Monday, October 3, 2022

There Can Only Be One? Revolutionary War Highland Soldiers, Part One: Visual Sources

With the help of some real experts, I've been beginning to research and make components for a 1770s British Army Highland Regiment impression. In the context of the Revolutionary War in the American theater, Highland regiments included the 42nd/Royal Highland/Black Watch, 71st/Fraser's, 74th/Argyle, 76th/MacDonald's, and the 84th/Royal Highland Emigrants, Regiments of Foot. 

I'll have more to say about kilts, diced hose, sporrans, and bonnets later, but for now I'm just posting all the pertinent period images I've been able to find that are informing this project, for ease of reference by me and anyone else who might follow along. A key note: the images below are just of Highland soldiers and officers in the British Army in the late 18th century, and just ones that are full-length portraits, so I've left out some famous paintings of kilted (non-Army) Highlanders, images from before about 1750 and after about 1790, bust-length portraits of officers, and so on. But let me know if I've missed anyone!


1751-1760: "Grenadiers, 40th Regiment of Foot, and Privates, 41st Invalids Regiment and 42nd Highland Regiment, 1751," by David Morier. This is a single figure in a large series dating to the 1750s in the Royal Collection Trust.


1750s-60s: A portrait that has circulated online as "The Pinch of Snuff" attributed to William Delacour. I've been unable to find its original source or further history, though some suggest it shows an officer in the Seven Years' War version of the 78th/Fraser's.



1759-1763: A portrait of William Gordon, Sutherland Regiment of Fencible Men, by Allan Ramsay, shared online by Peter MacDonald.



1758? 1763?: This portrait is difficult to trace but is supposedly of John Campbell, 42nd Foot, killed at Ticonderoga in 1758.


1768/71: This is one of a series of unsigned depictions of British soldiers. The two known copies are dates 1768 and 1771.


1770s: A portrait supposedly of an officer of the light company of the 73rd Foot (which did not serve in America during the war), without further provenance.


1778: This later copy is based on the series prepared during the war by Hessian Captain Friedrich von Germann, from the New York Public Library.


1778-1783: Until 1945, an exceptionally rare uniform associated with the Northern (Gordon) Fencibles existed in the Zeughaus Museum, Berlin. This image and diagram below were shared online by Peter MacDonald.



1770s/1780s: This uncited but period portrait of a 74th Regiment grenadier officer has been shared online by Al Saguto.


1780: "Portrait of Hugh Montgomerie, Later Twelfth Earl of Eglinton," by John Singleton Copley. This first version is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the second in National Galleries Scotland. Montgomerie raised a fencible regiment in Scotland but did not serve in America, despite this painting.



Post-1786: This watercolor is from some time shortly after 1786 (based on the marker stone and the style), but I've been unable for find further provenance. Shared by R. Scott Stephenson.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Things They Carried, 1762

 Longtime readers of this blog will know that in the everyday material culture of military experiences, including things like what Union soldiers carried in their pockets and the interior decoration of Civil War soldiers' winter huts. A passing reference in May and Embleton's classic Ospery volume, Wolfe's Army, led me on a hunt for a 1762 document detailing the weight of a soldier's equipment. I found a transcription of this document with help from R. Scott Stephenson and John U. Rees in The Papers of Col. Henry Bouquet (1942, Series 21648, Part II / Volume 10, 77-78), a transcription series from the mid-20th century undertaken by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and based on original manuscripts in the British Museum.

The document was prepared by Lt. Alexander Baillie, 1st Battalion, 60th/Royal American Regiment, in the summer of 1762 and documents the weight (in pounds and quarter pounds) of every piece of equipment officially carried by a British grenadier on campaign in America in the Seven Years'/French and Indian War. It's detailed enough that you could recreate everything a man carried except the small things that made him unique (personal mementoes and idiosyncratic objects). 


David Morier's "Grenadiers, 46th, 47th and 48th Regiments of Foot, 1751" (part of a larger series, from the Royal Collection Trust) gives us a glimpse of British grenadiers in full marching order shortly before the date or Baillie's report. Note that these grenadiers are shown wearing their distinctive embroidered caps while Baillie's report notes (felt) hats.

