The Civil War shoe

By Art Ayotte 

(Fugawee Corp)

  •   Why is it called   Jefferson?

  • Thomas Jefferson wore laced instead of buckled shoes to his  Presidential inauguration in 1801 to show his support of the new French government. 

    "Down with the big buckles!"  Large, elaborate jeweled  shoe buckles had been  the most hated symbol of French royalty because it had emphasized the difference between the poverty-ridden workers of the land and those who could wear buckles "worth a farm on each foot." From the beginning of the French Revolution shoe buckles went out of style. Soon, the mere possession of the plainest shoe buckles was enough get a Frenchman separated from his head. 

    After Thomas Jefferson's example in 1801, the term "Jefferson" was used to describe almost any type of laced shoe or boot until the 1880s.

    In 1851 the Army first specified Jefferson bootees,  "rights and lefts,  according to pattern."


    53 ... For all officers - ankle or Jefferson. 

    54 ... For Enlisted Men of Riflemen, Dragoons, Cavalry, and light Artillery - ankle and Jefferson, rights and lefts according to pattern. 

    55 ... For Enlisted Men of Artillery, Infantry, Engineers, and Ordnance - Jefferson, rights and lefts according to pattern.

    For a while, I found "according to pattern" to be a puzzler. Then I found that, in the letting of contracts, the "pattern" was an actual sample of the item being purchased and was used to maintain the quality and workmanship agreed upon between the contractor and the Quartermaster. These "patterns" sometimes were generic items used as a standard but usually would be samples made by the contractor. They were registered and kept on deposit with the Quartermaster. A certified duplicate or one shoe of a pair would be held by the contractor so that delivered  items could be compared with what had been contracted for.

    Before the war, most Army shoes were made at the Susquehana Arsenal near Philadelphia. As with most of the clothing items made at the Arsenal, the pre-cut pieces for the shoes were farmed-out to citizens in the area who worked at home and to Arsenal employees who had spare time after their 12-hour shifts. It is possible that the entire shoe was assembled at home in this manner, but it is more likely that the heavy work of stitching the soles was done in the Arsenal. The Quartermaster General called for sewn soles.

    Then came the War.





    Herewith please find abstract of boots and bootees contracted for at this office; in answer to the letter of Theodore F. Andrew, clerk to the committee. These boots and bootees were not advertised for; but competition was excited and the prices have graduated, according to the rise of the market, both in the value of leather and in the price of labor which naturally increased with the great demand; but a maximum price has been fixed by me-say $2 for bootees and $3.25 for cavalry boots- that has never been exceeded. Orders for bootees were given to the shoemakers in the villages and towns within a reasonable distance from the city, and by that means employment was scattered among the country manufacturers as well as those in the cities. Many of these contracts were made with agreements and bond for the faithful fulfillment thereof. The small number of pegged boots and bootees were purchased in the open market at a time (September 1st and 4th) when the necessities of the army required them immediately and the sewed (italics in the original) could not be had. This, you will observe, closed with those few days.

    Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    (Col) G.H.CROSSMAN

    Deputy Quartermaster General USA

    To: Hon. E.B. Washburn: Chairman of the Committee of House of Representatives to inquire into government contracts. (Page 1569, Record of the 37th Congress, 2nd Session)


    Accompanying the letter were Crossman's figures that showed purchases all up and down the area between New York and Philadelphia. The average price for bootees was about $2.00 per pair. The lowest price was $1.85 charged by many contractors. The highest quote was $2.20 per pair for 75,000 pair paid to Alexander Cumming of New York. The two largest contracts of 100,000 pairs each were let in Philadelphia (D.C. Enos at $1.87 per pair) and Sing Sing, N.Y. (Allen Ross at $1.90 per pair).

    The smallest contract went to Bernard Misson of Bucks County, PA for 100 pairs of cavalry boots at $3.00 per pair.

    Among the 183,997 pairs of cavalry boots, there is only one purchase of 264 pairs of pegged boots at $2.50. The sewed boots cost $3.25 per pair.

    That seventy-five cent spread is something to keep in mind, because Congressional  hearings emphasized that manufacturers consistently received about seventy-five cents less for the pegged boots and booteesThe Federal government believed that pegged shoes were worth about only sixty percent of the value of sewn boots and bootees.

    Of 1,102,700 pairs of bootees purchased at this time, only 60,000 pairs or fewer than five and a half percent had pegged soles. These all were part of the emergency, one-time purchase for which Colonel Crossman apologized. They were purchased for $1.25 and $1.30 per pair as opposed to the average of about $1.90 for sewn soles.

    Even as Colonel Crossman was reporting his purchases, hearings were being held as to the merits of allowing certain shoe factories to deliver pegged bootees.

    To understand the situation, it must be understood that sewing soles was heavy, labor-intensive work. A skilled workman was able to sew only about twelve pairs in a ten-hour workday. It was this way for centuries until a pegging machine was introduced into the shoe industry about 1837. While leather uppers could be made on a chain-stitch machine, no one had, as yet, managed to make a sole stitcher.

    Along came the pegging machine, which turned blocks of wood into pegs and then drove those pegs with the precision and speed of today's sewing machines, sending nine pegs per inch into the leather in two staggered rows a third of an inch apart. The machine also did away with the welting operation in which a strip of leather is sewn to the uppers. The sole is then sewn to the welt.

    From the beginning, the pegging machine was a great tool for the manufacture of cheap shoes. The Southern plantations contracted to have their slaves' shoes made in Northern factories and could send their slave shoemakers  into the cotton fields. (The Massachusetts shoe manufacturers were among the strongest opponents of Abolition) The same factories also manufactured cheap pegged work shoes for the immigrants swarming into the slums of the Northern Cities and for the Western trade, producing the rough, cheap work shoes of the river boatman and teamster.

    When the war came along, the pegging factories made their bids for a piece of the Government pie. The sheer numbers of bootees and boots required  by the growing army forced it to relax its standards and to accept lower quality  products. In the interviews and hearings outlined in the Congressional Report, every inventive reason either for allowing pegs or sticking with stitches was outlined. Some of the arguments were ridiculous and/or humorous, in keeping with the spirit of all congressional sessions.

    As the war went on the Army was forced to lower its standards and the percentage of pegged bootees increased. It is estimated that 40% of bootees purchased by the Army during the course of the war were of pegged-sole construction, another 40% being of the regulation sewn-sole construction and the last 20% being riveted or nailed. This is an estimation, not entirely my own, and close enough for government work.

    Riveted construction was likely to prevail in Confederate shoes that came through the blockade from England.