View Full Version : Canteen Covers
01-01-2004, 02:54 PM
I trust your New Years Day is going well! I have a question about canteen covers. I am in a Federal Infantry unit. There is some in my unit who say our canteen covers should be brown. I for one can not quite get with that. They point to relics in the museums that are brown now and say that must be how they were, BUT these are items that are 140 years old, and while they were being used they were dunked in the water repeatedly. I have heard examples of these relic canteens being examined to find the thread holding the cover together was blue.....leading one to believe (with little imagination) that the cover was blue and the dye has simply faded away.
My question to all of you is this... Does anyone have documentaion sources for this one way or the other. I can't find pictures in any of my books that really show canteens (to compare the color with say the color of their coat), or written word in letters or Quartermasters records that actually SAY what color a Federal canteen cover was. Any input you can give would be greatly appreciated!!!
Thanks in advance!
01-01-2004, 03:13 PM
I don’t have documented sources, but lets think about it. The United States Government must turn out uniform jackets and pants in the dark and light blue wool. Now wouldn’t it seem like a waist of the precious blue wool on canteen covers?
Just look at the lining in some sack coats. They never just stuck with one lining type, but instead used whatever was available at the time.
If you think about both of these things, it would seem that the covers on the canteens would be whatever they had available (i.e. old brown blankets), but there is also pictures of canteen covered in dark blue wool also (but I am guessing that it wouldn’t have been as widely used, as stated above)
There is documented proof of at least one Federal canteen having a blue cover on pg. 71 of the Civil War Collectors Encyclopedia, Vol. I, by Francis A.
That’s my two cents, hope it helps.
01-01-2004, 03:24 PM
Look at the originals. That's the best way to learn. Check out relic sites online, and books like EoG. You'll quickly see that absolute statements like "they should all be blue" or "none should be blue" are both equally wrong. The "no blue cover" crowd usually belongs to that group attempting to progress by the logic that if the mainstream uses it (hat brass, gaiters, side knives, etc.) it is always incorrect, instead of doing actual research.
01-01-2004, 03:42 PM
Several years ago Earl J. Coates wrote an excellent article for the Company of Military Historians Journal that covers this subject very well. Back issues are still available from the CMH. Their website address - http://www.military-historians.org/
The section regarding the covering is very long and I won't take up space here quoting it in its entirety. The canteen was considered a utilitarian item and was not intended to match any part of the uniform’s color. He lists a variety of colors used by the Philadelphia Depot to include upholstery fabric to complete the canteens. Some of the materials listed in addition to the stripped upholstery material are –
Brown Kentucky jean
Cadet Kentucky jean
Drab Kentucky jean
Union Cadet Cassimere
Salvaged material from greatcoats, blankets and any other similar textured material was used.
Brown covers seen on Cincinnati and New York Depot canteens were in all probability gray to begin with and turn this color over time due to the type dye used.
Before making any final conclusions or assumptions regarding canteen covers I highly recommend reading this article as it will give you a great bit of information regarding not only covers but cork attachment and straps. I would also recommend a membership in the CMH for those who aren’t. The information contained in their journals is well worth the price of admission.
01-01-2004, 05:01 PM
I need to echo what Jim said, you NEED to read the canteens article published by the CMH. It answers SO many questions.
Remember too, that he canteen cover would depend on the canteen you have, and the "time" and theater your character is in. Different cantees were prevalent different places and times.
A couple quotes from the article:
“The army's first order, about 20,000 canteens came with sky blue wool covers then changed to dark blue, this however was soon replaced with a covering of army blanket wool, this remained the most used type of cover during the war years.”
“In 1863-1864 the Schuylkill Arsenal had a directive to reprocess used army materials in it's production of new equipment, cloth from greatcoats, sack coats, trousers and even socks were used as covers in the last years of the war.”
PLEASE get ahold of that article! You won't regret it! ;)
I am in earnest,
01-01-2004, 05:20 PM
Don't over analyze the canteen cover issue. From what I have seen by observing surviving canteens, you could draw a canteen at any time in the war (except possibly real early) and receive a variety of cover material and color. Jean appears to be the most common but not exclusive. If talking jean covers, gray was used extensively and probably accounts for many of the brown covers which survive today.
Wool was usually dark blue, brown or gray. Not many sky blue kersey covers survive today but there are a few around. After early war the sky blue kersey could have been salvage material.
