BlueJackets' Manual
for the Tidewater Maritime Living History Association (updated January 2009)

By Allen Mordica


This edition of the "Bluejackets Manual" is regularly revised because, thanks to continuing research efforts and sources, new information concerning issues of uniforms to sailors becomes available for inclusion in the manual. Also, due to our expanding scope, this association is having increased visibility and a growing status as a leader in the naval aspect of the hobby. The quality of our uniforms and equipment should reflect that status.

We also have more relevant nautical talent, more willingness to put ourselves out to give the public and fellow LH interpreters naval training and education, and have gained more widespread support and credibility than we had before. In short, not only do we "talk the talk", we actually "Walk the walk". For these reasons it is important that we continue to refine our authenticity and continue migrating to a more accurate, "untouchable" impression.

To this end, the reader will note changes from the previous revision of the manual. For those who are already members of the crew and have a full uniform of moderate accuracy, these changes will take time to take effect, and will not be expected to be done immediately. For new members, the creation of the unit "slop chest" will help cushion the financial burden and time required to work up their uniform impression. As we progress, this unit will be "world class" in every way, and no one will be able to say otherwise.

(A note concerning uniform details: The attentive reader will note that certain item details will not be 100% period-correct. As the purpose of this Association is NOT to educate the public in the correct materials and construction details of specific period uniforms, but rather the life, times, knowledge and history of the services, this is a current concession to allow new members to participate early, while allowing more seasoned members to continue to refine their impressions as their individual situations allow. The overall intent is that, over time, each member will become as accurate as possible.)

Naval Uniform Guidelines

Hats (required)

The universally used "flat hat" is the standard for both the Navy and the Revenue Cutter Service, in blue. The addition of a black silk ribbon, with the shipís name for USN, is authorized only for depicting a crewman of a specific ship. the center of the top of the hat can be adorned with an embroidered star, multi-pointed sun or compass rose. A pattern for this type of hat is available or a completed hat can be purchased from Allen M. A natural wide-brimmed "Amish" style straw hat is available at most sutlers for $10-$15. A black ribbon, with a streamer behind, is authorized.

Undershirts (recommended)

A basic undershirt is of simple design with no collar (oval or square neck opening) and 3/4 length sleeves with no cuffs. Cloth for the shirt is muslin for the summer issue and flannel for winter. There is a pattern for this shirt available on the TMLHA Yahoo! group website, reachable from a link on our website. Embroidery can be added around the neck opening. Be creative, after consulting existing examples.

Overshirt (required)

The standard infantry man's shirt, in pretty much any color, with a large collar will do nicely.

Jumper (required)

There are some variations in the design of the jumper. Local seamstresses can construct one using a copy of the pattern from the TMLHA Yahoo! group website. If you provide the cloth (3 yards, preshrunk, and 3/4 yard of collar/cuff material), most will sew one for about $40-60. There is usually enough wool left over for a flat hat to match. White cotton duck for summer, dark blue for winter are the norms. It is recommended that new members get the blue uniform first since blue is the usual work uniform year-round.

Trousers (required)

Colors/materials to match the jumper, easier if you have jumper and trousers made from the same piece at the same time. Loose fitting broadfalls are authorized, but Infantry pattern trousers were much more prevalent, and are the preferred pattern. Be sure to get them large enough in the waist to allow the jumper to be worn tucked in. Suspenders were not worn; belts were.
Mercury Sutler has white canvas broadfalls which are authorized for summer wear. Buy them a size larger as they will shrink.

Neckerchief (required)

A modern Navy neckerchief is authorized. they are available from local navy base thrift shops for $1.50. Tie a square knot closer to the throat than with the modern style.

Socks (required)

Gray wool or cotton socks are available from sutlers for about $8 to $10 a pair.

Shoes (required)

The preferred choice is the black infantry brogan, or Jefferson Bootee, available from most sutlers for about $90 to $95. You can expect them to last several years or more. Order them roomy, as you will be wearing heavy socks. If money is a serious object, an acceptable temporary alternative is the ďChukka BootĒ sometimes available from the J C Penney catalog for $50.

Belt (required)

A wide black belt with a plain roller buckle is recommended, but other buckle styles are authorized. Check with members if you are unsure.

Round Jacket (optional)

Of the Federal style, to be worn over the jumper in cold weather.


As with uniforms, before buying items, consult with one of the older hands so as to avoid bad deals. In many cases, second hand items are in excellent shape, and can save you as much as 50% off of new prices. Many accessories are not immediately necessary, and some purchases can be held off until other more needed items are acquired. Weapons specifically, being issued to sailors only for actions ashore or for boarding, were not carried by sailors in their daily work, and a few of us have an extra one to lend, so they are not the highest priority to buy.

Rifle (required for land battle events)

While 2- band rifles (the correct period term is Rifle), shotguns and musketoons were among the variety of weapons purchased for use aboard ship, some event organizers will not allow them on reenacting fields. 3- band rifles (the correct period term is Rifled Musket) are only marginally more expensive, can be used for an infantryman's impression (if you have a change of heart), can be resold to a reenactor easier if necessary, and so overall are more desirable to have. Enfield or Springfield replicas are most prevalent, and cost about $480-$600 new, and can be found used for $350-$450. The rifle is the single most expensive item you will ever buy, and will last pretty much forever. A canvas (preferred) or leather sling, while optional, is inexpensive and is a good accessory to have.

