Clothing the Confederacy: Taits of Limerick

The remarkable story of the Confederate uniforms made in Limerick and shipped to the South through the Federal Blockade.

Sir Peter Tait was born in Scotland in 1828, but moved to Limerick at a young age. In 1844 he obtained a job working as a shop assistant in the Cumine and Mitchell department store.  However, when trade grew slow Tait lost his position, forcing him to display the first signs of his entrepreneurial ability. He purchased a basket and went around the city selling goods, mainly shirts, to locals and sailors alike (Kemmy 1988: 82). Tait realised that there was a future in the sale of clothing, and in 1850 he rented rooms on Bedford Row and took on his first employees in order to increase his shirt production. Within three years he was advertising for 500 additional staff (Hannan 1994: 26). His pioneering use of the singer sewing machine allowed him to further increase his level of uniform production, and soon military contracts began to materialise. His most lucrative clients were the British Army, with Tait’s factory producing uniforms that were used in the Crimean War. He produced some 120,000 uniforms for that army between 1856 and 1858 (Burt 2008: 28). Tait’s success led to him moving to larger premises on Edward Street, with 1300 staff working for the company in 1858 (Kemmy 1988: 83).

Peter Tait and Limerick’s connection with the Confederacy began in earnest in December 1863, when 50,000 caps, greatcoats, jackets, trousers, shirts, blankets, boots, stockings and haversacks were ordered by the Confederate Government. Tait also entered into a separate contract with the State of Alabama in June 1864 (Burt 2008: 28-29). In order to fulfill his contract Tait had to navigate one rather tricky obstacle- the Federal Blockade of southern ports. He employed ships such as the Evelyn to run the blockade. The Evelyn would go on to run the blockade five times, with her last departure from Foynes, Co. Limerick in October 1864; she would not return until September 1865 (Kemmy 1988: 83). Another of the ships to carry Tait uniforms was the Condor, which ran aground off Fort Fisher in North Carolina in late 1864. Though her cargo was safely loaded onto another ship and brought ashore, famous Confederate agent Rose O’Neal Greenhow who had been returning from Europe aboard the Condor was drowned (Burt 2008: 29).

A number of Tait Confederate jackets survive, mainly due to the fact that they were first issued late in the war. The surviving examples are of cadet grey kersey with linen lining,  and are further identifiable through their eight-button front, with five piece bodies, two piece sleeves and wool broadcloth collars (Jensen 1989). Tait of Limerick buttons are also regularly recovered by relic hunters on former civil war sites, with the backmark ‘P. Tait & Co./Limerick’. The most common associations for both the jackets and the buttons are with Northeastern Carolina, the Petersburg Campaign and the Appomattox Campaign (Jensen 1989). Peter Tait continued to prosper despite the fall of the Confederacy, and he became mayor of Limerick between 1866 and 1868. However following this his association with the city faded somewhat as he pursued other business ventures abroad. His factory closed in 1875 (although it was later reopened under new management) and Tait himself died in Russia in 1890, while trying to establish a turkish cigarette factory (Kemmy 1988: 85). His name lives on in Limerick through the Tait Clock in the city which was built in his honour. As for his Confederate jackets, some are on display in the United States, while one is also on exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland’s Soldiers & Chief’s exhibition in Collins Barracks, Dublin, where it is on loan from the Museum of the Confederacy.

Bibliography & Further Reading

Burt, David 2008. ‘Peter Tait, The Man, the Firm and the Uniforms Supplied to the Confederate States’ in the Civil War Historian Magazine September/October 2008.

Hannan, Kevin 1994. ‘Sir Peter Tait’ in The Old Limerick Journal Volume 31, 1994.

Jensen, Leslie D. 1989. ‘A Survey of Confederate Central Government Quartermaster Issue Jackets’ accessed at The Company of Military Historians website May 2010

Kemmy, Jim 1988. ‘The Taits in Limerick and Melbourne’ in The Old Limerick Journal Volume 23, Spring 1988.

Waite, John E. 2005. Peter Tait: A Remarkable Story

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Categories: Blockade, Limerick, Peter Tait

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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15 Comments on “Clothing the Confederacy: Taits of Limerick”

  1. January 16, 2011 at 12:28 am #

    As I have long been interested in the Peter Tait Confederate uniform, it’s refreshing to see the topic gaining popularity. Congratulations to you, sir, for choosing to write a fine blog about this unique uniform!

    I humbly submit that I have just published a quite thorough book on the Peter Tait uniform entitled “Imported Confederate Uniforms of Peter Tait & Co., Limerick, Ireland”. It documents every known uniform made by the Peter Tait Company of Limerick, Ireland. The 132 color photos offer different perspectives and close-ups showing construction details. There are also images of every button used on Tait jackets. The extensively end-noted text (almost exclusively primary sources) includes specifics about how many uniforms were delivered to the Confederacy and where they saw service. The provenance of each jacket is included along with the soldier’s service record.

    My book documents Ireland’s and Great Britain’s contribution to the South’s armies in the form of the Confederacy’s one truly universal uniform.

    I’d be much obliged if you were to take a look at my website, for a preview of the book and some of the photos. On the website, you will also find free, downloadable articles on a range of Civil War uniform topics.

    http://www.adolphusconfederateuniforms.com

    Thank you, again, for posting a blog regarding the Peter Tait uniform!

    Best regards,

    Fred

    • January 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

      Hi Fred,

      Many thanks for your kind words! I have included your book on the ‘books’ page of the site, and I am hoping to purchase a copy over the coming weeks as I would love to do a review of it on the site, if you are agreeable. You should also check out the ‘Peter Tait’s Limerick’ post on the blog, which may be of some interest- the uniforms are fascinating, and it really is an amazing story!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  2. March 23, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    Hi There,
    James L. Tait was my grgrgr grandfather he married BF Noble’s daughter Anabell. BF’s family ran a shipping business out of Wilmington NC. But BF was from Montgomery Alabama where he moved in 1850. I have read accounts saying the Evelyn never came into Wilmington. It came into Wilmington near the end of Dec of 1864 as BF and my grgrgr grandmother were there to inspect the uniforms and get them to Alabama and distribute them. James L Tait was a colorful man…so to speak. He died in Bexar Texas after 1900.

  3. Lisa
    June 21, 2012 at 4:32 am #

    I found his widows obit when searching for another relative. She passed in 1932 in Tuscaloosa Alabama. I do not have any documents and until i found her obit was sure I was mistaken about who he was. If you like I will leave a link for her obit as its protected. James died in Bexar Co. Texas many of his documents etc were probably thrown away in the 1970′s .

    • David Burt
      October 4, 2012 at 9:10 am #

      Lisa, that is amazing. I have been looking for more information on James Tait for a long time, hardly anything is known about him. This sheds more light on the elusive James, thank you.
      David Burt

      • October 4, 2012 at 9:40 am #

        Hi Lisa,

        Indeed it is, apologies I managed to miss the obituary when you last posted on the thread! David is an expert on the Tait uniforms and has published an excellent book on the topic, I highly recommend it!

        Kind Regards,

        Damian.

  4. Lisa Slack
    May 7, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    Hi There,
    i found james L Taits death cert. He died Aug. of 1903 of heart failure, they have his birth year as 1854? But its the same address listed for the family home 723 N Flores.

    • May 8, 2013 at 9:20 am #

      Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for this, hopefully Dave will know more about the relationship, great research!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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