How to Identify Civil War Uniform Buttons

By Dan Boone
Buttons from military uniforms are popular collectibles.

Civil War buttons are interesting artifacts, with diverse specimens representing regiments from many states and revealing a soldier's rank, whether it be private or officer. Military uniform buttons from this period are intricate and ornamental, inscribed with regimental insignias and state seals. Identifying a uniform button from the Civil War era (1861 to 1865) requires careful scrutiny of different criteria such as design, material and manufacturer markings.

Identify the design on the front of the button. It should have a state seal, which was incorporated into the button on Civil War uniforms.

Examine the button composition. Most Civil War uniform buttons were made of brass, silver plate or pewter. Brass is the most common.

Inspect the shank on the back of the button. The shank is a small loop used to attach the button with thread. The way the shank is attached indicates the era in which the button was manufactured. Civil War era buttons usually show a circular depression at the base of the button around the shank. A small, very round shank "eye" also indicates a Civil War period button. Shanks inset into holes in the button didn't happen until after World War I.

Inspect the button's "back mark." This is lettering on the back of the button which identifies the button manufacturer. Scovill & Co. Waterbury, Manufacturing was the most prolific military uniform button manufacturer during the Civil War. W.H. Horstmann & Sons was another popular button maker during that era.

About the Author

Dan Boone has been writing since 1999. His work has appeared on CaribbeanChannel.com and he wrote for the "Virgin Voice" magazine and its website, Virgin Voices. Boone has a Bachelor of Arts in composition and arranging from Berklee College of Music in Boston. He also holds a certificate in digital-sound engineering from the Trebas Institute in Montreal.