Uniforms of the Civil Guard in Cuba

1851 - 1898



NEWSLETTER: The New Tropical Telegraph








Back to agmohio Bill Combs online showroom

In Developement.  Photos Coming Soon;

Don José de la Concha was Captain General of Cuba when the first contingent of Civil Guards arrived in Cuba in 1851.  Concha's reforms had already begun to change the uniforms of many of the island's soldiers to practical, lightweight clothing.  So, it is not surprising that from the beginning the Civil Guard received clothing appropriate to Cuba's climate, at least were service and campaign dress were concerned.

            In their dual role as both a police force and a branch of the military, the uniforms of the guardias had to be rugged enough for combat against insurgents and, at the same time, distinctive enough from those of the army and volunteers that they could be easily recognized as a source of assistance to law abiding subjects and a deterrent to criminals.  Initially white drill uniforms were issued. A short time later rayadillo uniforms similar to those of the army were worn in the field.  By the early 1880s, however, the service uniform changed to one made of blue denim.

Uniforms Before 1868

            The newly formed Civil Guard paraded in Havana for the first time on April 6, 1851.  The uniform worn for that first public appearance consisted of an jipijapa hat with a square cockade, a white coatee with red cuffs and yellow colored belts. They were armed with percussion carbines. (1)

            In the late 1850s and early 1860s the uniform was reported to have been like that worn by the infantry of the regular army with the exception of the Civil Guard's red collar and cuffs.  The Royal Order of August 18, 1859, which introduced light clothing for all the military services in Cuba, established the following Gala uniform for enlisted men.  The hat was made of dull white felt with a red worsted braid hatband and red plume.  A short frockcoat of white drill was worn open at the top two buttons and had a madder red collar and cuffs.  The trousers were made of white linen and the shirt was cotton.  Ankle boots were mad of yearling calfskin and the accoutrement belts and slings of yellow finished leather.

            Service dress consisted of a white felt hat with a cockade worn without the plume.  A blouse and trousers were made of blue and white striped coleta.  The blouse had madder red collar and cuffs.  A Turkey blue wool cape with a madder red collar, of the pattern worn by Peninsular cavalry, was used during inclement weather.  Coleta leggings were worn with this uniform on campaign. (2)

            The officer's uniforms of the same period were described in another publication. (3) For Gala dress officers wore a kepi with a madder red crown and dark blue band; a dark blue wool frockcoat of the same style used by the infantry with madder red cuffs and white trousers.  The service and campaign dress for officers consisted of a frockcoat, vest and trousers of blue and white striped drill with red collar and cuffs.

            Three of the watercolors in the Vinkhuijzen Collection housed in the New York Public Library depict the uniforms of the Civil Guard in 1862; a Captain in service dress, a infantry guardia in campaign dress and a mounted trooper wearing the gala uniform.  In all these images the felt hat shown is no longer white but has developed into the classic gray chambergo with white trim and the distinctive double ventilators on both sides of the crown.  The brim was turned up, slightly, on the left side to display the cockade but did not touch the crown.  This hat pattern remained virtually unchanged for the remaining years of colonial rule and was the signature headgear of the Civil Guard in Cuba.  Both the service and campaign uniforms illustrated are of rayadillo with red collars and cuffs.  The yellow leather accoutrement belts have rectangular belt plates.  These yellow finished belts, brass belt plates and white metal buttons were the only uniform items held in common with the Peninsular Civil Guard.  The gala dress of the mounted trooper includes a dark blue frockcoat with white shoulder cords and red cuffs, white trousers and the gray chambergo adorned with a black feather plume, the latter a detail not mentioned in the regulations. 

            An American traveler to Cuba, Samuel Hazard, observed the Civil Guard dressed in similar uniforms in 1866.  He noted, "They (the Civil Guard) are generally an intelligent set, handsomely uniformed in well-fitting dark-blue coats, white pants, and broad-brimmed felt hats, neatly bound with white." (4) 

            The Civil Guard was dressed in this fashion when the Ten Years War broke out in 1868 and the uniform would remain virtually unchanged for the duration of the conflict.

The Ten Years War, 1868 to 1878

            The same uniform worn during the pervious decade continued to be issued through the 1870s.  A description published in 1873 (5) generally confirms that the uniforms illustrated in the 1862 Vinkhuijzen watercolors were still in service.

