Boots or bootees
1861 - 1865
companies 1, 2, 3, & 4
Artillery boots or U.S. issue Model 1854 Jefferson bootees are acceptable footwear. Black is the correct color for the footwear worn by The Washington Artillery. The leather should be smooth, and not expose the rough side of the leather. Bootees or boots should be kept polished and clean.
We recommend Artillery boots for several reasons. First, because we do a dual impression (Confederate: Washington Artillery and Federal: 6th Massachusetts Light Artillery), we recommend that you use as many items as possible that can be used for either impression in order to keep your costs down. The appropriate footwear for the 6th Massachusetts Light Artillery, a Flying Horse Artillery unit (meaning that all of the men rode horseback), is the Artillery boot; while the Washington Artillery impression is that of a Mounted Artillery unit, which means that the only men who rode horses were the officers (noncommissioned and commissioned), the buglers, and the drivers - even though our group does not own horses or bring horses out. Nonetheless, as best we are able to determine, a significant number of the men of the Washington Artillery wore boots. Therefore, it would be more appropriate for appearances' sake to wear Artillery boots. However, the choice is yours.
Jefferson bootees (often referred to as brogans, a term generally reserved during the War to refer to the footwear requisitioned for Negro troops in both armies, the term reflecting bootees with the rough side out which concealed the irregular surface of the smooth side - an indicator that the leather was of poor and inconsistent quality, therefore necessitating the concealment of the leather's irregularities - and a quality of footwear lacking in properly cured leather or eyelets for the laces to allow the bootees to last longer) come in a variety of combinations of manufacturing methods. Some are perfectly authentic in terms of materials and construction, and consequently may have a shorter life than others made with some more modern materials or methods of construction.
There are many who insist that the eyelets of bootees must simply be holes in the leather and cannot have metal eyelets (which will prolong the useful life of the bootees), but eyelets were actually in use both in clothing (particularly corsets) and shoes such as bootees from about 1838 forward. You may find bootees with cork heels or with rubber heels. Some sutlers offer bootees with the smooth side out and others have the rough side out, and a case may be made for either historically, although the rough-side-out bootees seem to have been more prevalent. There are also modern shoes which look enough like bootees that, after replacing their laces with rawhide laces, will pass for bootees (although the soles and heels will not be made from authentic materials, nor will the construction methods necessarily be entirely authentic to the period).
Wood-pegged soles and heels were rarely found among the soldiers of the Civil war, but a mythology concerning footwear has grown up today that insists that pegged shoes, rather than sewn, were the common footwear. That's simply not so, as the Official Records, reflecting all requisitioned and contracted goods, demonstrates. The wood-pegged shoe was an anomaly during the war, not the standard for Confederates.
It should be noted that some foreign-made boots and bootees come with what appears to be an insole insert, somewhat similar in appearance to a Dr. Scholl's or Johnson & Johnson's odor-eater. Do not be deceived: that is supposed to be removed. It is a type of desiccant, meant to keep the inside of the boot or bootee dry for whatever period of time it sits on a storage shelf. If you do not remove it, the boots will soon squeak as you walk. The insoles will squeak increasingly more loudly until, in time, it will be so loud that you can hardly bear to listen to yourself take another step. It also makes the interior of the boot hotter because of the material used to make the desiccant insole inserts.
You will want to wear any new footwear for a few days to break them in prior to wearing them at an event. Many of the Mexican boots or bootees and the East German boots seem to be made for men with very low or flat arches, while that doesn't seem to be a prevailing problem with Indian- or Pakistani-made footwear. Don't be shocked if you need to add heel protectors or insoles to help fit the boots to your feet more comfortably.
Take into account, too, that you will likely wear thick cotton rag socks or wool socks of the sort sold by most sutlers. The advantage to them is that they are more apt to keep your feet dry, even if your feet tend to perspire heavily, and they are less apt to be noticeably.... ummm... odoriferous, should you be forced by circumstance (or choose) to wear them more than one day in a row than modern socks will be. Should you make that your choice, the thickness difference is great enough that it will almost surely force you to purchase a boot slightly larger than you would otherwise purchase.
Never, ever place wet leather near a fire to dry out, as you risk ruining the leather - cooking it, in point of fact - and burning up the threads sewing the pieces of leather together. Wear thick cotton or wool socks, and don't try to dry the leather other than by air-drying.
Heel and toe plates are optional for bootees or boots. They will extend the life of the soles of your footwear, and that is particularly important if you have historically accurate footwear (or if you paid as much or more for boots than you did for the uniform). Having footwear re-soled and re-heeled not only is expensive through the sutlers (your local cobbler is unlikely to be able to re-sole or re-heel with historically authentic materials, if that is what you hope to do), but also may tie up your footwear for up to two months. On the other hand, if you are wearing heel and / or toe plates you may be prohibited from touring many of the buildings at the sites we visit for fear that your plates will damage either carpets or wood flooring. That being the case, you will have to remove your footwear to go through those places - barefoot.
In an informal canvass of participants in a Civil War Reenactors information list, a question was posed of the list participants as to who, in their estimation, made the best boots. The response from the participants, comprised of more than 100 respondents from across the country, was that there were two excellent boot makers: Robert Land and Legendary Arms, both of whom offer custom-made boots. More than half of the respondents had owned boots by both makers, and the consensus was that they were of equal quality and had the same lifespan. The differences between them were these: Robert Land has a waiting list that ranges from 4 to 8 months long, while Legendary Arms has a waiting period of roughly 4 to 6 weeks; and Robert Landís boots start at about $450, while Legendary Armsí boots are $150 plus $10 shipping and handling. (Prices confirmed in November 2001.)
Before trying on Jefferson bootees, Artillery boots, or Cavalry boots as you decide what to buy, youíll need to determine the kind of socks youíre going to wear with them. Authentic socks are substantially thicker than modern socks, so that will make a difference in the fit of your footwear. Refer to our section on socks and underwear for information on socks.
White gaiters were worn by the prewar and very early war Washington Artillery, but not the 5th Company so far as we have discovered. By approximately September 1861, when the new uniforms of Richmond Gray wool had been received, we believe the white gaiters had gone by the wayside. Of the prewar uniform, 5th Company saw only the red-crowned kepi, footwear, and the distinctive brassware of the Washington Artillery survive.
Gaiters are inappropriate for the 5th Company - Washington Artillery impression unless possibly - and only possibly at this point, lacking documentation - the impression is of the very early war 5th Company when the first four companies were preparing to leave for the war and the 5th Company was still being formed; or when the first four companies had just left for the war, through September 1861. Beyond that, the white gaiters are not appropriate.
However, when portraying the first four companies of the prewar Washington Artillery, white gaiters may be appropriate wear.
Refer to the Uniform Standards for the prewar Washington Artillery to determine when white gaiters are otherwise appropriate.
A boot pull can be of great aid in getting on boots that area little too tight in the shaft, or that require a pretty severe "turn of the corner" at the ankle.