Extremely Rare Original Civil War Era U.S. Army Issue Poncho
Extremely Rare Original Civil War Era U.S. Army Issue Poncho – On occasion, we see the rare, issue gum blankets, but this is the first poncho we have ever encountered. Initially issued for mounted soldiers, these ponchos were eventually used by infantry soldiers, as well, for both rain clothing and ground cover. This example is in overall very good condition; the vulcanized rubber layer, applied over an off-white cotton canvas, is in good shape, with some very minor cracking along fold creases. The brass, early crimped grommets were inserted through an extra reinforcing squares of vulcanized rubber on canvas; all 16 original grommets remain. The linen canvas backing is in very good condition, exhibiting some minor soiling. In the center of the poncho is a slotted opening, with a flap cover, about 13” in length, for insertion of the soldier’s head, when wearing the poncho; this flapped opening can be secured via a small button. The poncho does not have a maker’s stamping on the reverse; it measures as follows: Length – 68.5”; Width – 44.25”.
The following is from a discussion posted on the usmilitariaforum.com: “During the late 18th and early 19th centuries the U.S. Army saw no need to issue its troops any sort of waterproof garment that would protect them from the elements. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1850’s that irregular U.S. military forces operating on the Western Plains of the United States first began to wear a rubberized poncho. The early military ponchos were made from cotton fabrics that had been rendered waterproof by an application of a latex rubber compound. That rubber coated material was known as “Gutta percha” after the Malaysian rubber tree of the same name. At that time however, any garment that was coated with a black rubber compound was generically referred to as being made from “Gum Rubber”.
During the American Civil War a rubberized groundsheet that had been officially labeled a “Waterproof Blanket”, but was referred to by the troops as a “Gum Blanket”, was first prescribed for use by mounted troops. However, before long, the Waterproof Blanket was found to be impractical for mounted troops, it was authorized instead to be issued to foot troops. To replace the ungainly Gum Blanket for mounted troops, a new rubberized poncho made from either Gutta percha or tightly woven cotton sheeting coated with India rubber was adopted. Shortly thereafter, the mounted trooper’s new rubberized poncho was appropriated and worn by foot soldiers. By the war’s end, the rubberized or “gum” poncho was being worn by mounted and foot soldiers that fought for both the North and the South. In 1865, when the Civil War came to an end, so too, did the need for a regulation rain poncho in the U. S. Army. For the next quarter of a century, the rain poncho as an article of equipment in the U.S. Army ceased to exist.”