Many moons ago my father and I were talking about the origins of phrases and we talked about the origins of “Down to brass tacks” It has been 30 years since we had that discussion and I found the book he refrenced in that discussion with me. I dug through it and found it. Of all the possibilities I have seen in print this seems to be teh most believable. Here it is:
During the time of the Civil war the Adjutant General of the states were required to issue an annual report. This report is published as a book and is about 2” thick. About 7/8th of the book is an appendix which lists all of the officers and their status, rank advancement, promotions, death in combat, etc. The first part of the report covers a fairly detailed report of the states army, recruitment, deployment, current commanders, training, expenditures, etc. Also listed is a complete inventory of what is stored in the Arsenal ranging from brass canons, tar buckets, sabres, bridles, muskets. Looking at the list it is a complete listing of what an army of the time would need to stay afield. The very “Last” item on this list is “Brass Tacks”. Brass tacks were put on the soles of soldiers shoes to extend the life of the leather soles. I can hear the group of soldiers assigned to do the inventory looking at the list of items to inventory saying: “OK boys lets get to it and get down to brass tacks”. What do you think? I will try and scan the pages in refrence and get them posted.
Source: Pennsylvania Adjutant Generals Report - 1863, printed in 1864