Officer's Gala Dress (1873)

            The felt 'chambergo' pattern hat was trimmed with silver braid and a national cockade.  Rank braid was worn around the base of the crown like an hat band.  

The frock coat was of Turkey blue wool with red cuffs.  The shoulder cords were of silver bullion that twisted into circular flat knots on the ends.  The coat fastened with seven convex white metal buttons embossed with the initials "GC" and a crowned royal crest.  The trousers were made of white cotton drill.  Ankle boots of patent leather were worn with straight spurs.  A dress sword of the Corps' regulation model completed the uniform.

Officer's Service and Campaign Dress (1873)

            Several classes of service dress were authorized, including a Media Gala or Half Dress Uniform.  This included a "Prussian" style cap instead of the felt hat.  The frock coat used with Gala dress but worn unbuttoned with a vest of white piqué.  Another class of dress was designated Para los actos en corporacion.  This consisted of a "Prussian" cap, a blue wool frock coat without the shoulder cords, worn open and blue striped drill trousers and vest.  A narrow blade sword was authorized.  

            The Service Dress in Public again included the "Prussian" style cap of indigo blue wool but with the addition of rank braid around the band and a badge with the national crest and initials "GC".  The frock coat, trousers and vest all made of blue striped drill, the coat with red collar and cuffs.  A regulation sword completed the outfit.

Officer's Campaign Dress (1873)

            The field uniform for dismounted officers was comprised of a gray felt chambergo hat with a black oilcloth hat band replacing the rank braid.  The frock coat, worn fully buttoned, was made of blue striped drill with red collar and cuffs, with matching trousers.  A regulation saber was carried from a sword belt worn outside of the coat.  The same campaign dress was worn when mounted but with the addition of riding boots and spurs.

Gala Dress for Troops (1873)

            A Turkey blue wool frock coat with white cotton shoulder cords ending in round flat knots.  The chambergo hat was trimmed with white braid and worn with a national cockade.  Trousers were made of white drill and the ankle boots of yearling calf.  The infantry carried a machete from a belt worn over the coat.  Cavalrymen carried a saber with hangers. Their mounted trousers had foot straps and regulation spurs were worn.

Service Dress 'Out in Public' and On Campaign for Troops (1873) 

            The hat was the same as described for the Gala uniform.  The blouse and trousers were of blue striped drill and worn with calfskin leggings.  Foot troops were armed with a  machete and the cavalry with the saber, both worn on a belt over the blouse.

            An important feature worth noting, the shoulder cords were not worn on the rayadillo service and campaign dress frockcoat or blouse during this period and are mentioned only with blue gala dress frockcoat.  This detail can also be observed in the 1862 Vinkhuijzen Collection watercolors.  Shoulder cords would later be part of the service and campaign uniforms of the 1880s and 90s.  

            The service dress uniform remained unaltered for the rest of the Ten Years War.  The 1875 through 1879 editions of the Guia Oficial de España (6) all give descriptions similar to those from 1873, but with fewer details.

New Gala Dress for Cuba and Puerto Rico (1876)

            A new Gala uniform was authorized in 1876 for both Cuba and Puerto Rico which closely resembled the Peninsular Guardia Civil uniform. (7)  The Royal Order of August 24, 1876 introduced the iconic "Tricornio", or three-cornered hat of the Civil Guard in Spain\, into Cuba for the first time.  The hat was made of black felt and trimmed in white cotton braid and a cockade.  It was worn with a black enameled leather chin strap and had a black oilcloth cover for foul weather and one of white linen for the summer.         

The description of the dark blue wool frock coat is a bit vague.  It mentions that the coat has a standing collar and closes with lapels and seven buttons.  The shoulders displayed white cotton cords for enlisted men, red cords for buglers and silver for officers.  Whether the garment is single or double breasted is not made clear.  Nor is the color of the collar and cuffs.  Luckily, a few photographs have survived that verify that the coat was double breasted, and the collar and cuffs are of a different color than the body, presumably red as used on all previous and subsequent uniforms.  The trousers were of matching dark blue wool without a seam stripe.

            White cotton gloves were worn by foot troops and yellow gloves for mounted service by all ranks.  Ankle boots were of black yearling calfskin or enameled leather.  On mounted duty, black enamel leather leggings were worn with white cotton liners that showed over the top of the leggings.  Iron spurs completed the mounted footwear.  