In the interest of making this document more widely available (as far as I know, it hasn't been published or posted outside of the printed Papers), I've included it in full below. I should note, though, that this is now a transcription of a transcription, and I've made some minor formatting alterations below, and so it would be well worth a serious researcher's time to revisit the original (undigitized) manuscript and its context.


Lieut. Alexander Baillie to Col. Henry Bouquet

Return of the Weight of the Cloathing, Arms, Accoutrements, Ammunition, Provision, Necessary’s &Ca. of a Grenadier, upon a March.

                                                                                                    Augt. 28th 1762

                                                                                                    Weight

                                                                                                    Lbs. Qrs.


A Regimental Coat, with Hooks, Eyes, &ca.             5. 2.

Waistcoat                                     2. 1.

Pair of Breeches                                     1. 2.

Hat with Cockade, Button, Loop, & Hair String             1.

A Shirt with Sleeve Buttons                                             1.


A Stock with a Buckle.     

A Pair of Knee Buckles.

A Pair Stockings & Garters                 3.


A Pair Shoes with Buckles                               1. 2.


A Regimental Firelock, with a Sling 

& Buckle / Hammer Cap & Stopper                    11. 1.


A Waist Belt with a Buckle                 2.

A Hanger, Sword Knit, and Scabbord             2. 2.

A Bayonet and Scaboord                          1. 1.

A Tomahawk, and Cover                          1. 3.


A Cartridge Pouch with Belt, Buckles, 

& Match Case                                                                     3.

Containing 24 Cartridges                             2. 1.

Brush & Wire, Worm, & Turnkey.

Oyl Bottle & Rag

2 Flints, & a Steel.                         1.


A Knapsa[ck] with Strap, and Buckles               1.   2.

Containing 2 Shirts. 2 Stocks. 2 Pair Stockings.                        2.   3.

A Pair Summer Breeches                               1.     1.

A Pair Shoes                                       1.     1.

A Clothes Brush, pair Shoe Brushes, 

        & Black Ball                                                                       1.

A Pair Leggins & Garters / A Handkerchief                         1.     1.

2 Combs, a Knife, & Spoon                     2.


A Haversack, with a Strap                                 3.

Containing Six Days Provisions                 10.         1.

A Blanket with Strap & Garters                 3. 2.

A Canteen with a String, & Stopper, full of Water           3.         1.

                                                     63. 3.



Friday, June 17, 2022

Part Two: A Survey of Extant American Revolutionary Regimental Coats

This two-part post documents the basic details of 31 known eighteenth-century American military regimental coats. Though it is focused on coats used during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), it also includes 17 uniform coats from the period immediately following the war because of their potential to provide useful contextual evidence both now and in future study and to help avoid future citations of these garments as true Revolutionary War uniforms. This survey does not include coats made and worn in the late 1790s or those worn by French, Hessian, or British regular army officers and men, in order to focus on coats known to have been both made and worn in American (including Canadian) contexts. Nor does it include various other upper body garments worn by Revolutionary soldiers, such as hunting shirts (see the work of Neal Hurst) and civilian coats and jackets worn into battle or violent situations (see, for example, posts about the Obadia Mead jacket on this blog).

These posts are a starting point for conversations rather than a comprehensive survey. Most of the details discussed here were gleaned from photographs and catalog records rather than personal study, which would allow for expanded conclusions and connections. The author would welcome correspondence with anyone who knows more about the coats documented here or other examples. 

Several of the entries benefitted from a systematic survey of museum collections conducted by historian Norm Fuss, published in The Brigade Dispatch (August 2010 and Winter 2010). Thanks especially to Keith Minsinger (whose initial research inspired this survey), Henry Cooke, Neal Hurst, Michael McCarty, John U. Rees, and Matthew White for comments.


Part Two: Loyalist Coats


Jeremiah French Coat


This coat, in the collection of the Canadian War Museum (Ottawa), is associated with Jeremiah French, a New Yorker who served (after 1781) in the King’s Royal Regiment of New York (raised in Montreal). French was born in New York about 1737 and fled to Canada in 1776 or 1777, joining the Queen’s Loyal Rangers shortly afterwards. The coat is red with blue facings, with functional facings, cuffs, and cape. It is cut short in the style usually called a coatee, with small white turnbacks from the front with blue hearts and vertical false pocket flaps. It features bone buttons wrapped in gilt metal stamped with a crown, KRR, and New-York, surrounded by a wreath. These buttons are set in pairs behind gold metallic embroidered buttonholes. The appearance of the coat adheres to late 1770s-early 1780s fashion.


