12/1/13

A Few More Paintings by Sidney E. King

The house where Jackson died. Guinea Station, VA, May 1863.

The house where Jackson died. Guinea Station, VA, May 1863.

Back in July we provided our readers a brief biography of renowned historical artist Sidney E. King along with a few examples of his Civil War art. Since that time we have run across some additional wonderful paintings by King that beg to be shared. All illustrations are courtesy of the National Park Service. Please left click on images for an enlarged view. Enjoy!

The Battle of Drewry's Bluff, May 15, 1862. Confederate batteries in Ft. Darling resist an attempt by Federal gunboats to ascend the James River near Richmond, VA.

The Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, May 15, 1862. Confederate batteries in Ft. Darling resist an attempt by Federal gunboats to ascend the James River near Richmond, VA.

The death of General John Sedgwick at Spotsylvania Court House, VA, May 9, 1862.

The death of General John Sedgwick at Spotsylvania Court House, VA, May 9, 1862.

Lee and his generals watch the opening of the Seven Day's Battles from Chickahominy Bluff overlooking Mechanicsville, VA, June 26, 1862.

Lee and his generals watch the opening of the Seven Day’s Battles from Chickahominy Bluff overlooking Mechanicsville, VA, June 26, 1862.

The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. Confederate gunners on Willis Hill pound away at attacking Union columns.

The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. Confederate gunners on Willis Hill pound away at attacking Union columns.

By Bob Williams

11/7/13

Period Descriptions of North Carolina Soldiers

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Of all the Confederate States, North Carolina arguably did the best job in uniforming her troops while in the field. Yet, active campaigning quickly thwarted even the best attempts at a smart military appearance. The following contemporary descriptions are enlightening for their revelations on the North Carolina soldier in the field as he really looked and fought:

Prisoners of Branch’s NC Brigade taken at Hanover C.H., VA, June 1862:
“The scene within [the prisoner’s compound] . . . reminded me of the witch-scene in Macbeth, or pictures of brigands or Bohemian gypsies at rendezvous, not less than five hundred men, in motley, ragged costumes, with long hair, and lean, wild, haggard, faces . . . Some were wrapped in blankets of rag-carpet, and others wore shoes of rough untanned hide . . . Some appeared in red shirts, some in stiff beaver hats; some were attired in shreds and patches of cloth; and a few wore the soiled garments of citizen gentlemen; but the mass adhered to homespun suits of gray, or “butternut,” and the coarse blue kersey common to slaves . . . They came from North Carolina . . . In a corner, lying morosely apart were a Major, three Captains, and three Lieutenants, – young athletic fellows, dressed in gray cassimere, trimmed with black, and wearing soft black hats adorned with black ostrich – feathers. Their spurs were strapped upon elegantly fitting boots, and they looked as far above needy seedy privates, as lords above their vassals.”
George A. Townsend, Campaigns of a Non-Combatant, pp. 104-105

Casualties of Garland’s NC Brigade at South Mountain, MD, September 1862:
“All around lay the Confederate dead – undersized men mostly, from the coast district of North Carolina, with sallow hatchet faces, and clad in “butternut” – a color running all the way from a deep, coffee brown up to the whitish brown of ordinary dust.”
Battles &Leaders, Vol. II, p. 558.

Pender’s Division on the march to Gettysburg, PA, June 1863:
“The soldiers of this division are a remarkably fine body of men, and look quite seasoned and ready for any work. Their clothing is serviceable, so also are their boots; but there is the usual utter absence as to color and shape of their garments and hats: gray of all shades, and brown clothing, with felt hats, predominate.”
The Freemantle Diary, p. 180

Lane’s NC Brigade at Cold Harbor, VA, June 1864:
“On the road stood a couple of Rebel officers, each in his gray overcoat [i.e. frock coat], and just behind a group of some twenty soldiers – the most gipsy-looking men imaginable, in their blue gray jackets and slouched hats; each with his rusty musket and well filled cartridge box.”
Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman, etc., p.154

McRae’s NC Brigade at Ream’s Station, VA, August 1864:
“Numbers of our men . . . were wearing the flashy uniforms of the Yankee artillerists and the fine hats of officers a few days after the battle.”

by Bob Williams

10/8/13

Some Common “Confederate” Uniform Buttons

On March 13, 1861, the Raleigh North Carolina Standard reported: “O. S. Baldwin, Esq., of Wilmington, N. C., has placed upon our table a specimen of the military button, recently advertised in our paper, having embossed the coat of arms of our State. Knowing little of heraldry, we can not see much in the coat of arms to admire, but as to the mechanical execution of the button itself, we can truly say it is decidedly neat and in good taste.” Indeed, the attractive North Carolina button is among the most commonly found state seal type buttons found on battlefields and in Confederate campsites today.

