spectrum of available dyes of the time period. I can tell you that the Rag wool brownish grey socks most mainstream vendors are not correct.


fts1_2_1_lg.jpg CWr19ds_Confederate_Socks_copy26th GA.jpg Sock%20Cover.jpg sock-puppet_medium.jpg
 

Nathanb1

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#5
This is where diaries might come in handy--women's diaries. They were always knitting socks and rolling bandages to volunteer, so learning what they were using might come in handy.


And those GRAY socks JoeyG posted are what I was thinking about. (I'm not sure I'm competent to return to school).

Have you looked in the Photography forum? Lots of those pics include wounded soldiers or guys resting minus shoes.
 
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#6
This is where diaries might come in handy--women's diaries. They were always knitting socks and rolling bandages to volunteer, so learning what they were using might come in handy.


And those GRAY socks JoeyG posted are what I was thinking about. (I'm not sure I'm competent to return to school).

Have you looked in the Photography forum? Lots of those pics include wounded soldiers or guys resting minus shoes.
But since all the photos are black and white, I'm not sure that would help.

I can see some mother or sister knitting a pair of red socks, dyed with berry juice, to cheer up a loved one. I'd say if the dyes were available during the period, then there very well could have been, and probably were, some socks dyed that color.

There are plenty of books out there about natural dyes - I'm sure you can find one that tells you how to make the color you want.
 

ole

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#7
In all the photos I've seen of troops, the socks, when you could see them, looked white (although probably off-white). Today, we wouldn't think of wearing white socks with a suit and tie. I suspect that no one much cared then. Socks were functional as standing between blistered feet and not-blistered feet.

I also suspect that the army contracts for machine-made socks didn't care either; i.e., they didn't bother with dye. Which is not to say that socks knitted for a beloved soldier weren't prettied up some, but mostly, the socks were made of the color of the raw wool.
 
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#9
At the risk of stirring up more controversy than that of the slavery issue, I demand to know the "real truth" about the color of socks worn during "whatever" war you want to call it. And, as I have quickly learned, sutlers don't always provide you with the "real truth" either as to what is allegedly period correct.

So, here goes this "lightening rod" of a question: What were the typical color of socks worn by the soldiers of the 1860's? Were they primarily gray, brown and beige? Both sides? One side's color more prevelant than the other? Would you ever have seen white or black socks?

And, here is the bonus question: Would it have been typical to see virtually any color or pattern of socks worn by civilians during that period?

Well, this is sure to stir up a hornets nest worth of controversy, but I'm willing to take my chances, and simply hope the moderators don't ban me for being some trouble-making troll.
Dear Corporal:

I'm coming late to the party, but I can answer some of your questions. Researching socks of the early 1800s is my passion, and I specialize in socks of War. I've been to fifteen states to study surviving originals and I've written about my research in the Camp Chase Gazette, The Citizens' Companion, Piecework, as well as the chapter on Federal Issue Stockings in The Columbia Rifles Research Compendium (Second Edition).

To address your question about the most "usual, common, ordinary" color for CW soldier's socks:

Both North and South the "Blue Army Stocking" was so common as to be a stereotype, just as modern people assume that someone knitting with "army green" or "desert brown" yarn is knitting something for the modern army. Blue was the traditional color of socks for the Union army. But that doesn't mean that Confederates shunned blue socks -- indeed, indigo was a cheap, permanent dye from a plant that was both cultivated and grew wild across the Confederacy.

The Union Quartermaster's Specs describe socks as being gray, though as other posters have noted, most probably they'd take whatever color the contractors provided. Natural, undyed sheeps' yarn comes in all shades of white, gray, brown and black. I'm sure that there were socks of these shades, both North and South, especially as the war wound on.

An early war (November, 1861) flyer published by the United States Sanitary Commission (a large civilian organization that provided support to the Union troops), specified any dark color and specifically asked that socks NOT be white. Most likely, this was because the socks would probably go long stretches without being washed. A darker color is going to hide dirt, blood, brains, mud and horse poop better than a white sock is.

I've seen surviving original socks that were white (Museum of the Confederacy, Wisconsin Veterans Museum), blue (Museum of the Confederacy, Indiana State Museum) and gray (Atlanta History Center, Confederate Relic Room). And I"m sure I've not seen all the varieties of socks that they wore.

With regard to the comment above that Confederates didn't worry about socks, as they didn't have shoes much of the time, if you look in General Lee's correspondence, you will find a General Order that all troops were to have shoes after a certain date in 1864 or they would be held accountable. This tells us a number of things: a) some soldiers didn't like wearing shoes; b) shoes were available to soldiers, though some apparently didn't like wearing them; and c) General Lee knew that troops marching barefoot were much more vulnerable to injury, and by 1864 he couldn't spare a man for a preventable injury. Miss Vicki Betts, who is a reearch librarian at the University of Texas in Tyler, has done extenstive newspaper reserach including many pleas printed in Confderate newspapers from individual commanders asking local ladies for socks. Mrs. General Lee, living as an invalid in Richmond, was knitting up masses of socks and sending them to the General in the lines around Petersburg. If you read his letters, many of the letters to his wife in the winter of 1864 and the spring of 1865 open or close with acknowedgement of the latest sock shipment she's sent him. Indeed, Mary Chestnut said that visiting her in the winter of 1864 was like visiting an industrial school [every woman sitting in her parlor was busily working away on her sock-in-progress].

