By JEAN HUETS
Civil War soldiers carried many valuables: letters from home, photographs, and locks of hair from wives, sweethearts and babies. But they held a less romantic article much nearer to their hearts, and sometimes much dearer: their undergarments.
History favors epic battles, stirring speeches, presidents and generals and the economic and political forces that transform the lives of millions. Yet mere underwear has a story to tell, a story that covers the breadth of the Civil War, from home front to battlefield.
A full suit of mid-19th-century men’s underwear consisted of a shirt, “drawers” and socks. Like today, men’s underwear at the time, unlike women’s, did not provide structure to the body. Rather, cover, warmth and hygiene were the order of the day — though the hygiene part did not always work out. The term for undershirt was usually just “shirt”; shirts as we know them today were often called blouses or top-shirts. Undershirts were square-cut pullovers, voluminous and long. Buttons and sometimes laces at the neck fastened them.
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