Civil War U.S. Navy Seaman’s Flat Hat



Civil War U.S. Navy Seaman’s Flat Hat – This example of a rarely encountered, Civil War period, U.S. Navy seaman’s flat hat remains in excellent condition. It is constructed of a high grade of indigo-dyed, English, broadcloth wool, which exhibits no insect damage whatsoever. The black, grosgrain silk bow, with notched tail, is affixed to the hat and remains in excellent condition. The interior lining of the hat is superb – it is a blue and white, checked cotton and is in fine condition, evidencing almost no wear. As with many Civil War, navy flat hats, the exterior top of the hat has embroidery executed, possibly, by the original owner; the embroidery on this hat is impressively intricate and quite elaborate; its fine condition matches that of the rest of the hat. Construction of the hat was accomplished by a combination of treadle machine sewing (in a period, chain stitch mode) and hand work.

In the years prior to the onset of the Civil War, U.S. navy seamen began moving away from wearing the black (flat straw or “sennit”) hats; many American sailors began wearing a blue cloth cap that was the forerunner of what was later known as the dress blue hat (or flat hat) designed to be worn by enlisted personnel. By the time the Civil War began, these blue cloth, flat caps were the hats most commonly worn by petty officers and seamen. The long ribbons that encircled the black hats were transitioned to shortened (without the extended streaming tails) versions; occasionally, some of these shortened ribbons were decorated with the name of the sailor’s ship name, added by hand, using gold paint. Also, some Civil War period flat hats had five milk glass or mother-of-pearl buttons affixed to the center of the bow of the hat ribbon. Many of these caps had varying degrees of exterior, top-of-cap adornment, often executed by the sailor’s themselves; some of these adornments represent superior examples of colorfully intricate and fine embroidery. Although these decorative elements are aesthetically impressive, they did serve the practical purpose of identifying shipmates, climbing mast riggings, to those fellow shipmates in the rigging above them.