Bayonet w/scabbard (required with the rifle)

The style of bayonet is dependent on the rifle. The cost for a new one is about $25-$35. If you buy a used rifle, chances are the bayonet and scabbard will be sold with it. If one is included, you should go ahead and get it, since each has to be matched/fitted to the individual rifle.

Cartridge/Cap Boxes (required with the rifle)

There are several styles, corresponding to the various rifles or revolvers. All are worn without the shoulder sling, on the belt; the cartridge box on the right hip, the cap box, on the front just to the right of the buckle.

Canteen (required)

The standard infantry style, either smooth-sided or bullseye is recommended. There are made from either steel ($35) or stainless steel ($45). If you have the extra money, get one made of stainless steel.

Haversack/plate/silverware/tin cup (required)

The first things you should buy after uniforms. The haversack is made of white linen/canvas, and is inexpensive at $12-$16. The plate costs about $5-$7, the cup about $3-$6, and the nested-style fork/knife/spoon combo, about $3-$5.

Revolver/Pistol (optional)

The Colt or Remington style "Navy" .36 caliber revolver is the preferred item; the "Army" .44 caliber is authorized. The steel-frame revolver will retain resale value better and is more durable, but will cost about $30 more than brass frame ones. Both are available new from many sources, including Cabelaís mail order, or several local gunshops for around $150-$250. Used ones can be had for as little as $75. Muzzle loading single-shot pistols are authorized, but not in much use by the time of the war, so are discouraged; it is wiser to put the money toward the purchase of a revolver.

Holster (optional)

The naval pattern is the only style authorized. They are worn at the small of the back or on the right hip, handle forward. They are hard to come by, and a few of us can construct them. If you intend to purchase a revolver, let one of the old hands know so we can make one up for you.

Cutlass (optional)

The standard USN 1841 (more common), or 1861 (less common), cutlass is authorized. They are available from a number of sutlers and cutlery houses for about $100-$150. They are not used very much, and should be considered a low priority purchase.

Work Knife (recommended)

A marlinespike knife (plain sheath knife) or a Barlow-style folding knife is authorized. You can attach either to a long lanyard hung around your neck or attached to your belt. A sheath can be worn for either, or you can keep the folder in your pocket. The point should be ground square, as sailors were not allowed to carry sharp pointed knives aboard.

Blanket (required if you donít want to freeze your transom off!)

A standard gray wool navy blanket (or two) is authorized. There are more historically accurate ones, but they are very expensive, and hard to get. See on of us for information on getting a couple of the navy type.

Poncho/Gum Blanket (optional)

These are available from most sutlers for about $30. If you have the choice, get the poncho, as it has a hole for yor head, and will keep you drier.

Sea Bag (optional)

The traditional sailorís "suitcase", the seabag is made of heavy white canvas, with a drawstring closure at the top. A pattern is available from several of the crew. The bag can be decorated in different ways. See Allenís seabag made by a late shipmate, George. It is an excellent example.

Sea Chest (optional)

There are several different designs. Allenís is one style common during the time. He can build them. Check for prices/availability.

Hammock (optional)

There is a pattern on the CW Naval & Marine Forum website and the TMLHA Yahoo! group website. The hammock is made from heavy duty canvas. Unless we build, buy or gain access to a real sailing ship, this is probably one of the last items you will need to buy.

What should I buy first/last/not at all?

As indicated above, the complete outfitting of the typical Civil War reenacting sailor is somewhat less expensive than for the infantryman, with most of the difference in price in the uniform alone. The typical infantryman can expect to spend $800-$1200 for a complete hat-to-shoes kit. By comparison, the typical sailor can expect to put out about $600-$800 for the same, or even less if one shops carefully; shipmates will give valuable assistance in avoiding bum deals, as some of them may have already been there. Don't forget, Caveat Emptor!
Our unit maintains a "Slop Chest" equipped with a number of uniform items, like jumpers, trousers, neckerchiefs and hats, for new recruits to use while deciding whether or not to join the crew, and then while shopping for items for their permanent "issue". Some items are prohibitively expensive and/or difficult to keep in exact sizes, like weapons or shoes. At the onset, new members will either have to purchase authentic shoes first, or use combat boots or navy safety shoes. If this is done, correct shoes must be a first priority for purchase. New members should make efforts to buy or make their "kit" as soon as is practical so as to return the loaner items to the slop chest for others to use. An individual should acquire his uniform and equipment over time and in these recommended stages:

-Stage 1 (beginner)- Uniform; flat hat, jumper, trousers, belt and shoes.(About $250)
-Stage 2 (after a couple of events)- Personal accessories; haversack, plate, cup and eating utensils.($50-$70)
-Stage 3 (at this point you are pretty well hooked)- Rifle, cartridge and cap boxes, and bayonet or other weapons (at this stage one might want a second, seasonal uniform) ($450-$600)
-Stage 4 (the finishing touches)- Camp accessories; tent, cooking equipment, blanket and poncho/gum blanket etc. as/if desired ($100-$200; varies)

