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  • Battle shirts

    I am new to this forum, though not to Civil War reenacting, so please excuse me if this has already been discussed before.

    My question is are battle shirts (more specifically the grey woollen overskirt type with black edging), appropriate for an early war Eastern theatre impression? I hope this isn't too vague a question.

    Regards,
    Owen Budd
    Owen Budd

  • #2
    Re: Battle shirts

    Originally posted by Builds.The.Fire View Post
    My question is are battle shirts (more specifically the grey woollen overskirt type with black edging), appropriate for an early war Eastern theatre impression?
    I encourage people to think first of the impression...
    - Who are you?
    - Where are you?
    - When are you?

    You are on the right path ("Eastern Theater" / "Early War"), but that is still not very specific. For example, if you were portraying Company I, 4th Regiment of Virginia Volunteers during the spring and summer of 1861, then a "battle shirt" would be a great option!
    (See the pic - William B. Ott in his cassimere overshirt, trimmed in black tape)
    Click image for larger version

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    John Wickett
    Former Carpetbagger
    Administrator (We got rules here! Be Nice - Sign Your Name - No Farbisms)

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    • #3
      Re: Battle shirts

      Hello Owen,

      I think it would be good to tie down a specific battle shirt to a specific impression rather than trying to go generic, if possible. I think you might be talking about this kind of battle shirt; all these soldiers were in the 4th Virginia (maybe even all of them were in Company I, the Liberty Hall Volunteers). There were other specific patterns for other regiments, Virginia and otherwise.

      As an observation, if the soldiers shown here were all in Co. I 4th Va., notice that the shirts weren't identical.

      Best regards,
      Greg Walden
      Attached Files
      Greg Walden

      __________
      Honoring Ensign Robert H. Lindsay, 4th Ky. Vol. Inf.
      KIA Jonesboro, GA August 31, 1864
      Roll of Honor for Murfreesboro and Chickamauga

      __________
      Member, The Company of Military Historians

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      • #4
        Re: Battle shirts

        Originally posted by CS Ensign View Post
        As an observation, if the soldiers shown here were all in Co. I 4th Va., notice that the shirts weren't identical.
        Great point, Greg! Indeed, the shirts were NOT identical! I think the photos are in order...
        Ott, Calvin Utz, I-Can't-Recall, MacKay & McKee (I think).. I can't verify that the last photo is an LHV.

        On close examination, however, you can tell that all of the shirts look to be made out of the same type of fabric.
        John Wickett
        Former Carpetbagger
        Administrator (We got rules here! Be Nice - Sign Your Name - No Farbisms)

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        • #5
          Re: Battle shirts

          All of the men pictured by Greg are indeed members of the Liberty Hall Volunteers, the Washington College Company that served as Stonewall Jacksonís headquarters company in the early part of the war. The two men John could not identify were (center) Nathaniel Burnell Logan of Botetourt County, VA and (far right) Joe Chester of Mount Holly, Arkansas. All of the men were students of Washington College who fought at First Manassas. William Ott and Calvin Utz were killed in that battle. Nathaniel Logan was wounded in the attack on Fort Stedman outside Petersburg in February, 1865, and died on April 3. He was the last of the original company members who were students of the college killed during the war. John Telford McKee was captured at Kernstown (March, 1862), exchanged and captured again on Culpís Hill at Gettysburg. Samuel Mackey was hospitalized for six months and then discharged in April, 1862. Joe Chester was killed at Spotsylvania.

          The battle shirts of the LHV members were made by the ladies of Lexington, VA and given to the company members before they left for Winchester, where the company became designated as Company I, 4th Virginia Infantry Regiment, First Virginia Brigade. A study of photographs of the companyís original members, both published and unpublished at the Washington and Lee University library, reveals that the shirts varied in piping, collar styles, and whether the breast pockets were buttoned or not. It appears they were all made of the same cloth. A pair of trousers worn by the companyís first sergeant at First Manassas was on display for some time at the museum of the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University. They were wool and had a black stripe down its outside seam. It is recorded the men wore dark blue bummer caps with brass LHV letters on the top. The company equipped itself with arms and accoutrements from the VMI arsenal. At First Manassas the company served as the regimentís color company because its flag served as the regimental colors. Being in that position and wearing the cadet white dress cross belts presented inviting targets to Union infantrymen, which resulted in the company experiencing comparatively large number of casualties in that battle.

          One can surmise that other companies outfitted with battleshirts early in the war presented a similar appearance: while the shirts were similar, each one was likely distinctive to some degree. And, it is likely that equipment and arms were also somewhat varied as the government relied on the disparate sources that supplied the pre-war militia units. The fact that battleshirts were popular in the early days of the war is evident from the number of portraits that have survived. If someone is interested in doing a portrayal of a specific unit it behooves him to try finding photos of that unitís original members. For some units the quantity of early war portraits may be somewhat scarce, so some interpretation of what images are available might be necessary to correctly portray that unit.

          For the 140th Anniversary of the Battle of Manassas our company in Indianapolis decided it wanted to accurately portray the Liberty Hall Volunteers, a unit it had been studying since 1971. We teamed with a 4th Virginia unit in the Maryland/DC area and collaborated on our research for about two years before the event. The first sergeant of the eastern 4th Virginia was a lawyer whose office was practically across the street from the National Archives and I was a government affairs representative in DC, so I had time to spend at the NA. Some of us traveled from Indiana to Washington and Lee University to gather information and photographs, and a member of our unit who had moved to Virginia made a special trip to the Lee Chapel to study the trousers mentioned above. We had cloth made to manufacture about 60 shirts and trousers, made the cadet style cross belts and Dirty Billy made the bummer caps for us. We made havelocks for the caps and made a silk flag that we interpreted to be like the original. Between our two units and some fellows who belonged to a mess group in Michigan we were able to have about 55 men present for duty at the event. The original company had 57 men at Manassas. That collaborative effort by so many researchers was one of the most memorable experiences I have had during my 43 years in the hobby.

          I wish you well with your research, Owen. The satisfaction of doing it well and learning so much along the way is truly gratifying.

          Your obít servant,
          Tom Williams
          4th Virginia Infantry
          Indianapolis
          Tom Williams

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          • #6
            Re: Battle shirts

            Thanks for the responses guys! My impression is in a fluid state, but I am trying not to make/acquire anything until I'm certain it's a good choice and will contribute positively to the authenticity of my impression so far.

            Owen Budd
            Owen Budd

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