Munson Hoyt Coat


The coat, in the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society Museum andLibrary, is associated with Munson Hoyt, an officer in the Prince of Wales American Regiment. Hoyt, from Norwalk Connecticut, likely wore this coat during his service as a Lieutenant in the regiment (raised in Connecticut) between 1777 and 1783 in New York, New England, and South Carolina. The coat is red with blue facings, with functional facings, cuffs, pockets, and cape. It features plain yellow metal buttons set in pairs on the facings behind metallic embroidered buttonholes. The appearance of the coat adheres to late 1770s-early 1780s fashion.

Andres Ten Eyck Coat


This coat, in the collection of the Missisquoi Museum (Quebec), is associated with Andres Ten Eyck. Ten Eyck was born in 1727 in New Jersey, served in the colony’s militia in the Seven Years’ War, and moved to New York in 1770. Arrested there in 1776 while recruiting soldiers for a Loyalist company, he was imprisoned and eventually escaped to Canada. The coat is red with functional red facings with bastion tops currently buttoned over the cap. It has plain round cuffs with no buttons, and current photographs suggest there are no turnbacks or pocket flaps, though the sides of the coat are obscured. It features plain yellow metal buttons set in pairs on the facings behind sewn buttonholes. Despite theories that this may have been Ten Eyck’s Seven Years’ War regimental, its appearance adheres to late 1770s-early 1780s fashion.


Penn Weekes Coat


This coat, in the collection of the Bayville Historical Museum (New York), is associated with Penn Weekes, a resident of Oyster Bay, Long Island. According to Museum records, in at least 1779, Weekes was a sergeant in a Loyalist cavalry unit commanded by Captain Israel Youngs. The coat is red with blue facings, with nonfunctional facings, a functional cape trimmed with metallic lace, and nonfunctional cuffs trimmed with metallic lace that rise to a point in the front and open via a functional, buttoned slit along the rear seam. It is cut short in the style usually called a coatee, with vertical false pocket flaps. Current images do not indicate the presence of any turnbacks. What appear to be plain, white metal buttons are evenly spaced down the lapels. The cuff buttons have been replaced by later military ones. The appearance of the coat adheres to late 1770s-early 1780s fashion.


Charles Langlade Coat


This coat, in the collection of the Neville Public Museum of Brown County (Wisconsin) belonged to Charles Michel de Langlade (1729-1801), a resident of Michilimackinac and Green Bay. Langlade had an impressive career in the fur trade and military service in the Great Lakes and served during the Revolutionary War in the British Indian Department wearing this coat. The coat is red with blue facings, with functional facings, cape, and cuffs, trimmed throughout with white piping. It is cut relatively short, with vertical false pocket flaps and small white turnbacks from the front with blue laced hearts. What appear to be plain, white metal buttons are evenly spaced down the lapels. Two epaulettes of red cloth with gold lace and fringe are on the shoulders. The appearance of the coat adheres to late 1770s-early 1780s fashion.


Daniel Servos Coat


This coat, in the collection of the Niagara Historical Society and Museum (Ontario,Canada), is associated with Daniel Servos (1743-1808), a Loyalist in the British Indian Department. Servos was born in Tryon County, New York, and was commissioned a lieutenant about 1779. The coat is red with red lapels and green cape and cuffs. The functional red lapels extend only down to the belly, in a style most often associated with French uniforms, and have bastion-shaped tops buttoning over the cape. Below the lapels, three buttons with false buttonholes are on either side of the coat front. The coat has full white turnbacks with small green hearts at the corners. The cuffs appear to be nonfunctional; the deep pocket flaps are functional. The coat features plain red tabs at the shoulders and large, evenly-spaced plain yellow metal buttons. Besides the strange lapels, this coat adheres to late 1770s-early 1780s fashion. 