            The Civil Guard ended the Ten Years War dressed in the same service uniform that had served them for almost twenty years, but the new decade would herald major changes.  The old rayadillo blouses, now well established as the dress of the colonial soldier, would give way to fresh uniforms0 of blue denim.

The Change from Rayadillo to Mezclilla, a New Look for the Old Guard, 1881 to 1898

            Beginning in 1881 with the resolutions of the Captain General dated January 17, the Civil Guard uniform began a complete transformation.  In place of rayadillo, the service and campaign uniforms were made of blue denim, called mezclilla in Spanish, or what we now call blue jeans material.  Along with the rest of the Army of Cuba, the Civil Guard tested prototype uniforms made of mezclilla in an effort to find a replacement for rayadillo.  A projected Civil Guard uniform was described in 1882 newspaper article that detailed the  denim uniforms being tested by the various branches in Cuba as; "Civil Guard -  Tunic and trousers of the same material as now in use: English pattern pith helmet that has, for ordinary service, a white cover with an havelock; leggings of fabric for service dress and hazelnut colored accoutrements." (8) 

            The pith helmet and havelock were quickly abandoned, but the hazelnut colored leather equipment did replace the traditional yellow colored belts.  It is also important to note that the test uniforms were made "... of the same material as now in use."  As the Civil Guard was already begun the transition to uniforms made for mezclilla there was no need to mention it by name as was done with the uniforms of the other services described in the same article. 

            Of course, this transition to a blue denim uniform did not take place overnight.  The 1881 edition of the publication Guía oficial de España detailed the uniform in the following manner, although the information was probably already a year or more out of date when published; “The Officer's uniform is a Turkey blue frockcoat with red cuffs, white drill vest and trousers.  The round castor hat is trimmed in silver.  That of the troops is similar, the difference is the braid on the hat.  For everyday use the officers wear a suit of blue and white strip drill without hat braid but with rank braid displayed on the cockade.  For mounted service a straight saber is worn along with riding boots.  The troops for service dress wear a striped blouse and pants, a belly cartridge pouch for 40 rounds and a machete on a belt, a plain buffalo leather document pouch worn as a backpack and a canteen.  The cavalry use a saber, riding boots, straight spurs and a bandolier with cartridge box.  The belts are of yellow colored leather." (9) 

            In a first-hand account, the American owner of the Central Soledad sugar plantation, Edwin F. Atkins, noted in 1884 that the Civil Guard in his district still dressed in rayadillo and jipijapa hats.  He wrote, "The men were mounted and well-uniformed, with scarlet trimmings on their striped linen coats and cockades in their panama hats." (10)  Both of these accounts describe uniforms virtually unchanged form those worn in the 1860s and 70s.

            In 1892 a Cartilla de Uniformidad was publish in Guantanamo as part of an handbook for the Civil Guard of the island. (11)  This document gives a detailed description of the uniform as authorized in 1881 and confirmed again in 1889.  In these regulations no mention is made of rayadillo uniforms which seem to have been, by this time, eliminated among the Civil Guard.

Troops' Service Dress (1881)

            The hat was of dark ash-gray color felt with a black oilcloth hatband 15 mm wide, the brim edged with white cotton tape 3.5 cm in width. On each side of the crown were two metal ventilators. The brim was 9 cm wide and was held up on the left side by the tape trim of the cockade.  The cockade tape was of white cotton with a center red strip, 9 cm long and 28 mm wide, with a hook on the end that attached to a fastener on the crown, between the two ventilators.  The brim did not actually touch the crown but was held a short distance from it by the tape from the cockade.  The hat was complete with a chin strap of black patent leather 1.5 cm wide.

            A garrison cap was worn in place of the chambergo in for fatigue duty and in the barracks.  It was a pill box pattern made of indigo blue wool, 6.5 centimeters tall with red piping and a white rosette in the center of the top.

            The blouse was of Prussian blue denim (mezclilla), with white cotton shoulder cords, twisted and ending in a flat disc made of five turns of the cord.  The front closed with a row of seven regulation white metal buttons and there was a vertical pocket on the interior left breast.  The rolled collar was 5 cm at the ends and the cuffs were 9 cm at the front raising to 16 cm at the rear.  Both were of madder red wool and detachable.  The bottom of the skirt was to be 30 centimeters from the knee.

