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Social Studies Online: Digital Literacy Connections to Civics and History

Social Studies Online: Digital Literacy Connections to Civics and History Activity: Civil War Uniforms

Instructions for Your Students

If you were a young man during the Civil War, what would have inspired you to join the army? The cause, the adventure, the pay? How about the uniform? 

Yeah, yeah. We know. Their uniforms were blue and gray. Kind of blah, right? But guess what: Not all Union or Confederate soldiers wore the same uniforms. In the early days, many of their uniforms were designed by their local communities. Check out this example of a flashy Union (North) Zouave uniform, and think about the role that uniforms played recruiting men to fight in the Civil War. 

Would you have joined up if you could have had the chance to wear that? Before you say no, consider the fact that lots of groups have uniforms, from police to football players, and lots of folks think uniforms are pretty snazzy

Okay, okay. So maybe you don't want to wear a turban with a gold tassel and red Hammer pants, but what do you think? Could you design a uniform that would encourage people to join your regiment? We're about to find out. 

Today you'll have the opportunity to research what your local National Guard uniforms look like and try to redesign them, just like community members did for their volunteers during the Civil War.

Step 1: Talk with your teacher a bit about the way many U.S. Civil War uniforms were designed.(There's a lot of info about this on the Regiments of the Civil War page.)

Step 2: Now check out some images of Civil War uniforms using the links below.

Finally, take a quick look at the following uniforms worn by modern Americans re-enacting Civil War battles:

Step 3: In class, discuss the role that uniforms played in the recruitment of volunteers and the cultivation of regiment morale. Would any of these uniforms have gotten you pumped to volunteer to be a soldier? Do you think that cool outfits have any impact on whether or not people join the military today?

Step 4: With your teacher's help, form small groups of 2-4. Once you're in your group, you have two tasks to accomplish:

  1. Find out what your current local National Guard uniforms looks like; and
  2. Design a new uniform for your local National Guard to give them a bit more flair and appeal.

You can draw these freehand, find photos to create collages of the uniforms, write down (in detail) how they would redesign them, or even create uniforms from clothes or fabric. See what resources you have at hand and how much time you have. 

Step 5: When everyone is done, groups will take turns presenting their redesigned uniforms to the group and explaining why their design will encourage people to join their regiment. After all the presentations, you can take a class vote to see which uniform is the most compelling. Most likely whichever one incorporates the best Hammer pants... or maybe not.