19th century military uniforms

Written by clark highsmith
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  • Introduction

    19th century military uniforms

    The 19th century was a period in which military service was glamorised. The prestige of serving was reflected in soldiers' colourful and ornate uniforms. These works of art were worn into battle during the century that witnessed notable wars such as the Napoleonic wars, British colonial wars, American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War.

    Napoleon and his troops retreating from Moscow. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

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    The Napoleonic wars

    Uniforms from the 1800 to 1815 Napoleonic era were "...the most elaborate display of pomp in the whole history of military dress," according to the Napoleon, His Army and Enemies website. Made of wool, silk, linen and hemp, European uniforms of the time were a rainbow of colours. The coat or jacket was what gave each army its distinctive appearance: Russians wore green, Portuguese brown, Swedes and Bavarians a light blue, Spanish and Austrians light grey, British red and the French a dark blue. A greatcoat or cape was worn over the uniform during adverse conditions. Headwear was ornate and included tricorne and bicorn hats, shakos, helmets and bearskins.

    Napoleon sports a bicorn hat and greatcoat. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

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    The American Civil War

    Union soldiers wore dark blue uniforms made of wool and a belt that held a cap box and cartridge box. Confederate uniforms, when available, were dyed grey or brown and made out of the South's plentiful cotton. Kepi hats were common among infantry on both sides. One notable exception to the standard uniforms were the Zouave units that fought on both sides. inspired by the French North Africa Zouaves, these units wore bright red trousers and caps. As the Union controlled all clothing manufacturing, Confederate uniforms were inferior.

    Civil War officers discuss surrender terms. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

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    Franco-Prussian War

    The uniforms worn in the last great European war before World War I were similar to American Civil War uniforms but included several unique features. Perhaps most striking were the Prussian pickelhaube helmets with their distinctive spikes and intricate eagle ornamentation. The picklehaube complemented the dark blue (dunkelbrau) tunics with red facing. French infantry wore blue tunics with red trousers, and a blue kepi that closely resembled the rounded shako.

    The 1870 to 1871 Franco-Prussian War was a stunning German victory. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

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    Colonial Wars

    British soldiers continued to wear bright red uniforms through the latter parts of the 19th century. As most British conflicts of the period, sometimes called "Queen Victoria's Little Wars," were fought in warm colonial climates, the uniforms reflected this reality. The lower ranks wore a simple red tunic with five or six buttons. During the 1879 Zulu War, the headwear of choice was the pith helmet, a lightweight helmet that protected the wearer from the sun. Though bright white when issued, many soldiers stained the helmet with tea or mud to make themselves less conspicuous on the battlefield.

    British soldiers attempt to subdue the 1857 Indian mutiny. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

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