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

Further research on this wartime Loyalist coat is forthcoming.


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.

 

Monday, May 4, 2020

Winter Quarters: What Did Civil War Soldiers’ Huts Look Like Inside?

Like a lot of people right now, I’m sweeping around the dumpster of unfinished projects and loose ends. This blog is one way I’ve been keeping up with research that is disconnected (or at least adjacent) to my job and dissertation, and this post is one example of what still lurks in my research files. I’m lucky to be in a position to go through those files and do some writing amid everything else that is going on.

Since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in Civil War soldiers, and for a while now I’ve been collecting references and images to their domestic lives. Years ago, I wrote a post here about what Union soldiers carried in their pockets. For months each winter during the War, many soldiers settled into log huts in massive encampments. If you’re a Revolutionary War fan, think Valley Forge but on steroids. These huts took all different forms, and there’s no shortage of images and descriptions of how they looked on the outside. There are some great studies about how soldiers built them and of what remains of them, including by eminent archaeologists. It’s sometimes harder to figure out what they looked like inside. I’ve seen a handful of soldiers’ letters (most notably at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan) where the authors sketched the interiors of their huts, and I’ll share a few other images here. Along with written records, these sources help us answer questions about the lived experience of these domestic spaces. How did they look inside? Were they decorated with mementos of loved ones or wartime trophies? How did it feel to call them home?

John D. Billings devoted most of a chapter to “Life in Log Huts” in his iconic memoir, Hardtack and Coffee. It’s the most detailed and lengthy description of huts as domestic spaces that I've seen, and it’s worth reading in its entirety. Billings tells us about fireplaces, bunks, hardtack-box tables, sardine-tin lanterns, and table settings. “A hardtack box,” he wrote, “nailed end upwards against the logs with its cover on leather hinges serving as a door, and having suitable shelves inserted, made a very passable dish-closet.” (1)

From Billings, Hardtack and Coffee, 75.

In Union veteran C.W. Bardeen’s 1910 memoir, A Little Fifer’s War Diary, he remembered that “In the absence of candles we imitated the old Roman lamp, by filling a sardine box with grease of some kind, and igniting a rag floating in it.” (2)

Confederate John Casler remembered that in late 1863, “We went to work in earnest and put in a nice log shanty, covered it with clapboards, went to an old barn near by and got some planks for a floor and bunks, built a stick chimney, and were prepared to live in high style.” (3)

Union soldier David McNeilly Steuffer’s sketch of his hut in December, 1863, from here, credited to Pearce Collection, Navarro College.

Harry Kiefer, a drummer boy with the 150th Pennsylvania, remembered: “The last cabin we built – it was down in front of Petersburg – was a model of comfort and convenience: ten feet long by six feeet wife and five high, made of clean pine logs straight as an arrow, and covered with shelter tents; a chimney at one end, and a comfortable bunk at the other; the inside walls covered with clean oat-bags, and the gable ends papers with pictures cut from illustrated newspapers; a mantelpiece, a table, a stool; and we were putting down a floor of pine boards, too, one day toward the close of winter, when the surgeon came by, and looking in, said, - “No time to drive nails now, boys; we have orders to move!” But Andy said, - “Pound away, Harry, pound away; we’ll see how it looks, anyhow, before we go!” (4)

Sketches of winter quarters by Union veteran Charles C. Perkins, published in Bardeen, A Little Fifer's War Diary, 146.

Confederate Barry Benson wrote of his winter quarters in 1862-63 had “a floor laid of poles laid close together and raised a foot or so off the ground… Our bed was of broomstraw, which I always preferred to wheat straw, as not breaking up so badly.” (5)

 


These images are of an unsigned and undated sketch sold several years ago at Freeman’s Auction (Philadelphia) which I believe show the winter quarters of a group of Civil War officers.

But, of course, winters came to an end and campaign season – and life in tents – began each spring. Union veteran Abner Small remembered what this meant for the little homes soldiers had built. “This doomed all our furniture, the tables and chairs and desks made out of barrels and boxes, all our handy aids to housekeeping, and all the things the men had fashioned to while away the time.” (6) 

Life in log huts, after all, no matter how homey, was temporary.