Use the guidelines of the CMH article and look at the ones I have pictured on the link below if you need to see what they look like.
01-01-2004, 09:13 PM
I have two canteens. One blue and one jean clothe. The blue is for pre- and early war impressions, and the jean cloth is for late war and volunteer impressions. Assuming that your primary impression is that of a volunteer, then the brown/grey jean cloth would be the most like style issued to you. But the blue would also be acceptable if not over represented in your unit.
The wool cover served a functional purpose. The purpose of the wool cover was to keep the water cooler longer. This was achieved by wetting the outside, and the ensuing evaporation had a cooling effect on the contents.
It may be that some of the original blue canteens that we see in collections are a result of soldiers replacing worn out covers with material from their old overcoats or sack coats. The Union Drummer Boy in Gettysburg recently had a bullseye canteen with a light blue cover on it. But please keep in mind that this is the exception and not the rule.
01-02-2004, 03:36 AM
Back when I was keeping track of this sort of thing, I had examined in detail 32 original canteens. The most common colors, in almost equal numbers were gray and dark brown jeans. Most of the tan covers were originally gray in the seems. I examined a total of 1 that was sky blue, 3 that were dark blue and 4 that were covered in black velvet. So basically over 2/3rds were jeans. Another thing of note is that 14 of them were the "bullseye" pattern.
01-02-2004, 04:08 PM
From my article on canteens in "The Columbia Rifles Research Compendium":
The cover is the most visible aspect of a Civil War canteen and, unfortunately, the vast majority of Federal reenactors’ canteen covers are completely out-of-synch with period documentation. A typical Yankee reenactor has a canteen covered with dark blue kersey (wool) material—often of the same type of fabric as his uniform coat.
Many early canteen covers were satinette, which was a cheap cotton warp/woolen weft fabric that appeared to be “finished” only on one side. Once the Civil War began in earnest, the grade of material used for canteen covers actually declined. It is interesting to note that covers were not subject to Federal army inspectors, as was the canteen body and spout. The 1865 Quartermaster Department regulations, which codified what the army had been purchasing throughout the war, specified only that cover material should be, “a coarse cheap woolen, or woolen and cotton fabric”. In contrast, the kersey wool material used on most reenactors’ canteens is a “premium” fabric.
Material purchase records as well as relics from the period show that the vast majority—probably over three-quarters—of Federal canteens were covered with jean cloth, which was a very coarse, cheap cotton warp/woolen weft, twill woven material. Reproduction jean cloth-covered canteens can be ordered from various suppliers, and canteen cover kits are also available from many cloth vendors and makers of high-quality reproduction clothing.
On occasion, any cheap cloth that was available on the open market was employed by private firms and by government purchasing agents to meet deadlines on canteen delivery contracts. For example, a large number of canteens issued from the Schuylkill Depot between autumn, 1862 and summer, 1863 were covered with striped furniture upholstery fabric which, not surprisingly, proved to be very durable.
The predominant color of canteen covers issued by the Federal army, especially jean cloth covers, were gray. Today many relics have brown, reddish-brown, or tan-colored covers. These most likely were gray at the time of their manufacture and, over 140-plus years, the logwood dye used to color the fabric oxidized to a brownish hue. Thus, living historians seeking to improve the authenticity of their canteen should consider replacing their dark blue kersey cover with a gray-colored jean cloth cover; it is not unsuitable for early-war canteens to be covered in satinette. However, because canteen covers were not always durable, a canteen covered with any cheap, widely available material is also appropriate as a “field repair”. Use of an old, 100 percent wool army blanket or a sock for a canteen cover is ideal in this respect. Use of field-improvised covers should be minimal because most surviving canteens appear to retain their original cover, and many “field repairs” on existing canteens may have been made by post-war owners.
New York Depot canteen covers were almost universally machine-sewn on the lower half and then hand-finished on the upper half, after the cover was slipped onto the canteen. Most Schuylkill Depot covers were likewise partly machine-sewn, although some canteens with entirely hand-sewn covers exist. Machine-sewn canteen covers were present only on factory-made examples and, obviously, covers that were repaired in the field should not have machine sewing.
Finally, based on period photographs, is appears that coverless canteens were rather common during the war, and were probably more prevalent than is seen today in the ranks of reenactment units.
