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Civil War Forage Caps: A Review of Several Modern Sutlers

Discussion in 'Hats' started by Doc Glockster, Jun 3, 2013.

  1. Doc Glockster

    Doc Glockster One of the Regulars

    Civil War Forage Caps: A Review of Major Sutlers

    Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by the Civil War forage cap, or bummer. Often erroneously called a kepi, the forage cap is distinguished by the taller crown and lack of a prominent welt around the crown disc’s top edge. This gives the appearance that someone has sewn a plate into the top of the hat, and the weight of it usually allows the crown to droop forward over the forehead. This is the look that most wearers of forage caps hope for, so it will figure prominently in my reviews. Usually, if you lightly wet the area around the crown disc, then shape the crown to drape forward as it dries while you wear the cap, you will get the right look. Be careful not to soak the hat, though. The crown disc is usually just a form of cardboard, and you can ruin it.

    I wasn’t quite as concerned with 100% authenticity as a dedicated reenactor might be. I collect these hats and wear them as a novelty to gun shows, barbecues, and whatnot. Usually I get at least one compliment.

    I ordered a forage cap from each of several top sutlers and compared them for fit, appearance, and quality of construction. All caps were Federal Type 2 (larger crown disc) unless otherwise noted. Unfortunately, I can’t post photos because the caps I disliked I quickly got rid of. :D

    1. CD Jarnigan—Older caps made by this company looked more authentic. Completed auctions on eBay show caps that might have been top quality at one time. What I got from Jarnigan was clearly not up to that standard. For one thing, the crown disc had a welt around it like a kepi should, and the crown disc material was so lightweight that it just would not drape properly even after lightly wetting the cap. Construction looked cheap, too.
    2. NJ Sekela—The cap’s fit seemed all wrong. For my size, 7 ¼, it felt about half a size too small. The crown was not quite tall enough to allow the disc to drape very well, either, leaving the cap with the crown disc sort of hovering above the forehead. After giving the cap away, I began to wonder if they sent me one with the size marked wrong.
    3. Mike Anderson—Too bad Mike decided to retire recently. I probably got one of his last forage caps. The crown disc is slightly larger than any of the other offerings, but not so large as to be inauthentic or an obvious difference compared to other caps. All in all, the Mike Anderson cap looked, fit, and draped nearly perfectly. I did not like how the chin strap was left unfinished on the back, however. I got my cap and it was covered with little leather “pills”. If you find a used Mike Anderson cap on eBay: you should be happy with it.
    4. Dirty Billy’s—I love the way Dirty Billy’s forage caps look, and the way the crown disc drapes over the forehead with just a little wetting. I liked the Dirty Billy’s caps so much I ordered more than one from him. My only criticisms are that maybe his reproductions are a tad too authentic: the paint on the visors cracks like the real caps, and on a hot day the dye on the leather sweatband leaves a brown mark on your forehead. I could do without that. Bill also takes a shortcut with his chin straps, leaving them removable. All other sutlers sew them in place. It’s debatable which I prefer. I have also ordered Confederate kepis from Bill in the past. He is considered the best in the business for a reason, and I think his caps have the best fit and appearance.
    5. Greg Starbuck—This was a grey Confederate hat. I wanted to get one of his famous Amzi Williamson forage caps. It’s dyed with a natural dye which slowly fades from grey to tan in the sunlight. I also ordered mine with Texas state chin strap buttons. The buttons came with a dull appearance, leading me to believe they might be original period buttons and not modern reproductions. All in all, Starbuck’s cap fits and looks fantastic.
    6. scoutdrummer—an Ebay-only Confederate cap maker. I ordered a tawny colored forage cap from him. His quality is comparable to Greg Starbuck’s, and he only charges a about half what a Starbuck hat costs. Lately he has not listed any caps for sale, so I wonder if he’s gotten out of the business.
    7. Superior Cap Company—Another Ebay-only sutler. I actually ordered a Confederate kepi from them. The quality is okay, but certainly not the same as any of the better sutlers like Dirty Billy. For the quality they should be selling their caps for not much more than what scoutdrummer charges: around $40-50.