An even more common button utilized throughout the war by Southern soldiers from all states was the lowly “flower” or “coin” button. In May, 1861, The Wilmington Journal advertised that the firm of Leon and Swarzman was selling military buttons for 66 and 2/3 cents per dozen: “These buttons are perfectly plain, as Messrs. L. & S. inform us that they have not been able to get the dies made yet so as to impress them with the State arms.”

These common flat and "flower" buttons of the mid-19th century were often used on Confederate uniform coats. These are often referred to today as Golden Age buttons. Image courtesy OZ Militaria.

These common flat and “flower” buttons of the mid-19th century were often used on Confederate uniform coats. These are often referred to today as Golden Age buttons. Image courtesy OZ Militaria.

Any brass button in the 1860s was considered a “military button,” and in the rush to clothe troops in the early months of the war, metal buttons of all types adorned early uniforms. They are either one or two piece in construction and range in size from the cuff variety to over an inch in diameter. Many of the buttons were brass or gold plated. They exist in an unending array of designs. Modern collectors refer to them as “flower,” “Golden Age,” or “geometric” pattern buttons. Other buttons of the “coin” or “flat” variety have their origin in Colonial days. Still others of the “Sportsman” variety have dogs, eagles, or bears on them. The late Mac Mason, an ardent Virginia collector, used to travel to various relic shows with a huge display of hundreds of different flower and coin buttons he had found in many years of relic hunting. These are “true” Confederate buttons, and non dug examples can often be found at relic and antique shows if one knows what to look for. “Stonewall” Jackson’s famous old blue forage cap even sports flower buttons on the side, as do many other caps privately made for Confederate officers.

When the 6th NCST went off to war, its early sack coats were adorned with a particular type of domed two-piece with a unique floral display. Buttons of this pattern were unearthed in considerable quantity from the Sixth’s 1861 winter camp around Dumfries, VA. This writer dug one of this type of button, and has found two non dug specimens in pristine condition at antique shows. Most people would never presume these buttons to have CS affiliation. Prices generally range from $2-$5!Usage of these type buttons continued even through Appomattox, as archaeological evidence indicates. They form a unique and part of Confederate material culture.

An even more homely but truly Confederate button that saw extremely wide usage was the plain, ordinary wooden variety. These buttons were produced in large quantities to circumvent the shortage of brass and stamping dies, and saw use in every theater. Their size was generally from ½” to 1” in diameter and they came in both two hole and four hole pattern. They may well be the most common Confederate manufactured uniform button.

As described by Dr. S. H. Stout: “While on an inspecting tour in Columbus, Ga. in the winter of 1862-63, I was informed that wooden, horn and bone buttons were being manufactured there, and I visited the plant. The factory was owned by a former lieutenant of the Confederate army, who had lost an arm in one of the early battles. The motive power of his factory was an engine of moderate horsepower that had been used to run a printing press. So complete were the saws, borers, and drying kilns that in the final process of their manufacture the completed buttons dropped into the hoppers with as much rapidity as nails from a nail making machine.”

These two Southern stalwarts wear Richmond Depot issued jackets closed with plain four-hole wooden buttons.

These two Southern stalwarts wear Richmond Depot issued jackets closed with plain four-hole wooden buttons.

Even as early as 1862 the 1st Missouri Brigade received white wool uniforms with large wooden buttons which appeared quite distinctive when offset with black crossbelts. Numerous photos of North Carolina Troops (and others), particularly those wearing Richmond Depot jackets issued in the late summer of 1862, show four hole wooden buttons. In late 1863, the Savannah garrison reported having on hand: a lot [of 2600 jackets] made of Georgia jeans, from the Richmond factory, with wooden buttons, an inferior article.” Furthermore, a Reb prisoner captured around Richmond in late 1864 had a “jacket [of] dirty white coarse flannel the cuffs and collr dark blue and the buttons, large wooden very rough looking . . .”

Additionally, numerous museum collections house surviving examples of Confederate uniform jackets with crude wooden buttons. The Gettysburg National Park Museum owns two fine examples. While most of these are of coarse woolen jeans with a provenance to Deep South depots, examples of fine English wool kersey jackets with wooden buttons, one identified to a member of the Richmond “Otey” Battery, are also known.

This is not to say that these wooden buttons were popular with the troops. They broke easily and were replaced as quickly as resources permitted with more durable buttons, preferably of brass. Southern hospital matron Phoebe Yates Pember describes how her patients developed a button mania: “Men who had never had a dream or a hope beyond a horn convenience to keep their clothing together, saved up their scanty means to replace them with gilt, and made neat little wooden shelves with a slit through the middle into which the buttons slid, so that they could be cleaned or brightened without taking them off, or soiling the jacket.”

