The cavalry of the American Civil War are well known for their dashing appearance. During the 1860s, the horse Soldiers from both sides strove to adopt and emulate the appearance of the Cavaliers of Europe and of the American Revolution. One Regiment that personified this image in the latter part of the war was the 3d New Jersey Cavalry.
The Regiment was recruited in the winter of 1863-64 by Colonel Andrew Jackson Morrison. Morrison, a veteran of the Army of the Potomac, knew that recruiting duties would be no easy task. Directed to raise a regiment at a time when popular support for the war in the North was declining, Morrison decided on an unlikely tactic to attract potential recruits.
He elected to outfit the unit with an unorthodox uniform which was based off the Hussar (light cavalry) uniforms found in Europe. The term Hussar has its origins in Serbia in the 14th century. Over the next couple of centuries, the use of Hussars spread throughout the European continent. Unlike their sister units of heavy cavalry, Hussars were used primarily for reconnaissance and harassing enemy forces.
The uniforms were made by a company in Newark, Halsey and Hunter. An article that appeared in a January issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper described the uniforms as
showy and colorful, being based on that of the Austrian Hussars. The pantaloons [are] the usual Cavalry one with a yellow stripe and the jacket is trimmed with yellow cord. The baldrick and agrete are worn over the shoulder and across the breast. Instead of an overcoat, they wear a talma, with a tassel over the left shoulder. The cap is very neat and comfortable.
The article did not mention that the soldier’s caps lacked brims.
Due to their flashy appearance, veterans of the Army of the Potomac dubbed the Regiment, “Butterflies.” However, this gentle nickname did not properly reflect the fighting prowess of the Regiment. Initially attached to Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps, the Butterflies were transferred to the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in late May in 1864 and assigned to the Third Division. The Regiment would remain with the Third Division until the end of the war, gaining renown at such places as Third Winchester, Tom’s Brook, Cedar Creek, Waynesboro, Five Forks and Appomattox. When the Regiment mustered out in August 1865, they counted their losses of 3 officers and 49 men killed and mortally wounded and 2 officers and 105 men lost to disease in their service to the United States