In the mode of the late 19th century members of the U.S. military officially wore dark blue uniforms for service dress. The use of light colored canvas clothing was originally reserved for soldiers to wear when doing fatigue duty or chores. It was widely felt though that canvas was a significantly easier to clean material than the wool of traditional uniforms worn for parade or active service. However as U.S. military forces found themselves stationed in significantly warmer climates towards the last decade of the century, many soldiers found the cloth to be more comfortable to wear. This trend soon caught on by officers as well, who modified enlisted blouses to suit their ranks, or contracted private purchase uniforms to be tailored by civilian manufacturers.
By the outbreak of the Spanish American War (1898) the canvas uniform became widely adopted by members of all service branches on active duty. However due to slow production timing on behalf of the uniform contractors, with the exception of private purchase versions bought by officers, very few of these uniforms were actually received by troops before their embarkation to Cuba. It is very likely that this specific uniform worn by a volunteer infantry captain, was issued after the Spanish surrender and therefore it was worn not on the battlefield but rather on the parade ground.
The colored trim on the collars, epaulettes and false cuffs distinguished the different service branches- Light Blue the official color of infantry, Yellow for Calvary and Red for Artillery. The four patch pockets gave the uniform a more utilitarian function for life on campaign. In addition, the 2" wide pleat running down the back from collar to coat skirt, allowed an increased efficiency of movement than the earlier patterns that were more tailored and fitted.
Following the Spanish American War, as the United States stepped into the 20th century, this pattern of uniform marked a significant style evolution within the U.S. military as they turned to meet the new challenges of industrialized modern warfare. This change in battle tactics would cause a dramatic shift in approach and perspectives, that would reflect itself further in an all-together elimination of the traditionally formal blue uniform for olive drab and khaki, as the pomp and press of the past proved impractical on the peerless parapets of the future.
V.2003.48.01 (Gift of Clifford A. Cutchins IV)
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