Jacob Schieffelin Coat


This coat, in the collection of Fort Ticonderoga (New York), belong to Jacob Schieffelin (1757-1835). Schieffelin was born in Philadelphia, served as a lieutenant in the Detroit Volunteers (Loyalist), and was captured at Fort Sackville in 1779. Later in the war, after escaping, he served in the Queen’s Rangers and British Indian Department in Canada. The coat is red with black velvet lapels, cape, and cuffs. It closes at the chest with hooks and eyes. The collar is relatively high, almost stand-and-fall, and the buttonholes are all worked with metallic lace. The coat has full skirts without evidence for turnbacks and false pocket flaps with laced buttonholes and buttons. It retains a gold metallic epaulette on the left shoulder and features plain brass coin buttons. Fort Ticonderoga dates this coat, stylistically, to 1783-1784. 


John Leggett Coat

This coat, in the collection of the Nova Scotia Museum, is associated with John Legett. Leggett was born in North Carolina in 1742, Leggett served as a provincial officer through the Revolutionary War before emigrating to Canada. The coat is red with blue facings, round cuffs, and cape. Gilt “RP“ buttons are set in pairs behind buttonholes worked with metallic lace. The coat retains two gold epaulettes and has full skirts. No photographs are online.



Washington Crossing State Park Coat



This coat, in the collection of the State of New Jersey and on display at Washington Crossing State Park, has no known provenance. The coat is red with matching functional lapels and slit cuffs and a dark blue wool functional cape. The lapels and cuffs are trimmed with a narrow strip of dark blue wool and the coat features buttons of gilt metal over bone cores. The coat has small, white, false turnbacks from the fronts with decorative multi-colored hearts at the corners. It has two welt pockets inside the skirts and no exterior pockets or pocket flaps. This coat adheres to late 1770s-early 1780s fashion.


William Jarvis Coat

This coat, in the collection of the City of Toronto Museums (Ontario) belonged to William Jarvis of the Queen’s Rangers in 1791. Jarvis was born in Connecticut and joined the Queen’s Rangers in 1777 before eventually emigrating to Canada. The Museums’ catalog suggests that an original receipt for this coat may survive. The coat is green with dark velvet facings, cuffs, and stand-and-fall collar. Its lapels are functional and extend only to the lower chest (with laced buttonholes below) It features two silver epaulettes, silver laced buttonholes and trim, and white metal buttons set in pairs. It has long skirts but the single photograph online does not include a rear view or information about pockets.


Other Fragments and Future Research

At least two other likely Revolutuonary War regimental coat fragments exist. One, probably the sleeve cap of a blue regimental coat with hand-sewn stitches still present, was found in a cartridge box and is in the collection of Don Troiani. The other is reportedly a complete brown wool sleeve from the coat of a Philadelphia Associator, complete with a red wool cuff and retaining large pewter buttons at the top of the cuff and up a false slit, in a private descendant collection. In addition, various unsubstantiated reports and collector lore hint at the existence (or past existence) of more coats and fragments in private collections, discarded by button collectors, uncovered in shipwreck salvages, and so on. It is quite likely that more coats survive in public and private collections awaiting identification. Such examples have the potentially to greatly expand what we know about the coats made and worn in the Revolutionary War. 

Part One: A Survey of Extant American Revolutionary Regimental Coats

This two-part post documents the basic details of 31 known eighteenth-century American military regimental coats. Though it is focused on coats used during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), it also includes 17 uniform coats from the period immediately following the war because of their potential to provide useful contextual evidence both now and in future study and to help avoid future citations of these garments as true Revolutionary War uniforms. This survey does not include coats made and worn in the late 1790s or those worn by French, Hessian, or British regular army officers and men, in order to focus on coats known to have been both made and worn in American (including Canadian) contexts. Nor does it include various other upper body garments worn by Revolutionary soldiers, such as hunting shirts (see the work of Neal Hurst) and civilian coats and jackets worn into battle or violent situations (see, for example, posts about the Obadia Mead jacket on this blog).

These posts are a starting point for conversations rather than a comprehensive survey. Most of the details discussed here were gleaned from photographs and catalog records rather than personal study, which would allow for expanded conclusions and connections. The author would welcome correspondence with anyone who knows more about the coats documented here or other examples. 

