The Bengal Club
Federale Uniforms Home Page View Club Games Galleries Painting Tips Terrain Tips Research Books
Links Looking Trading Bisbee Review Campaigns

The following is a very brief overview of the uniforms worn by the Mexican army at the
time of 'The Great Revolution' during the period 1910 - 1920. For most wargamers the
term Federale usually means "the bad guys in the scenario I'm running" defending the
reactionary government from disorganized, but enthusiastic rebels. However, desertion
capture and impressment meant that many individual Federale troopers found
themselves fighting in rebel armies. So it isn't always accurate to think of rebel armies
as entirely clad in civilian clothes. Furthermore rebel generals, including Pancho Villa,
made serious efforts to provide uniforms for at least some of their more favored units.
And finally, many of the most aggressive 'government' units were irregulars wearing a
motley collection of civilian clothes. So club members have come to treat Federales as
'Mexican government troops in uniform.' Perhaps as good a definition as any for toy
soldiers used in a game by grown men.

 
 
Hollywood Federale Priming Painting Dry-Brushing Washes The Magic Wash Horses Colors Hollywood Federale

'Hollywood' Federales
Most Americans, even wargamers, have little idea what Mexican uniforms of the period actually looked like, and what little they know comes from a number of films in which the Federales have usually filled the role of villainous henchmen. They always seem to finish up as a sort of Star Wars Imperial Space Marine in ill fitting khaki. Broadly speaking the uniforms fall into one of two categories. The first type, seen at the top of the page, is how I painted the very first Federale unit that I ever built. The uniform consists of; a dark blue stove pipe shako with black leather trim, a yellowish khaki uniform with red piping, dark brown boots, and black leather work of a decidedly Germanic pattern. Sometimes a backpack is worn, and sometimes a blanket roll wrapped around the torso. This wardrobe is also frequently worn by villains in Mexican (and I mean filmed in Mexico, by Mexicans) cowboy adventure films. The trooper at the top of the page was a very simple conversion from a Wargames Foundry Franco-Prussian Jaeger.

The second type of Hollywood Federale has wardrobe that is far closer to a real uniform, at least one of the types issued around 1914. The uniform consists of a khaki jacket, trousers, and a cap similar to the style worn by the BEF in 1914. Again, leather work is black and of a generally Germanic style, but there is never a blanket roll. Troopers only wear backpacks topped by an inverted "U" shaped overcoat or bed roll wrapped around the top.

Before beginning an overview of the real Federale uniforms, let me strongly recommend "Uniforms of the Mexican Army During the Revolution" by C.A. Norman. The author is unnecessarily modest about his level of scholarship. Trust me this work is an absolute gold mine on the subject.

The 1910 Uniform

Federale Dress uniform: 1910
The Mexican Federal army introduced a new set of dress regulations 1905 and officers, who purchased their own uniforms, successfully completed the change to the new dress uniform before the outbreak of the revolution in 1910. The 1905 regulations have been described as "a curious mix of German and French styles" with dark blue jacket and trousers, a German style spiked helmet, and rank indicated by a combination of German style epaulettes and French style cuff lace. The helmet appears only rarely in photographs of the period. Most officers seemed to have preferred the 'Samur' style kepi, likely because of the helmet's added expensive. Click here to see a photograph of Colonel Emilio Kosterlitzky in full dress uniform with his elegant, and no doubt expensive, spiked helmet.

Service Uniform: 1910
Photographic evidence of officers' uniforms indicates that service dress was usually a combination of components from the 1898 and 1905 dress regulations. There are almost no photographs of officer's campaign dress and so one might suspect an even greater variety of equipment than in use for service dress.

Perhaps sensing the impending political upheaval, the army postponed introducing the new regulations for enlisted men, who remained in uniforms corresponding to the 1898 regulations. These uniforms were very similar in style and cut to the uniform first introduced in 1870. The only enlisted personnel actually issued the 1905 dress uniforms were the Presidential Guard and the cadets of the Military Academy.