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(1)   John D. Billings, Hardtack and Coffee (Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky and Konecky, reprint of 1887 first edition), 76.
(2)   C. W. Bardeen, A Little Fifer’s War Diary (Syracuse, NY: C. W. Bardeen, 1910), 199.
(3)   John O. Casler, Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade (Dayton, OH: Morningside Bookshop, 1971), 195.
(4)   Harry M. Kiefer, The Recollections of a Drummer Boy (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911), 55.
(5)   Berry Benson, Berry Benson’s Civil War Book (Athens, GA, and London; The University of Georgia Press, 2007), 34.
(6)   Abner R. Small, The Road to Richmond (Berkely and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1959), 77.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Obadiah Mead's Belted Jacket, Part Two

What drew me to Obadiah Mead’s jacket was an image of it that appeared in a New York Times article about an exhibition at the Greenwich Historical Society. I’ve been studying common men’s clothing from the 18th and 19th centuries for years, even though very few actual garments survive (most were used up and thrown out). When I saw the article, I could tell even from the small photo that Mead’s jacket was right up my alley. Jackets were common working garments but people rarely preserved them for posterity. And striped linen was common in working clothing while unusual in finer men’s garments. In these qualities, Mead’s jacket echoes what you see in some visual sources and a handful of surviving objects, like the jacket supposedly worn in 1778 by Revolutionary War soldier Colonel Joseph Noyes.


Detail of "Saint Monday in the Afternoon," (etching, 1770s), from the British Museum


Joseph Noyes jacket, photo and credit to Rhode Island Historical Society here


But you'll notice that Mead's jacket looks a little different than these. Most importantly, it stops at the waist in a "straight-cut" style, without the skirts (what we might call tails) or other garments, including the two above. People used a lot of terms for garments like Mead’s in the eighteenth century: jacket, waistcoat with sleeves, and so on. “Roundabout” and “monkey jacket” appeared slightly later as terms for similar jackets, in the 1790s and 1810s, respectively. As an outer garment and without skirts extending below the waist, I consider Mead’s garment a jacket. But that doesn’t mean that someone wouldn’t have called it a waistcoat with sleeves in the 18th century (and that same person might have called Noyes's waistcoat with sleeves a jacket). Look out for a forthcoming article I’ve coauthored with Matthew Brenckle on working men’s jackets that discusses other examples of these garments that survive around the world.

And so, I found myself on the day after the 2016 election, in the midst of a pre-planned research trip, doing nothing more civically engaged than counting stitches in a ragged, 240-year old jacket. It seemed rather ridiculous at the time (maybe it still does), but Mead’s jacket is nonetheless a fascinating object. Like Mead’s personal history, the jacket itself continues to foil me. I can’t make firm conclusions about parts of it, but I thought I’d share a few images and some commentary here before getting to the most interesting part of the garment: the remnants of its belt.

Mead’s jacket matches what we know about garments of the 1770s. It is hand-sewn, pieced for economy’s sake, and made from at least two different striped linens.

The jacket had twelve buttons down its front, though non survive. It is entirely unlined, though it has an extra layer, called a facing, to reinforce the buttons and buttonholes.








The jacket has sleeves with several patches (one probably original, as it matches a piece of striped linen on the inner facing, and another that I think may be a later attempt to patch the lower sleeve) and cuffs that fold up.






The jacket’s collar is “false,” meaning it’s a sewn strip of fabric (or, rather, several small pieces sewn together to form a strip) that’s sewn right onto the jacket body. Collars like this gestured towards fashionable styles (functional, separate collars) but also reinforced the neckline, which would be worn out faster than other parts of the jacket.





The jacket has only one pocket, constructed as a “welt” on the lower right side. I’ve seen evidence for jackets made with only one functional pocket, but usually they have two welts to give the illusion of symmetry.




By far the most interesting part of the jacket – and perhaps its most significant contribution to our understanding of the material culture of this period – is the remnant of a waist belt. You can see the two signs in these images: a reinforcement patch and two button scars (attachment points) on the right-hand side seam next to the pocket bag and the barest remnant of a sewn-down end on the left-hand side.




