Support Services - Shoemaker

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Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Jan 16, 2015
Skilled tradesmen were needed to make shoes, and so with the coming of war, centers of manufacturing were established to meet the huge demand of footwear in the standing armies. For soldiers in the South, two such principal centers were located in Richmond, Virginia, and Columbus, Georgia. Montgomery County in southwestern Virginia initially set up their own operation just for soldiers raised in their community, but in time this work was transferred to Richmond. One man who was involved in this effort turned out over 2,000 pairs of shoes within a span of about 16 months, which equates to several pairs a day.

In reviewing the Compiled Service Records, invariably one or two soldiers from each regiment are found to have been detailed to these shoe manufacturing centers. Men like James Fishburn of the 4th Texas and J. E. Alewine of the 15th South Carolina, both of whom were sent to Richmond, and James Flanigan of the 16th Georgia, who was dispatched to Columbus for the duration of the war.

Maj. Henderson M. Bell, a quartermaster in the Shenandoah Valley, organized the existing factories in the valley from his base in Staunton, and he also ran machines to make shoe pegs. His daily production of shoes amounted to 150-200 pairs, besides an equal quantity of sets of clothing.

A very few lucky soldiers in the South obtained quality foreign-made products, either from pre-war stocks that were soon exhausted, or by way of blockade runners. In summer 1863, J. E. Phillips of the 12th Virginia bought from his quartermaster a fine pair of French army shoes with brass nails around the bottoms and the heels. But his regiment’s designated shoemaker could be creative as well – he utilized discarded cartridge box flaps to half-sole the boots of Phillips’ captain. Purchasing a pair of shoes or boots in stores that still carried them was out of the question on a CSA private’s monthly pay of $11: in late October 1863, ordinary shoes sold for between $60-65 a pair in Richmond, while boots went for $150.

The enemy was also a good source, particularly following a battle. It was a common practice of both sides to strip the dead of shoes, for which they had no further earthly use. Quartermaster Dennis Tuttle of the 20th Indiana ventured out after dark over the contested ground at Gettysburg for forage and shoes, but he did not tarry long since the “bullets were circulating more freely than suited my tastes.”

Neither were the living immune. In June 1863, young lads of the 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia were compelled to surrender their recent issues after being rounded up by Lee’s veterans in Pennsylvania. Likewise, curious citizens who ventured too close to marching Southern infantrymen might find themselves in an involuntarily exchange of their superior hat or footwear. However, a Washington Artilleryman who sought such a trade found that his feet were “inconveniently larger than those of the passing Dutchmen whom we would meet on the road.” All the while, southern Quartermasters were scouring the countryside, raiding stores, and levying requirements on the larger towns, like York, which alone yielded up 1,200 pairs.

Yet despite all of the above efforts combined, soldiers in the ranks often went shoeless. The ever-present mud, frequent river fordings, and both good and bad roads all extracted a heavy toll on shoe leather while the troops were on the march. Famous mapmaker Jed Hotchkiss heard a rumor that 8,000 pairs of shoes were left on the Potomac riverbed in the retreat from Gettysburg. At the conclusion of this campaign, Lt. William Baugh of the 61st Virginia estimated that half of the army was shoeless. Periodic clothing issues put a dent in this number, but could never keep up with demand. Merrit Seay of the Fluvanna Artillery complained that “we put in a requisition for shoes and clothing and didn’t get one tenth part enough for the company.”

Nor was the problem confined to the Confederate army. In that summer of 1863, Lt. Col. Sherwin of the 22nd Massachusetts reported that a third of his men had no shoes, and the condition would exist for a few weeks, until the regiment stayed put long enough for the supply depots to make up the losses. A member of his regiment recollected that some men marched in their “stocking feet, while others were barefooted, the rough pikes having long since torn their flimsy paper-soled contract brogans from their feet.” O. W. Norton of the 83rd Pennsylvania said that thousands of Federals were barefoot for a time. Once the shoes wore out in the 139th Pennsylvania, the men tied up their feet in cloth and kept on tramping. In that same regiment, Joe Walker and Sam Grinder were always in a permanent bind, because their size twelves were produced in such limited quantities.

In short, the lack of shoes would remain a concern throughout the war - a permanent condition in the case of the Southern soldier, and on occasion a temporary problem for his Northern counterpart.

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
" Famous mapmaker Jed Hotchkiss heard a rumor that 8,000 pairs of shoes were left on the Potomac riverbed in the retreat from Gettysburg. "

Could you imagine being the property owner having to deal with 8,000 pair of beaten up, tatty old shoes? Gold to their owners, sure- to the guy who just came across them? A mess. You can't tell me any soldiers hadn't already chewed up footwear to the point of being useless to anyone but a soldier- who had no choice.

This matter of being barefoot must have been no joke. Can you imagine? Walking barefooted for miles and miles much less forced marches- much less fighting battles- seems completely insane. It was insane of the armies to ask it of men. I mean gosh, yet they did and the men did it. I don't know.

Without expecting a spa treatment for the regular soldier, seems to have been this tendency to view them as one, giant tool? Please don't think this is critical of the Confederacy- it's an example. There's the lack of shoes, same soldier was marched for how many miles straight to get to say, Gettysburg, put right into some horrific engagement, is wounded, then lays out in the elements until nightfall when maybe medics are allowed to go bring him in. Even then he may have to wait- outside somewhere, for treatment. If he was unlucky was put on one of Imboden's wagons back to Virginia- if he was really unlucky that wagon was dropped on it's axles on the retreat by Federal cavalry- and he was left by the side of the road.

Not an unlikely picture. Point being it seemed neither side operated with forethought on the matter of keeping the most important weapon ( and well wisher! ) maintained. Yes, no supplies would have been part of the reason. Only a fraction. I think my point is treatment could be pretty barbaric sometimes.


First Sergeant
Jun 17, 2014
North East GA
Going without shoes might not have been as much of a hardship as you might think. Feet are remarkable organs - and pretty tough when challenged. The boys in my family all went barefoot in the summer as children. I still remember the first warm days and how tender the the old dogs were when first walking over cockleburrs and gravel in June. The feet toughened up amazingly quick, tho, and before long we could run over just about any surface without injury. By the end of the summer the only danger to the peds was hot pavement. I've read accounts of Confederates going barefoot on Missionary Ridge during the siege of Chattanooga - in November - and it seems to me that the icy frost and cold wetness would likely have been the main cause of most of the discomfort of going without shoes.
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Sep 19, 2009
My Dad started school in 1917 and until about the middle 30s took of his shoes when the fr0st went out of the ground until it frose up in the fall, he said his feet were a little tender in the spring. Might be the reason he didn't wear sock in the summer except for good wear. When they became adults they wore shoes to town or other gatherings.
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