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American Tactical Gear Through Time Part 2

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The history of the American soldier is a fascinating one. From the early Revolutionary War period where some soldiers didn’t even have shoes on their feet, to the modern tactical warfighter who represents the strongest military in the world, the evolution of the American soldier and the tactical gear they sport has undergone tremendous innovation. While part 1 focused on the early American conflicts involving largely defensive conflicts, the Civil War and Spanish-American War demonstrated an aggressive shift in American military tactics.

 Many aspects of the Mexican-American War can be seen in the Civil War. Most of the famous generals in the Civil

War served in the Mexican-American War, where they gained valuable battlefield experience. Most notably however, is how the previously nonexistent American war machine had been spun into full action following the war. The scramble to arm and equip a military prior to the conflict had convinced the U.S. government that a standing army with proper tactical gear was necessary. It is interesting to note much of the gear seen in the Mexican-American War in part 1 of the series gets carried over largely unchanged to the Union army in the Civil War!

Much of the tactical gear used in the Civil War will seem oddly familiar. Standard uniforms were still dyed navy blue wool with a lighter sky-blue trouser. The most famous headgear of the Civil War makes its debut, a rounded blue forage hat, also known as a “kepi.” Though this was the standard uniform, there were still numerous variants produced by state provided militias or even home furnished uniforms. However, the blue uniform is the most famous and recognizable mark of the U.S. government soldiers in the Civil War.

The tactical gear of the Civil War saw a shift from white leather to black. The belts and packs of soldiers were almost all dyed black accordingly. The tactical gear overall remained largely the same. A metal canteen, now with a light blue cloth covering, was the hydration system of the time (one can imagine it went empty quickly fighting in wool coats in the Georgia heat). The usual haversack (think backpack) eventually became simply a blanket and poncho roll that was tied at the end and worn by each soldier. Living equipment such as food and creature comforts were kept in a separate bag slung over the shoulder. Tactical ammo pouches remained largely unchanged, mostly due to the fact that though muskets of the time had advanced, they still remained largely inaccurate and slow to fire; this would discourage the need for a more advanced ammo retaining system.

The Civil War was easily the defining war of the 19th century. Though an extremely lopsided conflict in the Spanish-American war would be fought at the very end of the century, the struggle of the United States in a war over slavery and state’s rights that cost over 600,000 American lives still has repercussions today. The American soldier would take a dominant role in the 20th century, falling in line with America’s rise as a military juggernaut on the world field. By the end of the century, America stood alone as the most powerful military in the world. Stay tuned for the tactical gear revolution for the American soldier during WWI!