            The trousers were of the same material as the blouse and cut almost straight with pockets in the side seams.  They were issued in three sizes; size "1" had a length of 114 cm, size "2" was 110 cm and size "3" 106 cm.

            The shirt was of a fine white linen, called creas in Spanish, with narrow neck and wrist bands wide enough to attach a fine white cotton collar and cuffs.  The collar was 4.5 centimeters tall with five eyelets to attach it to the neckband.  The cuffs were of the same fabric as the collar, 8.5 centimeters in width with 3 eyelets, one in center and 2 in the ends.  A necktie of black grosgrain, tied in a bow, was always worn with the shirt.

            Ankle boots were of black yearling calfskin and had a low heel for the service dress.  Slightly higher heeled shoes could be worn for walking out dress.  Leggings of mezclilla, matching to uniform, were authorized.

Officer's Service Dress (1881)

            The hat was the same as worn by the troops but trimmed in silver braid.  The cockade displayed the officer's rank braid across its face.  A hazelnut brown leather chin strap was also affixed to the hat.  When the hat was not used, a garrison cap was worn.  This cap was made of indigo blue wool with madder red piping on the crown.  It had a round horizontal patent leather visor with rank braid worn around the band.  The national crest with the initials "GC" were displayed on the front.

            The single-breasted frock coat was made of blue denim with a madder red rolled collar and cuffs, fastening in front with a single row of seven buttons and complete with shoulder cords as worn on the wool uniform.  The skirt extended to 20 centimeters above the knee.  Trousers were of the same fabric as the frock coat, cut almost straight, and constructed like the mounted trousers of the men with two eyelets on the cuffs to hold a foot straps with two gilded buttons.  The shirt and necktie were the same as worn by the troops.  A dress sword held in a frog made of same denim material as the frock coat was worn with this uniform when outdoors.

            The ankle boots were of black yearling calfskin or patent leather with the upper made of one piece.  They were worn with an iron straight spur.

            For inclement weather, a cape of waterproof cloth like the one issued to the troops was worn with the rank insignia displayed on the ends of the collar.

            Accoutrements of the officers on active service, both foot and mounted, included an hazelnut brown leather belt, the width of a trooper's shoulder belt, with belt plate embossed with royal crest and the initials of the Corps, a straight blade sword, a revolver with an hazelnut colored holster and a black silk cord lanyard.  On mounted service, the officers wore gloves, an hazelnut brown belt with sword hangers, a revolver in the saddle holsters, mounted model sword and tall buffalo leather leggings with knee guards.

Officer's Gala Dress (1881)

            The tricornio was continued from the 1876 regulations.  It was of black felt and trimmed with silver braid.  The cockade holder was made of rank braid.

            The single-breasted dress frock coat was cut like the service dress uniform but was made of indigo blue wool.  It again had a seven-button front as well as a madder red collar and cuffs.  The shoulder knots were made of silver cord.  A matching wool frog held the dress sword and gloves were of fine white cotton.  The trousers were of matching wool with the coat, with pockets in the side seams and an inner button on the cuffs of the legs to hold a foot strap.  The ankle boots and spurs were the same as those worn with the service dress uniform.

            When mounted, officers in full dress wore a pair of legging liners called boca-botin, a type of white cotton stockings, worn over the trousers and above the knee, and leggings of grained buffalo leather like those worn with the service dress uniform.

            Interestingly, the 1892 edition of El Secretario notes that the gala uniform was not being provided to new arrivals and that the entire Corps lacked it.  However, period photographs taken in Cuba show that the gala uniform was worn by officers and even some enlisted men.  It appears that its use was rare, though, and most enlisted guardias may have never owned a full-dress uniform.  Gala dress for all ranks more often consisted of the gray chambergo worn with the blue wool frock coat and trousers.

            In 1895, the same year that the Cuban insurrection broke out, a map of Spain and her possessions was published by the Civil Guard.  The border of this map is adorned with portraits of the young king and his mother, the queen regent, other political notables, and a selection of orders and medals.  Along the base of the map are detailed illustrations of the various uniforms of the institute, including the gala and service dress of troops in Cuba and the Philippines.  In these illustrations, the uniforms of the Cuban guardias match the 1889 regulations.  The first figure is designated as wearing a gala dress uniform with a grey chambergo trimmed in white, a dark blue uniform with red collar and cuffs and a brown belt with a rectangular plate.  The second figure is shown in the "traje de poblaciones" or service dress 'among the population.'  The uniform is clearly made of blue jean colored material with red collar and cuffs. (12)

The 1895 Civil Guard m of Spain and her possessions .  Note the uniforms illustrated along the bottom.