Several of the entries benefitted from a systematic survey of museum collections conducted by historian Norm Fuss, published in The Brigade Dispatch (August 2010 and Winter 2010). Thanks especially to Keith Minsinger (whose initial research inspired this survey), Henry Cooke, Neal Hurst, Michael McCarty, John U. Rees, and Matthew White for comments.


Part One: Revolutionary/American/Patriot Coats


Cyrus Baldwin Coat 


This coat, in the collection of Fort Ticonderoga (New York), belonged to Cyrus Baldwin, a Massachusetts soldier in the Boston Corps of Cadets between 1772 (when this uniform was established) and 1774 (when the company resigned in protest over the dismissal of their commander, John Hancock, by British General Thomas Gage). The coat is red with buff facings, with functional facings, cuffs, and cape. It has full skirts with a buff worsted wool lining visible in the turnbacks. It features domed silver buttons and a small buttoned tab matching the coat fabric on the left shoulder. Its details match the 1772-1774 timeframe which its provenance suggests.


Benjamin Holden Coat

This coat, in the private collection of Don Troiani, is associated with Benjamin Holden, Lieutenant Colonel in Doolittle’s Minute Regiment of 1775 (absent at Bunker Hill; thanks to Tom Dietzel for alerting me to Swett's History of the Bunkle Hill Battle, which notes this). The coat appears to date to the 1760s with alterations from about 1774 or 1775. The coat is red with red functional lapels and cuffs. It has full skirts and functional pocket flaps with buttons set below. It has a small standing collar with tabs at the front and features gilt (metal over bone discs) buttons and metallic tape buttonholes on the lapels, cuffs, and pockets. The coat adheres to late 1760s-early 1770s fashion.


Peter Gansevoort Coat


This coat, in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, belonged to Peter Gansevoort and is supposedly the one he wore while Colonel of the 3rd New York Regiment and in command of the besieged Fort Stanwix/Schuyler in 1777. Born in New York, Gansevoort served in a variety of military capacities for the duration of the Revolutionary War and died in 1812. The coat is blue with red facings, cuffs, and cape and white turnbacks. It is unclear from available photographs whether the lapels and cuffs are functional. It features buttons set in pairs with metallic tape around the buttonholes. Silver-faced buttons, set in pairs down the lapels, feature a roped border and quatrefoil central design with no apparent military significance. The coat adheres to 1770s fashion.


Thomas Pinckney Coat



This coat, in the collection of the Charleston Museum, is associated with Thomas Pinckney, an officer in the 3rd Continental Dragoons. Born in Charleston in 1750, Pinckney had an active military career during the war until he was wounded at Camden in 1780. He served as a diplomat and congressman before his death in 1828. His regimental coat is rather unique, being made from red silk with blue silk facings (with bastion tops), small cape, and cuffs. The cuffs are round with a rear slit that would have originally been closed by three buttons, none of which remain anywhere on the coat (worked grommets indicate they intended to be removed, probably to facilitate cleaning. It is cut short in the style usually called a coatee, with small turnbacks from the front with blue hearts, behind which are set vertical false pocket flaps. Pinckney’s coat adheres to military fashion of the late 1770s. Notably, a 1790s diplomatic coat belonging to Pinckney (also of silk and in the Charleston Museum collection) is sometimes described as a military uniform. 


Tench Tilghman Coat

This coat, in the collection of the Maryland Historical Society, belonged to Lieutenant Colonel Tench Tilghman, an aide de camp and secretary to General George Washington for most of the war. Tilghman was born in 1744 in Maryland and died shortly after the war’s conclusion, in 1786. The coat is blue with buff facings with bastion tops currently buttons over the cape. It has plain round cuffs and long skirts with white turnbacks. It features large gilt buttons with a stamped, civilian floral border, set evenly on the facings behind sewn buttonholes. The fashion of this coat suggests that it dates to the latter part of the war, and it adheres to late 1770s/early 1780s fashion.


Augustine Willett Coat

This coat was donated to the Bucks County Historical Society (Doylestown, Pennsylvania) by a descendant of Augustine Willett. The details of Willett’s life are somewhat obscure, but he seems to have served both during and after the war in the Pennsylvania militia. His coat stylistically post-dates the war, and is blue with buff facings with bastion tops, cuffs, and stand-and-fall collar. It features brass buttons set evenly behind the facings and cuffs behind worked buttonholes. It has full skirts and two metallic epaulettes as well as functional pockets. It adheres to late 1780s-early 1790s fashion.