It’s quite possible you’ve never heard of belted waistcoats. But for the handful of people in the world who care about this stuff, this is pretty significant. There is no other known example of a man's belted waistcoat or jacket that still exists. Portraits of the 1770s and 1780s show military men and even the occasional civilian wearing these peculiar waistcoats, usually “straight cut” – without skirts (tails) – that feature separate fabric belts (belts also appear in documentary descriptions of garments and on at least one woman's riding habit waistcoat). Here are a few examples (1):

Captain John Purves and His Wife, Eliza Anne Pritchard by Henry Benbridge, 1775-1777, Winterthur

Joseph Bloomfield by Charles Willson Peale, 1775-1777, private collection

Delaware currency, 1777, with figure on left wearing a belted waistcoat matching New Castle County militia regulations, from here

Detail, "The German Recruiting Serjeant," (engraving, 1775), from Brown University Library (thanks to Matthew Skic for bringing this to my attention!)

Detail, Soldiers in Uniform" by Jean Baptiste Antoine de Verger, 1781, Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library


 An example of a runaway ad mentioning a "belted striped cotton jacket," from the Connecticut Gazette and the Universal Intelligencer (New London), Jul 27, 1781
 
 

And thanks to the scholarship of and research of Neal Hurst, Philip Katcher (2), James L. Kochan (3), and Matthew Skic, we know a quite a bit about the documentary history of these garments. They’ve traced many references to belted waistcoats in military orders, deserter descriptions, and artwork. One longstanding mystery has been how these belts were attached. Perhaps as a separate piece tied behind (as one period document suggests) or buttoned on both ends to the side seams, as suggested by the belt studied by Matthew Skic? Perhaps sewn down on one side, wrapped across the front, and buttoned on the other? The Mead jacket gives us our first glimpse at the latter style, with the remnants of a narrow belt sewn down on the left and two closely spaced buttons to secure it on the right side.

The other mystery of belted waistcoats is – quite frankly – WTF is the point of a belt anyway? All of the explanations have counterarguments.

Perhaps it's a form of truss to support the abdomen of soldiers? Then why would elite officers under less strain wear them as well? Were they just matching the fashion of soldiers in general?

Perhaps it allows a straight-cut waistcoat (which would have required less fabric than a regular one and would be more economical for clothing many soldiers) but also spans the potential gap between the bottom of the waistcoat and the top of the breeches. But then why not just make the waistcoat longer in the first place?

Perhaps it is to tighten the waist of the garment, cinching it in. Then why not cut the waistcoat differently in the first place (no other men’s garments in this period are cinched in this way)? It would have made a garment bunch oddly to be done this way.

Unfortunately, without its complete belt, the Mead jacket only offers us tentative answers. It could be a sort of truss, but the belt was so narrow as to offer relatively little abdominal support. Similarly, because it is so narrow, the belt doesn’t seem to have extended below the waistline of the jacket, so it wouldn’t have covered any gaps. And the cut of the jacket doesn’t suggest that the belt would have been needed to cinch it in.

My final conclusion is that the Mead jacket (and other belted waistcoats) had a belt for one major reason we haven’t really discussed: fashion. Apparently people thought belts on waistcoats and jackets looked good, including ones like Mead’s that might have done absolutely nothing functional.

And the vagaries of fashion, after all, are still why we wear a lot of the strange things we do. We may not know how exactly Obadiah Mead died or why he was wearing a rather unusual jacket, but we do know that, in his time, he had some fashion sense. 

Update: Listen to Neal Hurst, Matt Skic, and me talk about waistcoats with belts in this video from April 13, 2020.

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Thanks to the Greenwich Historical Society and the University of Delaware for supporting the research behind these blog posts. I am very grateful for the technical insights of James L. Kochan, Matthew Skic, Neal Hurst, and Keith Minsinger; the gracious hosting of the Perry-Englund family; and for most everything else to Nicole Belolan. 

(1) Two other examples, not shown here, are the portraits of Major General Jabez Huntington, by John Trumbull, at the Connecticut State Library, and of Lieutenant John Harleston, Jr., by Charles Willson Peale, at the Art Institute of Chicago.

(2) P.R.N. Katcher, "The Belted Waistcoat," The Brigade Dispatch: Journal of the Brigade of the American Revolution IX, no. 1 (Jan/Feb. 1972), 1-2. 

(3) James L. Kochan, "The Belted Waistcoat," The Military Collector and Historian 33, no. 4 (Winter 1981), 178-179.