Broadly speaking the enlisted man's service uniform consisted of a dark blue, and probably faded, tunic with red piping along the edge of the collar, cuffs, shoulder straps, pockets and down the jacket front. Piping was the same color for both cavalry and infantry, but the cavalry had buttons of white metal while infantry buttons appear to have been brass. A white neck scarf was frequently worn under the collar in what was described as 'the French style.' The trousers were of the same blue with a red stripe down the outside seam. Most researchers comment on how photographs from the period suggest that these garments were usually of decidedly inferior quality and always ill fitting. Rank badges for NCO's were indicated through a simple system of red lace around the sleeve at cuff level. (Much easier to paint than shoulder chevrons!)

Leather work was black and of a Germanic pattern. Boots were of black leather, with cavalry wearing riding boots and infantry boots extending to just above the ankle, much like British army boots of the period. However, infantry boots were worn under the trousers and without puttees or leggings. Thus observers sometimes referred to them as 'shoes.' Headgear was a black stovepipe shako with a red pompom. The back pack was of brown cowhide with a roll (perhaps the overcoat ? ) wrapped around the top and sides. This possible overcoat was a dark blue, but is described as 'not quite as dark as the uniform.' I'd suspect that it was not so much a lighter blue as a more grey shade than the rest of the uniform.

Then there was the mysterious black cartridge box. Worn on the right rear this seems to have been a large rectangular piece of leather, folded in half to take on the appearance of a flat sort of cartridge box from the Napoleonic Wars. Inside were rows of straps, or pockets that held ammunition clips for the Mauser rifle. This does not appear to have been a particularly popular item of equipment and was at first augmented and then replaced by the ubiquitous bandoliers that almost every fighting man is seen wearing over one or both shoulders in photographs of the period.

Wargames Foundry makes a nice line of Mexican infantry from the 1880's which serve as an excellent starting point for creating the uniform of 1910. The cartridge box can pass for the 1910 cartridge pouch, and the shako is the correct shape. However, the musket needs a bit of work to make it look like the 1898 Mauser, and boots should be worn not sandals. Another good source of conversion material would be Pulp Figures set of German Seebattlion in service cap, rather than pith helmet. Being as they're Germans, the rifle and leather work are already correct. The cap will need to be filed and puttied into a stove pipe shako, and the jack boots will need to be puttied over to indicate long trousers. Otherwise they should be perfect.

And now a word about 'Golpes.' These were a Mexican version of arm chevrons worn by musicians. Begin by visualizing two sets of three red chevrons on both arms, spaced evenly between the shoulder and elbow. Then invert them so that the center point is facing up and the two outside edges are pointing down. Then attach a red tassel at each corner of each chevron. So each set of three chevrons will have nine tassels hanging from it. On second thought, best to look up a drawing of a Mexican bugler, or have a look at the figure of a bugler along the right hand margin of this page.

Campaign Uniform 1910
On campaign a white cotton cover was worn over the shako with the red pompom showing at the top. Sometimes a kepi might be worn instead of the covered shako. At this point the easiest way I've found to recreate a cloth cover on the shako is to make a mixture of; water, white glue, and vinyl spackling putty. This is easier to brush on the figure (make sure to use cheap, throw away brushes) than modeling putty, and when it dries it retains a texture that dry brushing will make look like cloth, unlike sanded modeling putty that finishes up quite smooth.

Warm Weather Uniform 1910
Under what the Federal Army considered warm conditions, both the shako and the kepi would have a white cotton cover. Furthermore the dark blue trousers would be replaced with white cotton.

Tropical Uniform 1910
Both the jacket and trousers were replaced with white cotton. Oddly enough there is much evidence that when campaigning in the tropics the kepi was worn without the white cotton cover. Infantry boots were frequently replaced with 'Huaraches' (sandals). Trouser legs were sometimes rolled up to reveal white long underwear or bare legs. In the tropics ammunition bandoliers could frequently be made of canvas instead of leather.

A Word on the 'Mexican Kepi'

At several points above references were made to a kepi that was sometimes worn instead of the stovepipe shako. This item was always dark blue, although frequently faded and heavily battered when in the field. The examples above are all from one photograph, of one squad, participating in a charity event sponsored by the American founder of the San Diego Zoo, after the troopers' participation in the second Battle of Tijuana. In photographs from around the beginning of the revolution, the kepi appears in disproportionately larger numbers for higher ranking officers, but still seems to have been worn by some enlisted personnel. After the governmental defeats in 1910, and consequent losses of equipment, it seems to have been issued as a replacement for the shako. This may have been as part of an effort at modernization, or simply because the kepi was cheaper.

