Dog tags were not issued to soldiers during the Civil War. However they took measures to insure that they would be identified in the event of their death. They would write down their name, rank, regiment, or home address on pieces of paper and pin them to their uniforms. Especially when making an attack such as the suicidal Union assault at Cold Harbor. Or they might stencil their name on the back of their knapsack or carve their name into the soft lead backing of their belt buckle. I was with my brother-in-law when he found a Union belt buckle with the name John H. carved into the back of it. We were metal detecting on a hill overlooking the railroad bridge at Mill Creek where there was a Union stockade. This was near present day Briley Parkway and I-24. There was a commercial market for soldier identification. "Soldiers Pins" made of silver and gold were sold to the soldiers. Sutlers sold identification disks before battles. The above picture is half of a Confederate identification tag that was worn around the neck like the modern day dog tag. This brass tag had a lead backing such as you would find on a breastplate or belt buckle and the last name was Leach and he was from a town that ended in Boro Tennessee. I am assuming that it was Murfreesboro but it could have been another Boro such as Waynesboro for example. I found it on the battlefield of Liberty Gap near Bell Buckle Tennessee. Fifty-four percent of Union soldiers nationwide, that were re-interred, were unable to be identified.
Not until 1906 was a circular aluminum identification disk submitted to the Army for consideration. In 1913 dog tags were made mandatory by the military. The circular disk was replaced by a rectangular notched disk in WW2. It soon became evident that the dog tags were very noisy and by 1944 rubber silencers were issued. Before that men would wrap adhesive tape or rubber bands around them. The following is from Snopes: I have been told that when a soldier is killed in a circumstance that will prevent the immediate retrieval of remains, the soldier's dog tags are wedged between his two front upper and lower teeth to insure later identification, and that the dog tags will be less easily separated from the body. The usual method I've heard to insure the tags are firmly wedged between the teeth is to place the notch on the upper edge of the tag between the victim's two front upper teeth, and the notch on the lower edge of the tag between the victim's two front lower teeth. The victim's lower jaw is then struck or kicked toward the upper jaw to insure that the tags are firmly wedged between both upper and lower teeth.
|WW1 Dog Tag|
|Dog Tags With Silencers|
By the late 1950's the notched dog tag was replaced by the modern oval dog tag without the notch. I was issued two dog tags in 1968. One was on a short chain, which was called the toe tag. It was to be wrapped around my toe if I were killed. I wore it overseas or when I was flying but I usually didn't wear them when I was stationed in the states. Obviously there are fewer unknown soldiers in wartime today because of dog tags. The discovery of DNA has also revolutionized the process of identifying the dead.