It is no surprise that buttons of Federal origin were very commonly used on Confederate garments. These buttons came from a number of sources.

Large quantities of pre-war stocks were acquired when seceding states seized Federal arsenals. As a result, buttons of the Eagle “I,” “A,” “C,” “R,” and “V” patterns adorned the uniform coats of many young Southern volunteers. They are frequently recovered by relic hunters from Confederate camps. Gravesites attributed to the 8th Louisiana Infantry near Centerville, VA yielded a considerable number of eagle “letter” buttons. In fact, Union buttons are much more commonly found on CS sites than those of Southern manufacture or European import. Additionally, early war photographs of North Carolina soldiers likewise document the usage of Federal buttons well before the North Carolina State seal button came into common usage.

Additional Federal buttons were also gleaned from battlefield captures, particularly at 1st Manassas, Shiloh, and the Seven Days. Not just eagle buttons, but Federal state issue patterns as well, found their way into Confederate ranks. A late war jacket belonging to E. F. Barnes of the Richmond Howitzers, utilized buttons of both the Virginia and New York State types. It is in the Confederate Museum in Richmond The North Carolinia Museum of History houses a “camp uniform” worn by General Robert Hoke that sports New York, eagle, and flower buttons.

Union eagle buttons on the jacket of a dead Confederate soldier, ca. 1865.

Union eagle buttons on the jacket of a dead Confederate soldier, ca. 1865.

Federal buttons were also acquired in trade from Union prisoners. Ezra Hoyt Ripple of the 52nd Pennsylvania, in his fascinating memoir of prison life called Dancing Along the Deadline, describes the button market at Andersonville: “When money and trinkets of varying kinds were exhausted, we had to fall back on something else as a purchasing power. Luckily for us we had buttons, and buttons were in great demand among the rebs. I do not know what the Confederate Army regulations were in regard to buttons, but I do know there seemed to be no limit to the number a Reb would put on his coat if he had them. The buttons were of several grades in value, the lowest being the regulation button, the next the New York State button, and the highest the Officers and Staff buttons . . . I have seen private reb soldiers with four rows of buttons in front and a corresponding number on cuffs and coat-tails.”

Actually, the Federal Staff or Eagle Officer’s button is the most commonly noted button on Confederate officers uniform coats, as is documented by the superb MOC uniform collection. Several officer’s coats in the NCMOH attributed to members of the 26th NCT also use buttons of the Federal staff type.

By Bob Williams

09/12/13

Update From Greg Mast on “State Troops and Volunteers, Volume II”

I have received several inquiries of late about the status of State Troops and Volunteers. I can report that, after sustaining a few “bumps in the road,” I have been making excellent progress on Volume 2 the past few months, and I expect that progress to continue for the foreseeable future. However, I am not about to issue any predictions, because the book is not completed and I do not know exactly when it will be.

That said, I do encourage any who have, or know of, an image you would like to place in Volume 2, to please contact me fairly soon. When you do so, I will need you to provide some kind of copy of the image: a photocopy, a cell phone picture, a quick scan etc. (but not, under any circumstances, the original image itself!). An excellent high-resolution copy will be needed for publication, but that can wait a bit, if necessary.

I should add that many photographs in Volume 2 will be in color.

Here is what I am looking for:

Photographs of North Carolina soldiers, sailors, and marines that can be dated ca. 1847 to ca. 1867. Uniformed images are desired, but civilian-clad images of soldiers and sailors are acceptable, particularly if the subjects are armed or died in service. Obviously the vast majority of such images are of Confederates, but there are other categories:
–antebellum militiamen
–N.C. soldiers and sailors in the antebellum U.S. Army and Navy, including Mexican War service
–Federal soldiers and sailors from North Carolina who served during the Civil War (I have located about 50 so far, rather more than I thought I would find).

In Volume 1 of State Troops and Volunteers I published several civilian images: fathers, mothers, wives, and children of the soldiers. It is unclear if there will be room for that kind of photograph in Volume 2.

Please do not submit post-war family pictures of the veterans. I can never use them. I do plan a short final chapter of veterans in the context of veteran activities, principally at reunions. I will consider additional such images, but it is very likely that I already have more than I can use. Kindly left click on image for larger view of flyer.

By Greg Mast

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09/7/13

“Follow Me:” Hamilton Allen Brown of Wilkes Co., N.C.

