By Shari Fuller
The kepi hat, which originated in the French army during the 1830s, was adopted by the United States Army shortly after the Crimean War in the 1850s. Wanting to steer away from the gaudy European uniforms that reflected the autocratic traditions, the U.S. Army redesigned their kepi with a wider brim and forward sloping crown that gave it a less formal appearance. Kepi hats were non-military issue until G.B. McClellan, the commander of the Union army of the Potomac, popularized them which led to them sometimes being called McClellan Hats. Soon thereafter, Union officers were issued kepis for fatigue use. The kepi hats became popular among the troops as they were comfortable and easy to make. This hat, worn by both Union and Confederate soldiers, would become one of the most recognizable symbols of the American Civil War. Leave a comment below to be entered in a drawing for the two Kepi hats shown on the cover of our pattern!
Kepis were made with a variety of colors and trims that reflected a soldiers rank, regiment, and branch. In the Union army, dark blue hats were worn by all general officers and their staff, light blue hats were worn by the infantry, dark red hats were worn by the artillery (the bright color presumably serving as a warning to those around them that they were working with explosives) and yellow hats were worn by the cavalry. Field officers often decorated their hats in a French-influenced style, with a dark velvet band around the base and black silk braiding on the crown. Some Union regiments adopted their own color and trim variants. The 14th New York wore their hats with a blue base, red sides, and a dark blue top with a red circular insert, the 11th Indiana wore an all red cap, and the U.S. Sharpshooters wore dark green caps. Confederate hats used the same colors to denote each branch of the army. Early in the war, all hats were gray with the designated color on the band and later the designated color was moved to the top of the hat with dark blue bands. Like the Union army, some Confederate regiments also adopted their own style of Kepis. The Winchester Zouave Cadets wore all red hats, the Kentucky Brigade Cavalry wore all yellow hats, and the Alexandria Rifles wore dark green hats. Because of the scarcity of materials, regulations were often ignored and many Confederate kepis were made in plain gray or butternut. Later in the war, to save leather for shoes and other accoutrements, Confederate kepi brims often were made of tarred cloth and chinstraps were sometimes omitted.