George Washington Coat

This is the only known regimental coat that belonged to General George Washington, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, and is in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Though sometimes described as his wartime uniform, it in fact dates to 1789. It is blue with buff facings, plain round cuffs, and a stand-and-fall butt collar. It features yellow metal buttons set evenly behind sewn buttonholes on the lapels (functional) and cuffs (nonfunctional); there is no buttonhole or button on the collar. The coat features long, full skirts with no evidence of turnback fixtures. Its fashion matches the historical provenance of 1789.


William Taylor Coat


This coat, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is incorrectly catalogued as a Revolutionary War coat and is associated with Colonel William Taylor of Connecticut. The coat is red with green lapels extending only to the lower chest (with embroidered false buttonholes below), green cuffs, and a green stand-and-fall collar. There is no evidence of turnbacks and the skirts are relatively short. It features fold metallic embroidery throughout, including on the cuffs, arms, and skirts (including an interesting outline of a pocket flap), as well as yellow metal buttons. The narrow back panels and collar style date this coat to the years after the Revolutionary War.   


Benjamin Pierce Coat

This coat, in the collection of the New Hampshire Historical Society, is associated with militia officer Benjamin Pierce of Hillsborough. Pierce (1757-1839), from Massachusetts served in the Revolutionary War before relocating to New Hampshire and serving in various militia roles and eventually as governor of the state. The coat is blue with buff lapels, plain round cuffs, and a stand-and-fall collar. The lapels are functional with sewn buttonholes and yellow metal buttons. Available images do not allow for more details about its skirts or pockets. Its collar style dates it to the years after the Revolutionary War, and certainly after its 1785 catalog date. 


Nicholas Fish Coat

This coat, in the collection of the New-York Historical Society, is associated with Nicholas Fish (1758-1833) and catalogued as 1775-1785. It is blue with buff facings, cuffs, and collar and large yellow metal buttons, but the available photograph does not allow for further analysis. 


New-York Historical Society Coat


This coat, in the collection of the New-York Historical Society, was used as a prop by painter John Wards Dunsmore (1856-1945) and has a partially illegible inscription including “Houston” inside the left breast. It is blue will with red lapels, round cuffs with a rear slit, and stand-and-fall collar. It features plain yellow metal buttons backmarked “DOUBLE GILT.” The available photograph does not allow for further analysis of its skirts or pockets. Its collar dates to the years after the Revolutionary War.


Henry Felty Coat


This coat, in the collection of the State Museum ofPennsylvania (Harrisburg) is associated with York County soldier Henry Felty. Though Felty served in the Revolutionary War, this coat post-dates that period slightly. According to Fuss‘s article, Felty was an officer of the Hanover Troop of Horse in 1798 and this uniform matches their regulations. It is blue with functional red lapels with sewn buttonholes, nonfunctional, chevron-shaped cuffs, and a stand-and-fall collar. It has white metal buttons and is cut relatively short with full white turnbacks. Details of its skirts and pockets are unclear.


DAR Museum Coatee

A red wool coat with brown facings in the collection of the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum (Washington, D.C.) has no known provenance but adheres stylistically to the fashions of the 1780s-1790s. It is made from a course red wool with brown wool facings, cuffs, and stand-and-fall collar, and these colors might be interpreted as the reverse colors of a musician’s coat for a uniformed militia company. Yellow metal buttons are set in pairs down the nonfunctional lapels and around the cuffs. It closed with a hook-and-eye at the lower chest. Shoulder tabs are brown above and red below, and a line of brown fabric across the top of the arms simulates wings. It is cut short in the style usually called a coatee, with small brown glazed wool turnbacks from the front with red hearts and vertical false pocket flaps (red wool trimmed in brown). While its style postdates the Revolutionary War, many details of its material and construction hint at those that might have been apparent in enlisted wartime coats.

 

Museum of the City of New York Coats

Two coats in this Museum, described respectively as a Continental Artillery coat (it is later) and a coat worn by Lewis Morris as Washington’s inauguration, are included in Fuss’s article but not online.