    I deliberately avoided some of the "cheapie" eBay caps. Past experience with a very inauthentic-looking Confederate kepi made me want to avoid Quartermaster Shop also.

    All in all, if I had to pick one sutler, it would be Dirty Billy's. His shipping can be slow, but I liked his caps so much I ordered more from him than any other maker.
  2. liten

    liten One of the Regulars

    hi doc any ideas on the 1872 IW kepi? and who makes the best fitting one, ive theard they have perchy feel to them and dont fit that well
  3. cpdv

    cpdv One of the Regulars

    I agree with you about Dirty Billy's. I put together my companies early war impression for 150th of Bull Run and I used his type I forage cap and it was worth the price.
  4. I have been out of the hobby for some time now but will haveta Absolutely Agree with you, Doc.
    Dirty Bill is The Bee's Knees. He's got some Great Stuff (and his collection of original stuff is Rilly Neat, too).
    I like a lot of his felts, too.

    liten - I'd recomend you to Dirty Bill as well, he covers this period = same quality & authenticity
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2013
  5. Man this tread needed pictures.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk 2
  6. David Conwill

    David Conwill Call Me a Cab

    Yep. Subscribing in the hope that some will be added.
  7. I'd love to see some pics too!
  8. [​IMG]
    Dirtybilly's US 11 U.S. Kepi
    Infantry Lieutenant's Kepi is the one I like. dirtybillyshatsconfederate_kepis

    I had trouble accessing the front page url for dirtybilly's for some reason.

    CD Jarnigan
    jarnaginco.com/federal hats
    Boy what a bad website.:) Had to search google to get the page link.

    NJ Sekela njsekela forage cap page
    Mike Anderson http://www.wwandcompany.com/OLD_SITE/uscaps.html

    Greg Starbuck cap Greg Starbuck
    Possibly the finest forage caps and kepis in the field.
    P.O. Box 30958
    Savannah, GA 31410
    (912) 352-2381
    Email: ofj@g-net.net
    no website active.
  9. [​IMG]
    scout drummer cap

    Superior Cap Company ebay Superior-Cap-Co nothing on this store right now.

    So I spent a few minutes finishing this thread out. Always wanted a Kepi cap. :)
  10. Doc Glockster

    Doc Glockster One of the Regulars

    The main characteristic of IW kepis is that the crown is shorter than a CW kepi, leaving the wearer with the feeling that it's going to slide off your head.

    Dirty Billy's is the only authentic maker I know of, and his are not 100% authentic to that feel, if you judge by the two examples I bought from him.

    The trouble is, IW reenacting gear is not nearly as popular as CW gear, so there aren't as many makers.

    I would not use the Quartermaster Shop IW kepi. It's not even close.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2013
  11. Doc Glockster

    Doc Glockster One of the Regulars

    One thing about sizing: in a kepi I like a tight fit because it rides higher on your head. In a forage cap I like the fit a little loose so it drapes better, and the floppy design of the sweatband area lends itself to ordering it a little loose.

    For example, in a cowboy hat I wear 7 1/4. I order kepis in 7 1/4 also. In a forage cap I either order 7 3/8 or measure to my exact head measurement.
  12. Wise Hatter, that 1st pic of the "scout drummer cap"

    I'm subscribing to the tought that that is how it was "named" when you found the photo
    In actuallity is a McDowell type or "style" forage cap. Cresent cut visor or bill.

    I like(d) about the same way,Doc only in that how it fit. The look ended up being what it was.

    Now, if I remember correctly, caps were issued something along the lines as the rest of the volunteers got their uniforms (blouse or frock, trousers, brogans, etc). There were 4 std. sizes, many variations on how they were marked as sized, a soldier got what he was handed & appropriate size was found by trading up with a fellow in that soldier's company.