A detail from the 1895 Civil Guard map shown the two Cuban figures.  It accurately shows the 1889 regulation dark blue flannel and the denim blue mezclilla service dress uniforms         

Two more period accounts indicate that the gray chambergo and the blue mezclilla uniform remained in service.  The September 3, 1897 edition of "La Correspodencia Militar" published a piece on the organization of the Civil Guard in Cuba noting that the guardias used the chambergo made of beaver felt in place of hats made of yarey or jipijapa. (13)  The second account comes from the American reporter Gilson Willets.  He arrived in Havana in 1898, the week after the explosion of the Maine.  He remained in the city making observations, and probably spying for the United States, until compelled to evacuate with the American diplomatic staff when war was declared.  He wrote of the dress of the Civil Guard in The Triumph of Yankee Doodle, "They wear a showy and theatrical uniform of blue tunic and trousers, faced and striped with scarlet; a wide-brimmed hat of gray felt..." (14)

            The Civil Guard ended their service in Cuba dressed in blue denim, not rayadillo.  Despite modern references and illustrations to the contrary, primary source documents, photographs and artist's renderings of the period clearly demonstrate that no rayadillo clothing was issued to the Civil Guard during most of the last two decades of Spanish rule in Cuba.  To date, no reliable period documentation has been found that mentions rayadillo clothing being worn by or issued to the Civil Guard in Cuba from the mid-1880s to 1898.  Since the municipal police, the Orden Publico and the Rural Guards on the island were also known to have dressed in uniforms made of mezclilla, it is reasonable to conclude that, in the minds of Spain's Cuban subjects, uniforms produced from this material were associated with "The Law."  As a man dressed in rayadillo was a soldier, so a man wearing mezclilla was a policeman.  This theory is supported by the continued used of mezclilla police uniforms in the post-independence Republic of Cuba well into the 1930s.


(1) El Heraldo, News item, Madrid, May 18, 1851, page 2.

(2) Anonymous, Reales Ordenes y Circulares Expedidas por La Capitania General y      Sub-Inspeccion de Infantería en Todo el Año de 1859, Imprent Militar, Havana, 1860,  pages 150 - 151.

(3) Anonymous, Estado Militar de España É Indias: Año de 1858, ImprentaNacional, Madrid, 1858, Page 210.  The same description was used in later editions up to 1862, the last year of publication.

(4) Hazard, Samuel, Cuba with Pen and Pencil, Sampson Low, Marston, Low and Searle, London, 1873, page 238.

(5) Anonymous, Guia de Forasteros de la Siempre Fiel Isla de Cuba, Imprenta del Gobierno y Capitania General, Habana, 1873, Page 335 - 336.

(6) Anonymous, Guia Oficial de España.", Imprenta Nacional, Madrid.  The editions for 1875, 1877 and 1879 were consulted.

(7) Molinero y Gomez-Cornejo, Compilacion de las Disposiciones Referentes a la Guardia Civil de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, 1879, page 176 - 178.

(8) El Dia, December 29, 1882, Madrid, page 2.

(9) Spain, Guía oficial de España, 1881, Imprinta National, Madrid, 1881

Page 479.  The same exact description is repeated in every edition from 1875 to 1882.

(10) Atkins, Edwin Farnsworth, Sixty years in Cuba, Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1926, page 101.

(11) Alegre, Gragiano Miguel, El Secretario: Escrito Expresamente para el Guardia Civil de la Isla de Cuba, Imprenta Diario del Comercio, Guantanamo, 1892, pages 311 - 317.

(12) Mapa ilustrado de España y sus posesiones para la Guardia Civil España, Litografía de J. Palacios (Madrid). Eraso y Prados, Modesto.; Eraso y Prados, Modesto, 1895.

(13) La Correspodencia Militar, September 3, 1897, Madrid,  Page 1

 (14) Willets, Gilson, The Triumph of Yankee Doodle, F. Tennyson Neely, New York, 1898, page 170.

All material is Copyright 2006 by William K. Combs.  No portion may be used without permission.