[Author's Note: An earlier version of this article first appeared in the May/June 2003 issue of Military Images magazine. It has been updated with additional research for inclusion in this blog]

“Liquor flowed freely and there were ½ doz. fights.” Thus one Southern rustic described a late April 1861 patriotic rally in the mountain town of Wilkesboro, North Carolina, aimed at garnering recruits to defend a newly forming Confederacy. Two community leaders of pronounced stature, Montfort Sydney Stokes, Jr. and James Brown Gordon, led the gathering. Their efforts produced an exceptional company of men known as the Wilkes Valley Guards or Wilkes Volunteers. When the unit left Wilkesboro on May 27th with Stokes as its Captain and Gordon as 1st Lieutenant, a proud member asserted: “The company on that day numbered 110 and nearly every man was over six feet tall.” Also named 1st Lieutenant was Gordon’s younger stepbrother, 23-year-old Hamilton Allen Brown.

Colonel Hamilton Allen Brown, 1st North Carolina Infantry Courtesy, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

Colonel Hamilton Allen Brown, 1st North Carolina Infantry
Courtesy, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

At Warrenton, N. C. on June 3rd, the Wilkes Volunteers officially became Company B of the newly formed 1st North Carolina State Troops. The First was one of ten regiments of “State Troops” authorized by law whose term of service was to be for three years or the duration of the war. Confederate staff officer McHenry Howard of Maryland, who would later come to know the First well, thought the organization exhibited “something of the espirit, called by some ‘uppishness,’ of regulars.”

Naval Academy graduate “Sydney” Stokes, judged by one observer to be “a splendid officer, well prepared to drill in regimental or brigade maneuvers,” became the regiment’s first Colonel. When Gordon soon transferred to the cavalry arm, Lieutenant Brown assumed the vacant captaincy of Company B, to rank from May 16th. For the balance of the war, Brown’s distinguished service career would be inextricably linked with fortunes of the 1st North Carolina Infantry.

Known to his intimates as Allen, Brown was born at “Oakland” in Wilkes Co., N. C. on September 25, 1837, the second son of a marriage between Hamilton Brown and widow Sarah Gwyn Gordon. His grandfather was a participant in the Revolutionary Battle of King’s Mountain. Brown attended the U.S. Naval Academy as a member of the class of 1858, but did not graduate. When North Carolina seceded, Governor John W. Ellis called on the Wilkes Co. native to help train new recruits. This must have proven interesting, since Brown spoke with a pronounced stutter. One member of the 1st N. C. irreverently described a command from Brown as sounding: “A-a-a-a-a—damn—a-a-a—damnit—pst—pst—pst—a-a—forward, Company B!” His verbal orders were said to be often unintelligible to an untrained ear. However, subsequent events would soon demonstrate that Brown’s speech impediment did not diminish his ability to lead men in battle.

In the 1st North Carolina’s baptismal engagement at Mechanicsville, Va. on June 26, 1862, the regiment was brutally mauled while assaulting strongly fortified Union positions along Beaver Dam Creek. Colonel Stokes was mortally wounded and all other field officers either killed outright or severely injured. Enlisted casualties amounted to more than 150. While witnesses described initial Southern efforts to reform after the battle as “pathetic,” Brigade commander Roswell Ripley noted in his official report: “Captain [H.] A. Brown, of the 1st North Carolina, rallied the troops of his regiment, with other officers . . . and led [them] until relieved . . .”

In subsequent battles of the Seven Days, particularly at Malvern Hill, the young Captain again distinguished himself. For his performance in the fighting around Richmond, Brown earned promotion to Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st N. C. to rank from July 8, 1862. That same month he traveled to Raleigh to acquire 300 new conscripts for the regiment, men, he said, who “proved to be excellent material for soldiers, brave and willing . . .”

Brown capably led the revitalized First thru the subsequent Maryland Campaign. The Tar Heels escaped harm’s way at South Mountain but sustained losses of more than 50% on the fringes of the Miller Cornfield at Sharpsburg. At Fredericksburg in December, Brown and his regiment played a minor support role in the Confederate third line of battle and incurred only minor injury from long distance fire.

In early 1863, the 1st N.C. was reassigned to a newly formed, mostly Virginia, brigade in what was called the old “Stonewall Division.” It was a move that displeased Brown. Wishing to be in an all North Carolina unit, he later warranted: “Trouble and discomfiture were necessarily entailed by such an arrangement . . . we were often neglected and sometimes forgotten in the distribution of army stores, clothes, provisions, etc.,” Perhaps of more importance to the young and ambitious officer, Brown further observed: “The field of promotion was also narrowed, and our achievements on the field frequently shared by others.”