    Not sure why, just thought I'd throw that out there too.
  13. Doc Glockster

    Doc Glockster One of the Regulars

    It's true that 19th century sizing was different than today. There were few standard sizes. Those with money bought a standard size (usually too big) and paid a tailor to custom-fit their clothing. Notice how tailoring has virtually gone out of style? It was not so in the 1800's: clothes that fit were a sign that you had the bucks to afford tailoring and hence were "high society".
  14. I'm not sure it can be accurately stated that kepis of the American Civil War had any unifying characteristic(s).

    As far as I know, all kepis worn by Union troops were either (a) private purchase items, (b) produced on a contract basis for volunteer/militia units, or (c) issued through local/state authorities rather than the Federal depot system (which really ties back to "b"). As such, there was no "standard" pattern for kepis. (Remember, kepis and forage caps are not the same thing).

    Regarding kepis worn by Confederate troops; while kepis rather than forage caps were called for in regulations laid down in 1861, manufacturing was so dispersed in the south and government oversight was so minimal that, again, it's hard to say that there was a standard pattern.

    For my money, Greg Starbuck's forage caps and kepis are the best on the market in terms quality and authenticity.
  15. Doc Glockster

    Doc Glockster One of the Regulars

    You are correct. One of the good things about being a Confederate reenactor is that as long as your cap is made from period materials, literally nobody can tell you that your cap is wrong. I have seen museum examples of everything from fancy factory-made kepis to homemade cotton caps in red-white-and-blue!

    Federal caps were more standardized, but you are correct that kepis were privately purchased (except for officers, and they often purchased commercial versions of their regulation kepis).

    I have seen plenty of photos of Confederates wearing forage caps, so I take "regulations" with a grain of salt. In all actuality, the most common form of CSA headgear supposedly was a brimmed hat that a farmer might wear.

    The thing about CSA caps that immediately screams "inauthentic" is the brass slide (buckle) on the chin strap. The South was short on brass and generally this was deleted from the design parameters. Chin straps on a CSA cap were often "fake" as well--just for ornamentation and non-functional. Sometimes the "chin strap" was just a strip of painted cloth held in place by the buttons. Buttons too, ranged from fancy brass-cast regulation state buttons to the soldier's mom's dress buttons. Really.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2013
  16. All items issued through U.S. military deports were sized according to a numbered system. Hats were sized from "1" to "9" with size 1 being equivalent to a modern size 6 3/4 (21 1/8" circumference) and size 9 being a modern size 7 3/4 (24 1/4" circumference).
  17. One thing that every recreated kepi has wrong... and I do mean all of them.... is that they use leather that is too thick and heavy for the sweatbands. Sweatband leather was much finer, thinner, and more delicate back then than the leather the reenactors use. But you can't really blame them, I suppose. After all, I doubt one could even get the right sort of leather they used back then now-a-days.
  18. Doc Glockster

    Doc Glockster One of the Regulars

    I agree. And the visor leather for Federal kepis, especially in IW kepis, is too thin. I think they must have used buffalo hide on a lot of federal kepis back in the day. Almost every IW kepi visor I've seen in a museum is surprisingly thick.
  19. Federal officers were actaully issued essentially nothing and were responsible for furnishing their own uniforms and equipment. They were reimbursed a certain amount for the costs, but this amount was so low most officers ended up going out of pocket for most of their kit. Under certain circumstances, officers were allowed to draw from enlisted stores, which many opted to do -- particularly those of modest means and those serving on active duty.

    The Confederate uniform regulations of 1861 are comical . . .
  20. Edward

    Edward Bartender

    Yeah... I've long toyed with the idea of one for wearing with leather, in the manner of.... was it Lee Marvin? One of the BRMC that rode with Johnny Strabler wore one. Probably CSA, if my memory is right (a Union would have looked black on screen, and from memory this one looked grey).

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