Headgear served important functional and symbolic purposes for soldiers during the American Civil War. Hats indicated military affiliation, rank, and personal style. The most common cap worn by enlisted men was the kepi, though it offered limited protection. Wide-brimmed slouch hats provided more comfort and shade. Hardee hats with tall crowns were the formal dress caps for Union soldiers. Forage caps with floppy crowns were worn by laborers and soldiers seeking comfort. Some Confederate soldiers wore wide-brimmed straw planter hats, reflecting their agricultural backgrounds.
Hat features carried meaning as well. Color indicated Union or Confederate affiliation. Brass emblems signified rank. Feathers were status symbols. Contrasting hat brims helped conserve leather. The styles and custom details of hats allowed soldiers to express military identity, status, and personal flair. Hats were both practical for protection from the elements and symbolic of the wearer’s role and identity. As such, headgear was an important part of a soldier’s Civil War uniform.
Popular Hat Styles
- Kepi Hat – The most common cap worn by enlisted men on both sides. Offered limited protection.
- Slouch hat – Wide-brimmed felt hat that could be shaped as desired. Popular for its comfort.
- Hardee hat – Formal dress cap for Union soldiers. Tall crown and short visor.
- Forage cap – Comfortable work cap with a floppy crown. Worn by laborers and soldiers.
- Planter hat – Wide-brimmed straw hat worn by some Confederate soldiers familiar with agricultural work.
- Color indicated Union or Confederate affiliation.
- Brass emblems signified rank.
- Feathers were status symbols.
- Contrasting hat brims helped conserve leather.
- Wide brims provided shade from sun.