Yet, the new mixed brigade performed well enough at Chancellorsville in May. Brown led them briefly near battle’s end after successive commanders had fallen. It proved to be the 1st North Carolina’s bloodiest engagement of the war. “We captured piles of fat knapsacks and fatter Dutchmen,” Brown boasted of the action. During Lee’s second invasion of the North, the First gained further laurels (and booty) at Stephenson’s Depot near Winchester. They were less fortunate at Gettysburg where attacks against sturdy Federal works on Culp’s Hill proved both futile and costly. Brown later asserted that with proper and timely reinforcements, he might have seized the Baltimore Pike in the Union rear on the evening of July 2nd.

In the NPS commissioned painting by Rick Churms, Colonel Brown (brandishing pistols) is shown capturing Winslow's New York battery in the Wilderness fighting. Photo by author.

In the NPS commissioned painting by Rick Churms, Colonel Brown (brandishing pistols) is shown capturing Winslow’s New York battery in the Wilderness fighting. Photo by author.

At the Battle of Payne’s Farm in November 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Brown lost the middle finger of his right hand to a gunshot wound. When infection subsequently set in, threatening lockjaw, he was forced to relinquish command of the regiment for a time. While recuperating, Brown received well-deserved promotion to Colonel of the 1st North Carolina to date from December 14th. He spent the balance of the winter bringing his unit to a state of “perfect discipline and efficiency.” The Spring Campaign of 1864 was very nearly the new Colonel’s last. At the Wilderness on May 5th, he personally assisted in capturing two guns of Battery D, 1st New York Light Artillery in Sander’s Field. “It is . . . a fact known to the entire brigade that Colonel Brown, First North Carolina, with his own hands pulled the lieutenant in charge of the guns from his horse, and held possession of the horse until required to turn him in,” a witness recorded.

A week later, Brown suffered the most severe of his 13 war wounds. He was shot in both shoulders when the First was overrun in the “Mule Shoe” at Spotsylvania. All but 30 men of the regiment were captured, and her colors lost. The injured Colonel himself was captured and recaptured three times, “the last time from the enemy’s ambulance corps, who, in turn, were made prisoners,” he remembered. Brown’s wounds were deemed so serious that a nearby Chaplin conducted a burial service over him while he was still alive! In later years, Brown maintained that “hearing his own [funeral] . . . brought him back to life rather than laying him away.”

After a lengthy convalescence, Brown returned to the army in August 1864 to find his skeleton regiment reassigned to the North Carolina brigade of William R. Cox. Brown was given command of the newly formed sharpshooter battalion for Jubal Early’s Second Corps. He ably led the battalion through spirited engagements at Martinsburg and Third Winchester. In the latter action Brown narrowly escaped a severe wound when a bullet struck his pocket watch. He avoided capture by a Union cavalryman by begging off that he was too severely wounded to hobble to the rear. Brown then escaped to fight again. At Cedar Creek the aggressive Colonel spearheaded Early’s surprise assault on Sheridan and claimed the temporary capture of sixteen Federal guns. Following the disastrous Valley Campaign of 1864 the sharpshooter battalion spent the winter along the siege lines west of Petersburg. In March of 1865, Brown was captured in a free for all fight at Fort Steadman during “Lee’s Last Grand Offensive.” He was sent northward, ultimately taking the oath of allegiance at Fort Delaware on June 24, 1865.

Colonel Brown narrowly avoided capture at Second Winchester when the Confederate left flank was overrun by charging Federal cavalry.

Colonel Brown narrowly avoided capture at Third Winchester when the Confederate left flank was overrun by charging Federal cavalry.

Brown returned to Wilkes County after the war where, in 1868, he married his cousin Amelia Selina Gwyn. Later moving to Columbia, Tennessee, Brown became a “planter of modest means” and fathered four children. He died on April 9, 1917 and is buried in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in his native, Wilkesboro, N.C.

Of the courageous North Carolinian a later biographer wrote: “It was stated that Brown never ordered a man into battle, but instead always said, ‘Follow me.’” Hamilton Allen Brown clearly deserves an honored spot among the Fighting Colonels of the Confederacy.

By Bob Williams

08/21/13

Comfort from the Enemy

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The timely arrival of A. P. Hill’s division from Harper’s Ferry to bolster Lee’s battered line at Sharpsburg on the afternoon of September 17, 1862 stands as a classic moment in Confederate battle history. Several contemporary accounts claim that considerable numbers of Hill’s men were clad in blue uniforms captured from the Federal garrison, thus enabling the surprise element of their assault. Certainly at no point in it’s history was the Army of Northern Virginia in more ragged condition, and one of Hill’s men admitted to capturing at Harper’s Ferry an “immense quantity of stores . . . [including] meat, crackers, sugar, coffee, shoes, blankets, underclothing, &c.”