 

West Point Museum Coats

Two coats in this Museum, both blue regimentals with red facings, are included in Fuss’s article and catalogued as dating to 1785 and 1790, but without further photographs are difficult to analyze

 

The Valentine Museum Coat

A coat at The Valentine (Richmond, VA) is included in Fuss’s article and is red with white facings, round cuffs, and stand-and-fall collar. It has white metal buttons set in pairs, short skirts with turnbacks from the front and large red hearts, and red, trimmed wings at the shoulders. No photographs are online.

 

Bennington Museum Coat

A coat in the Bennington Museum (Vermont) is included in Fuss’s article and is red with white facings, round cuffs with buttoned side slits, and a stand-and-fall collar with buttons at either side. Previously believed to be a captured British redcoat, is now correctly catalogued as a post-war militia coat. No photographs are online.

 

John Nichols Coat

A coat in the State Museum of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg) is associated with John Nichols and is in Fuss’s article. The coat is blue with white facings, cuffs, and stand-and-fall collar and stylistically dates to the years after the Revolutionary War. No photographs are online.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Horace Phillips


Three summers and a thousand years ago. So begins the 1975 film The Man Who Would Be King. I’ve always liked this line. Especially now, in the age of Covid-19, when the passage of time seems to be doing strange things – accelerating one day and standing still the next – it helps me think about how some things seem so recent and yet so long ago. Now, on the cusp of finishing my dissertation in history, I’ve also been thinking back on my very first research project.


Twenty-three summers and a thousand years ago. I was nine in the summer of 1997, and my mother had decided that it was time for my brother and me to understand how to do research at the library. I’ve been interested in the Civil War for as long as I can remember, but I can’t remember how we chose the research project. Our goal was to find a Civil War soldier who was buried in our town who had left a diary we could read.That was easier said than done in 1997 in Traverse City, Michigan. Most of what I remember about that summer is inspired by a binder of papers that I’ve carefully preserved. Missing from that archive is a particular booklet I can picture quite clearly. Or perhaps it was a photocopy in a file at the library. It listed Civil War diaries and letters in state archival collections. I can only imagine that this is where we first found Horace Phillip’s name, associated with a diary at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, and how we determined that he was from our town. We wrote away for a photocopy of the diary. It cost twenty cents a page. After postage and handling, the total came to $10.44. The Library mailed me a manilla envelope on August 21, 1997. And we wrote away for Horace’s pension records.




 

Meanwhile, based on my archive, I can see that we also consulted an array of books that I remember were held in the the Traverse City library’s “Nelson Room.” The room contained rare local history books and was a rather vaunted place to my mind as it was the exclusive domain of adults. You can see the library tags on the spines of books in my old photocopies. Michigan Men in the Civil WarMichigan in the War. I own some of those books now, but back then, before Amazon, and as a kid, the excitement of finding them on actual shelves was visceral. I also remember visiting the “town historians” in a book-filled office somewhere. I remember thinking that was the coolest job I could imagine. One of them even had a beard.

 



If I think about it, I can still feel the excitement of that summer of waiting. Knowing the forms you had completed were on their way to faraway libraries and not knowing when you would hear back or what you would get. Remember, this was still the age of the mail. Of photocopies and microfilm. Of taking photos and waiting with bated breath to get your roll of film developed and see what came out. We’ve lost so much of that world that it’s hard sometimes to even believe it was real, and to remember all the small joys that came with it.

 

Horace Phillips’s pension records arrived. I must have struggled to read the script. I had only learned cursive in third grade, the year before. Now, many years later, after having spent countless hours reading eighteenth- and nineteenth-century handwriting, I can fly through these documents. In 1997, it would have been a foreign language. So what do they tell us about Horace?


 

Horace Phillips was a short man, 5’ 4½”. He had black hair and hazel eyes. He was 26 when he enlisted in the 26th Michigan Infantry on August 12, 1862 (158 summers and a thousand years ago). When I was nine, 26 must have seemed like a lifetime away; it was a lifetime away. Now, at 32, I wonder what it would have been like to join the army six years ago. It was the second summer of the war, and the enthusiastic young men of Horace's Company A – farmers, lumbermen, and clerks from Traverse City – nicknamed themselves with pride, the “Lakeshore Tigers.”

