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Friday, August 3, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Civil War Body Armor

This photo, courtesy the Pitt-Rivers Museum, shows some personal armor used in the Civil War. While never officially issued by either army, a fair number of these bulletproof vests were sold by private companies to troops in the North and the South.

It was common for soldiers to supplement their equipment with privately purchased items. Vests were made of two or more steel plates and weighed up to 12 pounds. They cost $5 or $7 depending on the quality. Considering that a private in the Union army made $13 a month, this was a significant investment.

Did they work? There are a couple of accounts of them working, but they may have been stories made up by advertisers. Much of the equipment sold to the troops was of low quality and there's no reason to believe the "bulletproof" vests were any exception. On the other hand, Civil War bullets were made of soft lead and had a low velocity. The probably could be deflected by even a relatively thin piece of steel. As far as I know, none have ever been scientifically tested.

The vests were snapped up by soldiers in the early months of the war but soon declined in popularity. They were expensive, not always reliable, and the extra weight on long marches proved tiresome. The same situation happened during World War One. Soldiers ended up having to rely on luck and pluck to survive battle.


  1. Twelve pounds and I bet they chaffed in all the wrong places.

  2. That stinks. Inferior products for men in war. That is just wrong.

  3. Be a man and take your bullets or suffer heat and fatigue. So much for being entitled to proper protection.


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