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