To re-cover a canteen, first remove the strap. If you plan to replace the strap with a new one, simply cut it in two. If you are going to put the same strap back on the canteen, carefully take the strap-joint apart with a stitch-ripper. Note how it goes together so that it can be re-sewn in the same fashion. Next, cut the old cover off the canteen. Leave the old cover’s stitching intact so you can refer to it when putting on the new one.
If you are making your own cover, take the cover material and cut out two circles, equal in size to your old cover, plus about a 1/4-inch seam allowance. Pin the two circles “right sides together” (i.e., with the sides that will be outside facing in) and stitch them together about halfway around the lower circumference of the cloth, about 1/4-inch inside the edge of the material. This seam should run between the two top strap keepers, leaving a gap through which the bottom strap keeper will protrude. After this phase of the sewing, turn the cover inside out, so that the “right sides” are facing outside, and slip the canteen into the new cover. Now stitch from the top of the strap keeper on each side to the spout. The seam allowance will have to be turned inside for this part of the sewing, but once it starts it is surprisingly easy. Use the old cover as a model.
With the new cover in place, dampen it thoroughly and let it dry before putting on the strap. This will shrink the cover, depending on the strength of the material, and help it conform to the shape of the canteen. Once the sewing is complete and the cover shrunk onto the canteen, put the strap (old or new) through the loops and, if you have a cloth strap, sew the joint, and your canteen-covering operation will be complete.
It is widely known that soldiers marked their equipment with information such as their name, regiment, company, and number.
According to reenactor myth, a “typical” identification on an equipment item might read, “B. Yank, G-42" (i.e., the soldier’s name, company, and place in the company). Many surviving canteens have only the soldier’s name (see Figures 2 and 3), and others have numbers (see Figure 4). If provided, such markings were usually made in black or white paint on the canteen cover, although most original specimens observed by this writer had either no identification on them or, as commonly seen, simply the soldier’s initials. This writer has also seen some original canteens with the soldier’s name or initials and other information marked on the strap in lieu of it being painted on the cover (see Figure 3). Finally, some soldiers decorated their canteen covers with corps badges or other designs, either of colored cloth sewn to the cover, or with a painted design. However, such ornate designs appear to have been much less common than marking just one’s name or initials on the canteen.
01-02-2004, 05:01 PM
One hesitates to be absolutist, but the ease of appliance and the ready availablity of period-correct fabrics (logwood or gray-dyed jean cloth, blanket remnants, furniture upholstery remnants, etc.) makes it almost a slam-dunk for everyone to have a properly kitted-out canteen these days.
For the timorous, there are canteen covering "kits" from the Tarts or Family Heirloom Weavers (among others) for a mere $5 or so. The fabric is pre-cut, and instructions provided. It takes less than an evening to do, folks, I've covered about a half-dozen canteens at this point. Kevin's instructions for those who feel a little friskier and want to make their own from available materials mean there's simply no reason for anyone's canteen NOT to be out-of-uniform (I especially like the old sock suggestion).
And if $5 seems too much, and you don't want to scare up some scrap fabric, Chris Daley occasionally gives away canteen cover kits to customers, as he did at this past McDowell. I have two from purchases made there, and would gladly donate them to anyone who can't afford a cover on their own.
Foggy Bottom Jim
01-02-2004, 10:01 PM
Like The Coffe Boiler, I have a Dk Blue cover for early war and a jean cloth for later war impressions complete with cow crap stains from Recon II.
I have seen any number of examples of original canteens with dk. blue covers but would certainly not advocate everyone going out and get blue covers.
I do think some of the problem is what kind of material is used. It may be that some equate dk blue covered canteens with sutler row quality goods; i.e. fuzzy wool material and shiny chains.
When I put my blue cover on, I picked out a nice piece of cloth up at Marinos in G-burg from scraps around his shop. He thankfully got me started and I finished it up and got the right type of twine for the cork. Even though I use a (gasp!) leather strap, it has faded well and looks totally period.
I think it's little efforts like these that can really improve an impression ratehr tan getting stuck on color.
01-02-2004, 11:25 PM
I don't understand where this partial myth of the gray jeans turning to brown quite comes from. Earl J. Coates provided documantation that "Brown Kentucky Jeans" were ordered for covering canteens, but many state that the original brown specimens oxidized brown. Am I missing something here? Rarely will gray oxidize dark brown, tan yes, but nice chocolate brown, not likely. I will concure that gray does have the edge in total numbers, both published and personal research, but dark brown was quite common.
