The Use of Distinctive Colors in Civil War Uniforms
(Branch Colors)

The concept of branch of service colors was fairly new at the time of the Civil War. Prior to 1851 the Army followed a bimetallic scheme of white or silver for infantry and yellow or gold for all other branches. With the regulations of 1851 branch colors were introduced but they were not altogether specific. For example the enlisted men of both cavalry and the engineers wore yellow facings. Other uniform features distinguished the two branches. Over a long period of time the modern scheme evolved, in which both the officers and men of a branch wore either a single color or combination of two colors specific to their branch of service. This process was not complete until 1921. It should be remembered that in the Civil War the vast majority of soldiers served in regiments of the traditional three combat branches. Unlike today's military there were only very small numbers of enlisted men serving in supporting branches. The pressure to give these soldier distinctive uniform features was very small.

Below is a summary of colors used in Civil War period uniforms. Some of these items can be characterized as a branch color and in other cases only a colored distinction between branches or soldiers serving in a specific capacity.

Officers' Items of Wear
BRANCH Shoulder Strap Sash Trouser Welt
Infantry Sky blue Crimson Dark blue*
Artillery Scarlet Crimson Scarlet
Cavalry Yellow Crimson Yellow
Staff** Dark Blue Crimson Gold
Medical Dark Blue Green Gold
Ordnance Dark Blue Crimson None

Enlisted Men's Items of Wear
BRANCH Welt on Collar Hat Cord Chevron NCO Pants Stripe
Infantry Sky blue Sky blue Sky blue Dark blue*
Artillery Scarlet Scarlet Scarlet Scarlet
Cavalry Yellow Yellow Yellow Yellow
Engineers Yellow Yellow Yellow Yellow
Ordnance Crimson Crimson Crimson Crimson
Hospital Steward Crimson Buff/Green Green/Yellow Crimson

*The change from dark blue to sky blue, which occurred after the publication of the regulations resulted in dark blue welts or stripes on light blue trousers rather than light blue on dark blue trousers as stated in the regulations.

**The term staff referred to officers who occupied staff positions in regiments, such as surgeons or quartermasters; and also officers who were attached to staff departments, at various higher organizational levels. Therefore, medical staff officers and ordnance officers would be referred to as staff officers, but are listed separately here because they had some unique color distinctions.

The war resulted in the creation of other "branches" not established in 1861. These included sharpshooter regiments that wore green, traditionally worn by rifle troops; and the provisional signal corps, whose officers wore a basic staff officer uniform and whose noncommissioned officers wore yellow chevrons. In addition two established branches, mounted rifles and dragoons were merged with cavalry earlier in 1861 and therefore do not appear in the Regulations. These branches, prior to their termination, had had the colors green and orange, respectively. Although the medical staff may have leaned toward green, the color does not appear to have functioned as a branch color per se. For example, hospital stewards did not have green trim on their cuffs or trousers. Riflemen had a much greater claim in military minds to the color green.

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