Yet, all this begs the question: Just how frequently did the average Johnny Reb avail himself of wearing pieces of Federal uniform? Research seems to indicate that, while authorities did not wholly sanction such a practice, the average soldier in the ranks was more driven by necessity and probably did it if he could get away with it. Even as early as the Valley Campaign of 1862, Stonewall Jackson found it necessary to issue an order to his army which stated: “No soldier is permitted to wear any article of the Federal uniform.”

Jessie Peek of the 9th Georgia infantry wearing captured Federal frock coat and "SNY" (State of New York) belt plate.

Jessie Peek of the 9th Georgia infantry wearing captured Federal frock coat and “SNY” (State of New York) belt plate.

While this order caused an almost “universal shedding of blue jackets, new trousers, U. S. belts, and comfortable caps,” such stopgap measures were only temporary.Virginia artilleryman Edward Moore recalled a number of men in his battery wore Union forage caps. Moore, himself, kept a blue sack coat for extra warmth. Likewise, John Casler of the Stonewall Brigade picked up a blue blouse during the Seven Days that he wore until being assigned skirmish duty. He ditched the garment afraid he might be “popped over” by one of his own men as an enemy. The rich larder of Federal stores captured at Manassas Junction gave other Rebs an opportunity to upgrade their wardrobe, and South Carolinian Berry Benson pillaged a pair of sky blue trousers he wore through Antietam.

In the western theater, the story was much the same. After Shiloh, one observer noted: “Unless he knew better, a stranger would mistake our army for first rate Yankees. Fully three-fifths of the men are dressed in federal hats and overcoats.” At Perryville in October, 1862 Confederate General Pat Cleburne reported that his men were shelled by their own artillery: “ I can only account for this blunder from the fact that most of our men had on blue Federal pants.” Cavalryman Bedford Forrest outfitted his command several times at the expense of the Federal government. “Every man had a complete Yankee Suit consisting of hats, coats, pants, jackets, and boots,” a Mississippian recollected. This posed an inherent problem which in 1864 caused Forrest to direct: “All men and officers belonging to this command who have blue Yankee overcoats and clothing and who do not have them dyed by [December] 20th the coats especially will be taken from them.”

Interestingly, a small cottage industry developed around recycled Union clothing. A Texas soldier who admitted that men of his brigade stripped Union dead at Fredericksburg, also noted that much of the scavenging was done by civilians or soldiers in support roles who made a “business” out of it. He further noted: “the [stolen] clothing, when washed, was good stock in second hand stores and its benefit was that it supplied the wanting soldier and the poor citizen at a low price.”

Dead Confederate soldier at Antietam wearing Union issue blouse.

Dead Confederate soldier at Antietam wearing Union issue blouse.

By Bob Williams

08/9/13

The Blue and the White?!

Jacket worn by J. J. Appler of the 1st Missouri Infantry during the Battle of Champion Hill. Photo courtesy Missouri Historical Society.

Jacket worn by J. J. Appler of the 1st Missouri Infantry during the Battle of Champion Hill. Photo courtesy Missouri Historical Society.

Just prior to the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas in March 1862, the 1st Missouri Regiment of Sterling Price’s Southern army received its first government-issue uniforms. “The cloth was of rough and coarse texture,” one member recalled, “and the cutting and style would have produced a sensation in fashionable circles: the stuff was white, never having been colored . . . [and] the wool had not been purified by any application of water since it was taken from the back of the sheep. In pulling off and putting on the clothes, the olfactories were constantly exercised by the strong odor of that animal. . Our clothes, however, were strong and serviceable, even if we did look somewhat sheepish in them.” These drab jackets came with large wooden buttons which appeared quite distinctive when offset with black cartridge box belts.

Undyed uniforms of this type seem to have been quite commonly furnished to Confederate troops, particularly those serving in the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters of operation. The 2nd Texas Infantry wore similar white uniforms into the fight at Shiloh, prompting one Federal prisoner to ask: “Who were those hellcats that went into the battle with their grave clothes on?”

The elite 3rd Louisiana nearly rebelled when they received an issue of uniforms “made of coarse white jeans” in March 1863. At first they refused to wear them, except by special order. Later when the regiment was ordered on a forced march, “some of the men suggested the propriety of wearing the new white uniforms on the approaching expedition, which would be among the swamps of the Yazoo valley. The suggestion was universally adopted, affording a rare opportunity to give the new clothes a thorough initiation into the mysteries of a soldier’s life. Thus the regiment assembled the next morning arrayed as if for a summer’s day festival.” The Third continued to wear these garments thru the Vicksburg Campaign, and fought valiantly.

Undyed clothing also saw some usage in the eastern Confederate armies as well. One Federal soldier viewing the battlefield of South Mountain in 1862 observed: “All around lay the Confederate dead – undersized men mostly, from the coast district of North Carolina, with sallow hatchet faces, and clad in “butternut” – a color running all the way from a deep, coffee brown up to the whitish brown of ordinary dust.”