And just for a little laugh, one of the black velvet covered canteens I looked at had a nice painted on flower.
01-03-2004, 08:41 AM
I wonder if there is a sample of Brown Kentucky Jean which hasn't changed color still around. It would be interesting to see how brown is brown. Sorta like how gray is gray. We know there were many shades of that color in use. I have looked at many canteens and while some were browner than others I can't remember any having a really dark brown cover.
Perhaps some of the better informed can tell me what type of material the cover in the pic is made of. To me it looks like blanket material but I am not sure.
The pic attached is one of the brownest I have. If you look in the rings you can see what appears to be some of the original color. To me it looks like gray. Of course you see brown straps frequently. I wonder what color these originally were?
Just food for thought.
01-03-2004, 03:03 PM
I examined a total of 1 that was sky blue, 3 that were dark blue and 4 that were covered in black velvet.
Thanks for the information on the black velvet covers. I had read about the Philadelphia canteens being covered in furniture upholstery, but that's a new one. Definitely new information for the hopper.
Any chance those black velvet covered canteens had Elvis painted on the side? ;)
01-04-2004, 09:31 AM
Regarding the color that logwood-dyed gray turns when its exposed to sunlight, it fades to a tannish color, not "brown". I suspect that one sees the word "brown" used in discussing this topic becuase guys' color vocabulary is generally limited to not much more than primary colors.
See John Tobey's CRRC article on blankets for a more-complete discussion on the dye and how it fades. In the article John describes how he experimented with pieces of logwood-dyed wool to see how they faded when exposed to sunlight for days, weeks, and months.
Back to the topic of canteen covers, I think the point is that canteens were covered with all manner of materials in various colors and, occasionally, even patterns. However, while I'm sure that guys on this and other forums can asert how they've seen lots of wool- or flannel-covered canteens, and canteens in velvet, and probably polyester too, about 95% of the originals I've seen are covered in jeancloth, which is why both of my repro US canteens are covered in grayish/tannish jeancoth.
01-04-2004, 10:05 AM
My use of the word brown was taken from Coates' article where he uses it. Personally, I have to agree that they are a light tan color.
01-04-2004, 11:02 AM
Another answer to a question that has no answer. I once knew an elderly woman named Emma Buenzow who worked in the city (New York City) during the 1920' and early 1930's sewing canteen covers on new but Civil War vintage canteens. Mrs. B and many other girls were paid a nickle for each canteen they covered and used four button Civil War and five button Indian War vintage coats to get the covering materials. She said the coat came in bundles, were heavy and smelly. She said there was a warehouse full of the coats. She worked for a company named Francis Bannerman Sons, you may have heard of them.
01-04-2004, 11:20 AM
For more information, check out my book - "Covering It All: Canteen Covers of the Civil War"
Trade Paperback - ISBN: 0028621220
01-04-2004, 06:30 PM
Well, how long would it take a grey cover to turn tan/brown in the field? Since the canteen cover is going to be exposed most of the year it's bound to turn to a different color in at least a year.
01-04-2004, 11:21 PM
Pertaining to Kentucky Jeans, Jordan Ricketts is currently doing some research into just what this type of jean was. He told me, but I won't let the cat outta the bag until he has his work all wrapped up.
And about colors. I've done a little experimantation with the natural dyed cloth, logwood, sumak mainly. I've seen how fast, yes fast they oxidize. I once set some logwood thread in the elements and it faded to light tan within 9 days, once placed a piece of logwood and sumak dyed jean on my dashboard in my car and they both went tan in under a month. On both of these experiments I covered half of each with duck tape and the side that was covered stayed the original color. When I read reports that use words like Brown- I think a darker brown, while cadet- makes me think of a medium gray with a bluish tint, drab- a tan with or without a slight greenish tint.
Another thing that I've noticed about grays, they have a very strong tendency to take on a drab/tan tint whether or not they are veggie dyed or not. They don't hide the dirt very well.
01-05-2004, 10:49 PM
Luckily the well researched Chris Daley is offering canteen covers for US patterned canteens. He offers three or four different shades of jeans material. If you want any input, ask him and I'm sure he can justify his selctions of color shades.
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