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Some basics for bootmen

Civil War Cavalry Boots

Cavalry Boots

Cavalry Boots

Standard cavalry issue during the American Civil War was the Wellington Boot. In 1815 Arthur Wellsley, First Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. The popular victor became a national icon and both men and women emulated his style of footwear. The modern Wellington had a low cut heel and the shaft was calf high (about 12" to 14") and not thigh high. This made them easier to mass produce. These boots became known as "cavalry boots" and were often made of hard, black leather called kip. Bootmakers based their designs on Northern European riding boots. The most popular was the Coffeyville Boot from Coffeyville, Kansas. It combined the various US Cavalry styles and the original British leather Wellington boot.

After much experimentation by the Quartermaster Corps during and after the Civil War, an oak-tanned Spanish leather which was heavily waxed on the flesh side became the standard. And it was from this waxed calf that most of the early cowboy boots were constructed, as well.


Unfortunately during the American Civil War (1861-1865) unscrupulous contractors supplied below par footwear and many of the cavalry boots were mass produced using reinforced cardboard. Climatic conditions took their toll and the soldiers suffered deep cuts to their feet. The English language was enriched with the word shoddy which described manufacturers willing to compromise quality for profit. Many experts believe the final victory was in no small part due to the superior footwear of the Union army.

About 1865, the US Government issued new boots to soldiers. The boots had brass tacks to hold the leather soles of the boots on. As the soles were worn down, the tacks would protrude through the bottom into the soldiers feet. The government put together a committee to study the problem and suggested a solution. Their solution was to issue each soldier a metal file to file down the points of the tacks as they pushed through the boot sole. (Some things never change, do they?) The term "brass tacks" could mean to get to the absolute bottom of things (in original reference to soldier's boots).

By the end of the Civil War, the federal government had half a million pairs of boots surplus to requirements. Systematically thereafter troops stationed on the frontier were supplied with shoddy boots. Shoe historians believe the foundation of the cowboy boot trade in the frontier was based on the simple necessity for civilian bootmakers to replace defective military footwear.

Boots worn by Civil War officers were provided by private sutlers (a trader who sold drink and provisions to the troops). Officer's boots were not standard government issue. These Boots as shown here were usually from 15" to 19" high, and had a knee flap on the top front of the boot, which provided protection to an officer's legs and knees while riding a horse, mounting, or dismounting. On some officer's boots, there was an extrusion of leather on each side of the knee flap which could be tied around the leg to hold the boot up and in place.
During the American Civil War, boots were made upon straight lasts, meaning that each boot was the same and there was no "right" or "left" boot. What may look like a right or left boot in the picture here actually are straight-last boots that comformed to the curvature of the foot when they were broken in. Right and left boots were introduced after the Civil War but were not popular. It took another 50 years before the masses accepted boots made for right and left feet.
Content from Wikipedia, Curtain University, DaveM, and Booted Harleydude. Pictures courtesy of DaveM, used with permission.

Text from Wikipedia article on Cowboy Boots and Wellington Boots and as edited and contributed to by Booted Harleydude. Text of this article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.

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