Cotton jeans jacket worn by Private J. Prentice of the 38th Arkansas.

Cotton jeans jacket worn by Private J. Prentice of the 38th Arkansas.

While surely not the only source, one supplier of undyed cloth was the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. There, inmates were put to work looming and weaving millions of yards of jeans cloth for indigent Texans and the Confederacy as a whole. Most of the material was not dyed after manufacture in order speed production and reduce the cost of manufacture. Large quantities of this durable “stuff” were made into jackets and trousers. Its inherent light weight made such clothing extremely suitable for wear in the heat and humidity of the Deep South. Much of Bragg’s army was said to have been attired in this “penitentiary clothing” at Chickamauga.

While not positively identified examples of the Huntsville output, several excellent specimens of undyed Confederate jackets survive today. One is attributed to Private James Prentice of the 38th Arkansas Infantry. Another, worn by J. J. Appler of the 1st Missouri Infantry, is in the collection of the Missouri Historical Society. Appler was wearing this jacket when severely wounded at Champion Hill in May 1863.

This distinctive clothing proves, once again, that the Civil War was more than the “Blue” vs. the “Gray.”

By Bob Williams

07/29/13

Sidney E. King: Premier Historical Artist

Gallant charge of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery at Petersburg, June 18, 1864

Gallant charge of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery at Petersburg, June 18, 1864

Historical art prints of famous scenes from the War Between the States and other conflicts are all the rage now. Countless paintings by such fine artists as Don Troiani, Rick Reeves, Dale Gallon, Dan Nance, Mort Kunstler, Dale Gallon, Keith Rocco and others are readily available to history buffs. Thoroughly researched and superbly rendered, these works have done much to help us visualize how a particular battle or historic event may have played out. They have also helped refine our understanding of how the average fighting man of the time might have truly looked.

Yet, well before all the artists listed above came along there was a fellow by the name of Sidney E. King. If the name is not familiar, many of his works will be. They grace most of the National Park Service historic sites in the eastern United States. In fact, during his lifetime, King produced over 200 mural style paintings for the NPS. His story is an interesting one.

Born in Massachusetts in 1906, King knew from early on he wanted to be a painter. Those plans were nearly thwarted by the Depression. After losing a studio he had established the young artist eventually found a job as a sign painter. During WWII King camouflaged combat planes at Quantico, VA and designed aircraft insignia. Settling near Fredericksburg, VA, he continued to paint and eventually found gainful employment with the National Park Service. After that, his work commissions came fast and furious from many directions. King soon firmly established himself as an outstanding muralist noted for his meticulous research and historical accuracy. He proved a master of oils, acrylics, and water colors.

"Shoot and be damned!" The capture of Ft. Gregg, Petersburg, April 2, 1865

“Shoot and be damned!” The capture of Ft. Gregg, Petersburg, April 2, 1865

King became perhaps best known for his series of paintings of the Jamestown, VA settlement which were on display as early as 1957, when Queen Elizabeth II visited the US on the colony’s 350th anniversary. He also produced an outstanding series for the Yorktown National Battlefield Park. His Civil War related works include numerous murals for the Richmond, Petersburg, Manassas, Kennesaw Mountain, Gettysburg and Fredericksburg Battlefield Parks. Several of those paintings accompany this blog post. They are highly detailed and show actual occurrences and participants of the battles depicted.

King is also known for painting the largest mural ever to be rendered in the United States. Titled “Creation,” it measures 400 feet long by 75 feet high and covers the encircling walls of the dome on Mormon Temple Square in Salt lake City, Utah. He also illustrated many magazine articles and books including W. W. Hassler’s Colonel John Pelham: Lee’s Boy Artillerist and A Pictorial History of Jamestown by J. Paul Hudson.

Until the age of 92 the prolific Sidney King continued to paint six days a week and held two shows a year at his studio near Bowling Green, VA. He also taught art at Rappahannock Community College in Warsaw, VA. When he passed away at age 95 in Caroline County, VA, a true prodigy was lost.

So, next time you visit an eastern National Historical Park take a look around. There you are sure to find at least several superbly rendered paintings with the bold signature “S. E. King” standing as fitting memorials to this wonderful but little known historical artist.

The capture of Casey’s Redoubt at the Battle of Seven Pines, May 31, 1862

The recapture of Ft. Steadman, Petersburg, March 25, 1865

The recapture of Ft. Steadman, Petersburg, March 25, 1865

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Bob Williams

07/22/13

The Homefront Connection

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One vital but often overlooked source of clothing for the Confederate soldier in the field was, of course, the “folks at home.” In fact, except for elaborately dressed militia companies that existed in various locales prior to the war, home produced clothing was the rule rather than the exception until state and Confederate manufacturing facilities could swing into high gear.