 

However obscure in the story of the Civil War, the Lakeshore Tigers would become a fixture in my life. At its best, local history reminds us who we are and guides our way. We care about these stories because of where we are from. Sometimes, in serendipitous ways, they haunt us. As part of that summer of research, based on some ephemera in my old binder, my mother must have looked up Civil War reenacting. As I’ve written elsewhere, this was near the peak of that hobby but before it flourished online, and it was rather hard to figure out how to become a reenactor (at least in northern Michigan). And I really wanted to be a reenactor. But I had to wait a bit.



 

A few years later, by a stroke of luck, a Civil War reenacting unit formed in Traverse City, and I joined. Like most units, we named ourselves after a specific local company from the 1860s. The Lakeshore Tigers. Reenacting with this unit changed my life: it brought me into the orbit of the people that inspired me to go to college to study Civil War archaeology. As my network widened, it was reenactors who introduced me to eminent scholars and researchers, wrote my reference letters for grad school, and helped me get jobs. I have my job today in no small part because of conversations I had at reenactments.



Horace Phillips’s war was a different experience, of course. I don’t know much about his personal journey, but I do know that the 26th Michigan served on guard details and skirmishes in Virginia, assisted in quelling the New York City “draft riots” of 1863, and entered the spring of 1864 as part of the Army of the Potomac and the new, cataclysmic campaign to end the war in Virginia. On June 3, 1864, at the Battle Totopotomy Creek, part of the General Ulysses’s S. Grant’s Overland Campaign, Horace Phillips lost the fourth toe of his left foot to a musket ball. He spent the rest of the war in hospitals, finally ending up at Mower Hospital in Philadelphia, not all that far from where I work today.

 

After the war, Horace moved around a bit. He farmed. He got married (to a Mary Antoinette). He had a son, named after his father, who went by Archie. He joined the Grand Army of the Republic, suffered from his war wound and the diseases of old soldiers: rheumatism, kidney failure, spinal issues. He died in October of 1915, as the world's next great war was just beginning. 

 

One of the things I remember about that summer of 1997 was the difficulty of locating Horace’s grave. Though he was listed in the rolls of the largest cemetery in Traverse City, Oakwood, even after consulting with the office and groundskeeper we were unable to locate his grave. Now, of course, you could confirm that with findagrave.com. Finally – and I don’t know exactly how – we found him buried in a small cemetery in the forgotten crossroads of Yuba, north of the city. He has a simple, government-issued headstone. I’ve visited him there a few times over the years.




 

But what of his diary, the whole point of this research project? That’s where things got strangely more complicated. Reading the photocopies that arrived that faraway August today, I realize right away that it’s not the diary of the Horace Phillips I was after. This diary, though dating to 1863, is from a 17-year-old who went off from Ypsilanti, Michigan, to visit the army camps and ended up spending a few months as an assistant to a sutler, a vendor who sold things to the soldiers. But in 1997, I struggled to read the writing. I believed this must be the same man. After all, how many Horace Phillips from Michigan could there have been in the Civil War, anyway? I took notes, trying to puzzle out the differences. I never quite solved it. But I saved it, and all my notes. The first of my research files. Now my research files are mostly online, somewhere in the cloud. But there’s still nothing quite like holding things in your hands.




Some things I learned about research that summer are now quaint. Paper interlibrary loan slips. Microfilm. Waiting months for results. Our research world now moves at dizzying, digital speeds. Just this past month, I secured permission to use an image from an archive in Estonia in a matter of hours. Before the internet, I might not have ever known the image existed, much less been able to make contact or communicate with the archivists who care for it.

 

But so much of what I learned about research that summer is still with me. The detective work. The attention to detail. Even the frustration when your sources don’t align. Most of all, I still feel the sheer joy of being a historian. Of imagining what life was like once-upon-a-time, and of finding what bits of it might survive to help us imagine it better.

 

Horace Phillips – both of them, in fact – changed my life. But it was my mom who inspired this project. Her handwriting is on the pages in my old binder. She was the one who drove us around and showed us how exciting it was to discover things. These many years later, living half a country away and when I often shirk my duty and only talk to my parents every couple of weeks, I sometimes struggle to tell them how much they mean to me. They gave me the tools to craft a life doing something I love. Thanks, mom.