Civil War soldiers did not want to look “tattered. " The custom was to look as neat and clean as possible. Remember, when they first got their uniforms, the uniforms looked new. The soldiers of the Civil War liked being tidy. If they had rips and tears in their uniforms, they would sew them up if they could. Being in “tatters" was not a sign of being “cool. "
I recommend that you keep your Civil War Uniform looking as clean and trim as possible depending on what you want to portray unless you want to portray a particular campaign where they were ragged. If not I would want to keep my uniform in good shape, and I would not wreck my new uniform right from the start. If you really want a tattered uniform, find one on a blanket.
Even at the end of the war, they were issued new uniforms. Lee’s army looked better at the surrender than at Gettysburg.
Remember you have invested a substantial amount of money in your Civil War Uniform. I am passionate about mine being accurate and a correct reproduction. I would not intentionally tear or rip my uniform to make it look worn. Why destroy your uniform after you have spent so much time and effort getting it “right?"
Putting a patch on your pants, jacket, shirt, etc. is an accurate way to fix a hole or tear. But, I am careful not to put too many patches on my uniform, as I don’t want to look like a walking quilt! I suggest you keep an eye on the number and size of the patches you are putting on your uniform, to be sure it looks appropriate. I would not put patches on just for effect. The Civil War soldier would try to match the patch to the color of the uniform fabric.
An interesting subject among reenactors is the topic of smell. I don’t feel that to have an accurate impression, you have to smell like you have not taken a bath in months. Soldiers of the Civil War tried their hardest to smell good and be clean. They would wash themselves as much as they could in streams, rivers, etc. , but remember hygiene in those days was not what it is today.
Plus, think of your fellow reenactors and maybe your own popularity or lack thereof, if you smell really bad. The Civil War was pre-deodorant days. Some guys think the worse you smell, the better your impression, but I would not go to that extreme. You can’t diagnose smell in original photos.
My last comment on staying neat and clean as the soldiers of the Civil War wanted to do is about hair. Most of the men who fought in the Civil War ran the gamut – crew cuts to long hair. I think they cut their hair for hygiene hair to keep the lice down. I would think in the summer they would cut their hair more and in the winter they would have longer hair to keep warm.
The same would go with beards. A lot of this had to do with would depend if you had access to water, razors, etc. I would think in camp they would be much better groomed than on campaign.
In general, they were not sporting long ponytails or long hair very often. Long hair was less common than medium or short hair. Look at original photographs. As I have said many times, if you look at original photographs, you will see that the hairstyles of the day were neat and clean and short for the most part.
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