References to clothing from home in contemporary letters are frequent. On August 2, 1861 a Georgia private made this request: “I wish Ma would send me a coat; let her make it of gray woolen cloth she once made me a hunting coat from . . . It must be a jacket, buttoning all the way up the front military fashion, with a short collar to stand up; buttons either brass or silver, oval shape, nearly half inch in diameter; put a short tape 1/3 inch wide upon the shoulder, running front to back. Let it be warm, pockets inside and on both sides.”

Another Georgian in the 35th Regiment placed an even heavier order to help him survive the upcoming winter of 1862-63: “[Send me] 1 close bodied coat made in uniform style. 2 pairs of jeans pants lined. Be careful not to make them too large. 4 shirts, 2 nice and 2 plain. 2 pair of drawers. 3 or 4 pair of socks. One pair of heavy home made boots as the winter is severe . . . Also a head cover to sleep in. My pants and coat I want made of gray cloth or one pair of the pants gray and the other pair brown. Also a good heavy vest. You may think it strange of me for sending for so much but I am tired of being unclothed.”

One enterprising Virginian even set up an 1860’s version of Men’s Warehouse by selling his home made clothes. To his wife he wrote” I have sold my pants, vest shoes, and drawers for sixty-one dollars so you can see I am flush again . . . You will have to make me more pants and drawers, if you can raise the material make two pair of pants and four pair of drawers and I will have a pair of pants and two pair of drawers for sale and in that way will get mine clear . . . If you could make up a good supply of pants, vests, shoes, and drawers I could be detailed to come after them.”

This mailing of clothing was not always one-way. An Alabama soldier soldier sent some of his government-issue clothing home, commenting: “I send you a couple of shirts and a pair of drawers. Use them as you please. I had rather wear your make. The reason I drew them was that they are so much cheaper than you can make them. You can use them in making clothes for the children.”

The practice of wearing home made clothing persisted throughout the war. Even as late as 1863 an English observer noted: “I was told that even if a [Confederate] regiment was clothed in proper uniform by the government, it would become parti-colored again in a week as the soldiers preferred wearing the coarse homespun jackets and trousers made by their mothers and sisters at home.”

By Bob Williams

07/22/13

A Common Militia Belt Plate

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Independent state militia companies were very much a part of early American life in the years immediately following the Mexican War. As such, a number of enterprising and reputable businesses provided stock and custom uniforms and equipage to many of these organizations. Some units were extremely prestigious and wealthy; others were not. It is therefore not surprising that many unique accouterment items of varying quality were produced which later saw field service on both sides during the Civil War.

While the various styles of militia belt plates run into the dozens, one particularly interesting two piece design seems to have been adopted with some frequency by military organizations on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. This “standard” buckle is of the interlocking pattern, with an ornately scrolled Victorian design on the wreath, and a spread winged eagle on the tongue. It is neither particularly attractive nor very well made. Its maker is unknown. Nevertheless, it was extremely popular design among many well-appointed New England Militia companies, and others. Photographic evidence shows at least some members of the 1st Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, 18th Massachusetts Infantry, 44th Massachusetts Infantry, and 8th New Hampshire wearing this plate. There is also a museum piece documented as being worn by a soldier in the “Volunteer Maine Militia.”

On the Southern side, this same plate is seen upon the person of a member of the Petersburg City Guard (later of the 12th Virginia Infantry) and an unidentified North Carolina infantry lieutenant. They appear to have seen use both as sword belt plates and on enlisted men’s waist belts. An excellent example on its original belt is in the Gettysburg NBMP museum collection.

This style plate was extremely popular with many military bands. However, instead of the eagle motif, such monikers as “Boston Brigade Band,” “German Band,” “Band, 2nd R. I. V.,” and “Woodstock Coronet Band” (later part of the “Stonewall Brigade Band”) were displayed on the tongue portion. Other variants of this plate had specific company names inscribed on them, including “Richardson Lt. Guard,” “Charleston City Guard,” or the “Sutton Light Infantry.” The tongue portion of a “Richardson Lt. Guard” [5th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, a 9 month regiment] pattern was dug from a Federal camp on Hilton Head Island many years ago. One specimen with assumed North Carolina provenance bears the letters “GLG” and is attributed to the “Gaston Light Guard” of New Bern.

Various examples of these type plates are not uncommonly found in camp and battle sites up thru the mid-war period. They comprise a unique part of mid 19th Century militaria and of this country’s militia heritage.

By Bob Williams