Whenever historians describe the type of kepi worn by the Mexican Federales it is invariable referred to as a 'Samur style' kepi. To give some idea as to the differences between the Samur and standard kepi, have a look at the two photos on the right. The Samur kepi is larger and, although the back is higher than the front, the top is much more level than that of the standard French kepi of the period. The standard kepi is smaller, is cut with a cinched in waist (or perhaps is always squashed down so that the waist looks more narrow than the top and bottom), and has a much higher back than the front. This means that while it 'tips to the front' it doesn't do so in nearly as extreme fashion as a US Civil War kepi.

Converting figures to the Samur kepi is relatively easy, unless you're determined to recreated that roll of fabric around the edge, and make sure that every kepi is battered in its own unique way. At the club, we just tend to plop modeling putty on top of any sort of hat that has the appropriate peak n the front, and then sand it to an approximately cylindrical shape. This results in a hat that's more of the 1940, or maybe a Parisian Gendarme sort of shape, but by shading it in painting it looks about right on the gaming table. On the other hand, the Japanese infantry from Old Glory's Boxer Rebellion line wear a hat that's pretty darned close without any putty.

It's my impression that the kepi continued as official headgear under the Madero presidency, but was phased out under Huerta in favor of a BEF style service cap. However, there are lots of photographs from the Huerta army showing the kepi still in use, notably in the cavalry and the artillery. There is one well known photo, purportedly from the battle of Celaya, in which the gun crew wears kepis, but the officer in the distance is wearing a BEF style cap.

The photo immediately below was taken during combat with US naval personnel in Veracruz on April 18, 1914. Note that the two cavalrymen on the left (they both have sabres and riding boots) are still wearing the kepi. Also note the incredibly shoddy quality of their uniforms, and the fact that the shooter has turned his kepi 'back to front' in a sort of gangsta style to facilitate aiming. The infantryman on the right (in the original, uncropped version of the photo his ankle length infantry boots are clearly visible) wears the BEF style cap. This profile view comes in very handy when recreating the cap with putty on a figure under conversion.

For now it might be best to infer that when the kepi was first introduced, officers switched over first. Then when it was supposed to be replaced with the BEF cap, officers switched over first again. I have no real explanation as to why the cavalry and artillery would have held on to the kepi, while the infantry switched to the BEF cap, unless this was because many of the infantry units were newly raised, and thus received the newer style headgear.

The disbanding of the 'Federal' army by Carranza, and it's replacement by the 'Constitutional' army accelerated the disappearance of the kepi, and if you're running a game in which Black Jack Pershing is facing down the Mexican army, then there shouldn't be any kepis in evidence. Although, a lot of the Mexican regulars could still be wearing yet another style of hat that they were issued when they joined up with the army of General Obregon.

 

Coming soon... Well, maybe eventually.

The 1912 Uniform
With a discussion of the change over to khaki and 'lead grey' uniforms.

The 1914 Uniform
The 'Huerta' uniform, with the BEF style cap.

The 'Obregon' Uniform
Really the uniform of Constitutionalist battalions under Obregon's command. However, many of these units were in effect federalized when Carranza defeated Huerta.

The Constitutionalist Uniform - 1916 and after.
Technically, the Federal army was disbanded and replaced by the Constitutional army. These were the troops hovering about Pershing as he chased after Villa.

 
'Real' Federale 1914
 
Hollywood Federale
 
Federale Service Uniform
1910
 
Federale Bugler
'Golpes' on both arms
 
Federale Campaign Uniform
1910
 
Federale Warm Weather
Campaign Uniform 1910
 
Federale Tropical Service
Uniform 1910
 
Federale Tropical Campaign
Uniform 1910
 
French kepi,
in the 'Samur' style
 
French kepi,
in the standard style
 
Conversion in the ''accidentally 1940" kepi
Converted from Foundry Franco Purssian French infantry figures
 
 
Occasionally civilian hats were worn
 
Old Glory Federale,
straight out of the bag
Federale Uniforms Home Page View Club Games Galleries Painting Tips Terrain Tips Research Books
Links Looking Trading Bisbee Review Campaigns
The Bengal Club