Hope that's helpful,

Karin Timour
Period Knitting -- Socks, Sleeping Hats and Balaclavas
Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society
Email: Ktimour@aol.com
 

frontrank2

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#10
If you are familiar with the painting " Prisoners From the Front" by Winslow Homer, you will notice the Federal private who is guarding the rebels is wearing his socks bloused. From this they appear to be a grayish brown color. While not really proof , it was painted by an artist who was an eyewitness and shows a good eye for detail. Therefore IMHO you can't go wrong using a color similar to them. But as Karin states, undyed natural wool comes in all shades.
 
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#12
If you are familiar with the painting " Prisoners From the Front" by Winslow Homer, you will notice the Federal private who is guarding the rebels is wearing his socks bloused. From this they appear to be a grayish brown color. While not really proof , it was painted by an artist who was an eyewitness and shows a good eye for detail. Therefore IMHO you can't go wrong using a color similar to them. But as Karin states, undyed natural wool comes in all shades.
I've been a big Winslow Homer fan for a long time, but somehow overlooked this painting. He also did an etching of a sharpshooter in a tree who has his socks bloused. Don't remember whether that was made into a painting as well, but if so, that could be another source for color options.

Personally, I think the contractors supplying the armies were looking for every opportunity to shave a few cents off their cost of production. Undyed yarn, since it didn't have to go through the additional step of transport to a dyer's vat and transport from there to the manufacturing site, would seem to be a logical thought. However, some of those contractors were likely picking up yarn through jobbers who would buy up leftover lots from other manufacturers (i.e. a weaving factor that has gone belly up). That yarn could cost less than new, undyed yarn. Sometimes if you are going for the bottom dollar, you'd get some wierd combinations.

Another point that I totally forgot to mention last night is "shoddy." Shoddy, before the war, was solely a textile term, and it refers to old clothing that has been used past the point of any further use. It is then sold to a jobber who puts it through a shredder, reducing it back to loose fiber. That fiber is called "shoddy." It would be sold to a spinning mill, to be combined with new wool and respun. Even though it can be spun with new fiber, the shoddy "bits" always retain the dye they were originally dyed with. So the resulting yarn has little flecks of different colors in it. As does the resulting fabric. Depending on how much shoddy was mixed in, it could increase the total weight of fiber to be spun, thus increasing the amount of resulting yarn, and the cloth to be made of it. Sort of like when you have a 3 pounds of ground meat and 18 kids -- two pounds of bread crumbs, 8 cups of mashed potatoes, five onions and three peppers mixed in will help to stretch it into a sizable meatloaf. But it's all in the proportions -- add too much breadcrumbs and you've got a "breadloaf" with little flecks of meat in it.

Period people knew about shoddy and could recognize it at a glance. Before the war, a pair of pants made out of shoddy was a perfectly respectable item of clothing. Mind you, it wasn't something you'd wear to church, but wearing them to go haying, to slop the hogs, to wear to the foundry, the blacksmoth shop, or the sugar bush was a perfectly respectable, perhaps commendably frugal, thing to do. Sort of like a pair of "no name" jeans from Target today -- an adult might wear those to buy groceries, take apart a car, slop hogs, muck out the horse barn. Of course, the average 15 year old young woman would prefer death over wearing a pair of Target jeans -- she's only going to wear Guess, or Jordache, or Aeropostale.

Fabric made with shoddy is a little bit weaker than fabric made with all new wool. But if you keep the proportion of shoddy fairly low, it's not going to be a noticable difference. You will be able to see the shoddy, and get a relative guess as to it's proportion by the number and variety of flecks of different colors in the sock. Problem is that as the war wound on, contractors were in a "race to the bottom" to figure out ways to shave cents off their material costs. If you add 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, 70%, 80% shoddy, you'll have a ton of fiber to spin into yarn. The resulting yarn will look like an explosion in a paint factory, and not stand up well to too much punishment. For example, a 20 mile march in a pair of poorly made brogans. And that is how the soldiers of the 1860s re-defined "shoddy" so that it became known as "poorly made, likely to fall apart on you when you're depending on it. Trust me, after your new socks with all that shoddy literally disintegrated in your shoes at mile 1, you'd do your best to avoid another pair of socks, another blanket, another shirt that had lots of shoddy in it.

It's my suspicion, from knowing lots of real life soldiers, that when a new sock issue was pending, some of them plied the quartermaster with whatever he liked best so that they could pick over the incoming socks. And those with the highest amount of shoddy got left for the fresh fish. Just my suspicion, no documentation.....

Hope that's helpful,

Karin Timour
Period Knitting -- Socks, Sleeping Hats, Balaclavas
Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society
Email: ktimour@aol.com
 
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#14
I've seen an original pair in off-white, with a Confederate flag ('national') knit beneath the heel. The Mass. National Guard Museum in Worcester has that example of unsubtle propaganda.

jno
Dear Mr. Hartwell:
Those sound very interesting indeed. Will add a trip to Worcester to my list of "must sees." Thanks for the tip,

Karin Timour
Period Knitting -- Socks, Sleeping Hats, Balaclavas
Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society
Email: ktimour@aol.com
 


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