Folding a Great Coat

By: Stephen P. Hanson 2nd U.S. Infantry



"Revised Regulations for the Army of the United States, 1861", Article LI, para. 1576, states "... the great-coat, when carried, to be neatly folded, not rolled, and covered by the outer flap of the knapsack."


In Article XXX, para 316, describing knapsack inspections, it states "... The knapsacks will be placed at the feet of the men, the flaps from them, with the great-coats on the flaps, and the knapsacks leaning on the great-coats."


However, in Article XIII, para 96, describing company quarters, it also states "The knapsack of each man will be placed on the lower shelf of his bunk, at its foot, packed with his effects, and ready to be slung; the great-coat on the same shelf, rolled and strapped; ..." This is a barracks situation, with bunks and shelves.


Many people have stated that, because the knapsack straps are called "overcoat straps" it means they are used to tie the overcoat on top of the knapsack.  This is the tradition of the European armies of the time, because many were not issued blankets.  As can be seen from the above, the straps are used to tie the rolled overcoat in barracks, and on the cavalry saddle; but the regulations concerning the placement of the overcoat inside the knapsack for infantry are clear.


During a march, the army halted, as a rule, ten minutes out of every hour.  This gave men enough time to see that rain was coming, and if it was not already done, roll his blanket in his gum blanket to keep it dry, or take his gum blanket out and tie it around his neck to keep himself and his pack, with its blanket, dry.  These men lived outdoors, and could tell if rain was imminent and prepare for it.  The argument about a wet blanket does not "hold water". Bob Mulligan, formerly of Co H, 4th US, Sykes' Regulars submitted instructions he found on how to roll the overcoat issued to Cavalry.  The instructions can be followed to the last step.  Where the cavalry would roll the overcoat so they could be tied to the saddle, the infantry would fold it to fit inside the knapsack.


Pull the cuffs down off the sleeves.  Lay the coat out, back down, with the cape spread out at the top like a fan.  Be sure the seam of the cape is straight up along the line of the back seam of the coat  Pull the center vent together at the bottom. (Fig 1)

Fold one side of the coat over the center seam all the way to the opposite side seam (1/3 of the total width of the opened coat).  Fold the cape 1/3 of its entire width.

Fold the sleeve across the top to the opposite shoulder, and double back any overhang. (Fig. 2)

Fold the other side of the coat the same way.  The coat is now folded in thirds lengthwise, the width of the shoulders (also the width of the knapsack). (Fig. 3)

Go to the bottom, and fold the outer edges of the skirts inward, starting from the waist or above, and down to the hem.  The width of the skirt is now the width of the shoulders. Likewise, fold the corners of the cape inward to the width of these shoulders  Now the entire garment is one long rectangle the width of the shoulders. (Fig. 4)



Fold the cape downward over the collar and the skirt upward to the bottom the cape.  If your coat is long, it may have to be folded higher.  At this point the coat can be rolled if necessary for cavalry or for garrison display (Fig. 5)

For packing in the knapsack, fold the coat again at the middle.  The coat should now be the same depth, as well as the same width, as the folded knapsack. (Fig. 6)

You may need some practice to get the overcoat folded correctly.  Large coats need to be folded closer.  The overcoat should not hang out so far that it droops on either side; if it is loose, you will lose it on the march.