All of the prices mentioned above are for new items; careful shopping for used gear may save you as much as half on some of these prices. This level of expense is usually spread out over the first year (or more!) of participation.
It is important for the "fresh fish" to understand that sailors on active service were not permanently issued weapons such as muskets, pistols, cutlasses or pikes for their daily routine. These weapons, cartridge boxes and accessories were kept in lockers aboard and issued only for boarding or shore parties. Also, some of our "shipmates" own more than one weapon and are willing to loan one out for a boarding or naval infantry event to new shipmates who are initially without. Therefore recruits to our unit need not purchase a weapon or leather accessories right away.
As actual sailors of the day tended to be proficient with needle and thread, many made their own uniforms and followed their shipmates patterns. Also, Confederate sailors were issued at various times through the war either navy blue or grey uniform items; as a result the crew took on a somewhat less than uniform appearance. We tend to do the same, and the resulting look in the recreated "crew" is quite correct.
For the veteran mud-stomper wanting to begin a different impression, most of your "issued" leather equipment, utensils, weapons and brogans, are perfectly acceptable. Some uniform parts, like the jumper blouse and the flat hat, are easy to make using blue wool (for winter, or white duck canvas for summer) and patterns we keep in the unit Sourcebook. Local area seamstresses can also make them fairly inexpensively.
Individuality could be had by adding a variety of embroidered decorations, particularly on the edges of the collar and cuffs. Picture of existing examples can be seen in the Federal volume of the Time/Life Series "Echoes of Glory" book set. For detailed descriptions, be sure to check out the uniform requirements listed in Tom Apple's Larboard Watch site; jumper and hat patterns are applicable for Confederate uniforms as well.

Unit Policies

Registration/Messing/Transportation Costs

Most battle events require each participant to pay a registration fee, customarily about $5-10, to defray costs of firewood, PortaPotties, straw, etc. When an event calls for meals to be supplied by the crew, it is policy that all hands contribute to the common mess fund, either by chipping in financially or by providing some portion of the foodstuffs to be used during the event. The burden on each member will not be particularly heavy. For those members riding with others, it is only polite, appropriate (and expected) that the passenger(s) contribute to fuel costs of those who supply transportation.

Camping Gear

Our continuing success with paid presentations has allowed the the unit to keep a trailer containing a period set of camping gear including baker's tents, a tent fly, cooking grate, mess chest with some flatwear, silverware, coffee pots and frying pans. In short, we have available for our use a complete self-contained campsite. It is only fair that crewmembers contribute to maintaining, transporting, setup and striking camp.

Authenticity and Anachronisms

As our notoriety and credibility increases, we continue, both as individuals and as a crew, to enhance our levels of authenticity. This is not something that can be forced from above; to the contrary, it is something each of us take a great deal of personal pride in. To that end, we must keep that idea in mind in our naval mannerisms, in our uniform appearance, in our campsite, and in battle.
There are obvious things we can do to help enhance our impressions. Modern eyeglasses, wristwatches and clothing items should not be worn. If one must have modern sleeping gear and food containers, they must be kept out of sight of the public (and fellow reenactors!) while at an event.
An aspect of the impression that many land-based reenactors give no thought to is their personal actions. We have all seen at some time or another some unit on the march singing the Mickey Mouse march or the Wicked Witchís Guards chant, or a group in camp singing modern songs or discussing current events. This tends to "break the spell", so to speak, for those who are attempting to get a feel for the time we portray, whether they are reenactors or spectators. We owe it to both ourselves and those who come to observe us to give our best impression as much as possible.

Remember that we are portraying sailors, not soldiers. This is important since sailors, unlike soldiers who were trained only to march and shoot, were skilled artisans of their trade. The seamanís trade is one that most landlubbers of the day feared to engage in. For those of us who are, or have been, in the naval services, keep in mind as you portray sailors that you ARE sailors, real sailors, and draw upon your experiences at sea for your arrogant attitude and your "background knowledge" of the sea.
For those who have not been to sea, draw upon your own knowledge, background or hobbies (other than this one) for material for your personal impression. If you are into carpentry or guns or sewing or mechanics, you can use those things to form a basis for portraying a rating specialty. The key to naval reenacting is the specific knowledge you can show and the information about your position in the crew you can show to the public. Believe me, it will show in how they perceive you.


This section is not placed at the end because it is the least important topic. Itís here because it is the MOST important topic. In all that we do, in camp, aboard the boats or on the field, safety takes priority and precedence over anything and everything else we do. We have been extremely fortunate up to this point, and none of us wants an injury or worse to spoil the truly wonderful thing we have. Always keep a weather eye out for your shipmates any others around you. Even if it spoils a scenario, never be afraid to speak up and point out a dangerous situation. Our watchword is, "Every man a safety observer!" Donít forget that peoplesí feelings will heal faster than our bodies.

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