How to Sew on Rank Insignias for the Union Army

by Mike Musante


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For all Non Commissioned Officers (NCO) that are elected to the Sergeant and Corporal ranks, you need to purchase both rank trim (for your trousers) and chevrons (for the sleeves of your sack coat) as appropriate for your particular rank.  Remember, do not let it go to your head just because you were elected to these positions. You are still in the "enlisted" ranks and do not carry the rank nor respect to be called "sir".  But the officers depend heavily on your hard work and service to keep the men in good order.  The elected staff of the 20th Maine must have their proper rank insignias in place by the first event in March.  Below are relatively specific directions that will help you in putting on your rank insignia.



The rank trim on the trousers is a navy blue worsted tape that runs down the outside of your legs along the seam of your trousers.  The goal was that in the fog of war, this tape might help you to recognize a NCO from your unit to help bring order.  The navy blue stripe is 1/2" wide for a Corporal and 1.5" for all Sergeants (according to Dom DaBello and the 1861 US Army Uniform Regulations).  Officer's that wear dark trousers should have a sky blue piping welt along seam that is 1/8 inch wide.  Officer's that wear sky blue trousers should have a similar welt but navy blue in color.  After talking with a few different people, it is safe to assume that the rank trim starts from the bottom of your pants and goes all the way up to the waistband, but does not cover the waistband. The middle of the rank trim should go right over the seam.  You can sew this by hand with dark blue thread or by using a machine to save time. However, you may have to hand-sew the section around the pocket by hand.  Near the pockets you will have to deviate and conform around the "side seam" style pocket.  In fact, it seems accurate to lead the rank trim OVER the top of the pocket being careful not to cover the opening.  In other words, if your hand is in your front pocket, the rank trim should go over your hand.  Your hand will not obscure the tape.  So now the edge of the rank trim would follow the edge of the pocket and go straight up to but not cover the 1-inch waistband.  See the attached document for a diagram of how the rank trim should look on your trousers (ranktrim.jpg).



There are two types of chevrons, straight or elliptical (curved).  Both are acceptable for Union units to use, and it is unclear what was used in the 20th Maine.  Both photos in the Pullen book show NCOs with the "straight" type.  We recommend you buy worsted wool chevrons.  I have read in some books that they did have some silk chevrons but they were not as common.  Also, each stripe should be 1/2 inch wide.

To correctly place the chevrons on your arm, bend your forearm so that it is horizontal or at a right angle to your bicep.  The bottom point of the corporal and sergeant's chevron is 2 finger breaths above the elbow.  I suggest you put on your sack or frock coat and have someone assist you by putting pins in the chevron to hold it in place.  That way you can move the chevron to find the proper location before you sew it firmly into place. You will want the stripes to extend from seam to seam on your coat. But they do not need to line up perfectly parallel to the seam. The idea is to make sure they do not look lopsided.  Make sure they are level and that the points of the stripes are about the center of the side of your arm. This is not an exact science but it pays to do it right the first time.  I have seen photos of some poorly sewn chevrons but in a spit and polish unit, you would expect better. 

Once you have found the perfect location for your chevrons, whip stitch them on with navy blue thread that matches your coat. Make sure you sew the tread into the navy blue backing.  Do NOT sew onto the light blue stripe because the dark blue thread will stand out. Do not affix with glue as it will ruin the wool and make it difficult to remove the stripes in the future.  Look at the attached photo of Ray Bisio (bisio.jpg) for the proper height for chevrons.  



Only sergeants (QM, 1st Sgt, 2nd Sgt) should wear the NCO belt.  The corporals wear the same US buckle plate as privates.



I have been very pleased with the quality of the NCO chevrons made from Fall Creek sutlery.  They are about $10 for a pair of Corporal Chevrons, $15 for a Sergeant and $18 for a 1st Sergeant.  You can contact Anita Fulks (Fall Creek West Coast) and she will make  a good pair of worsted wool chevrons.  Chris Daley also makes an excellent pair of progressive chevrons. 

Rank trim may cost you about $5 per yard and you will need about 2 yards to cover both of your legs.  It is recommended that you purchase your rank trim at Family Heirloom Weavers.

Jarnagin makes a good accurate replica of the NCO belt and is respected for their leather goods.

There are several other well known progressive sutlers that sell highly accurate chevrons.  You can find info on Chris Daley, Wedeward's site, and the Stony Brook site off the Authentic Campaigner website attached to our links page.  I have heard from Rick Biagi that Don Smith at the Trans-Mississippi Depot Company is also a pleasure to work with and has excellent products.  Last, Jersey Skillet Licker is reputed to have really correct merchandise.  The links to the last two websites can be found on the links page under "progressive sutlers".



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