“Popular Catalogue to Reappear this Fall.”

By John M. Coski

The Catalogue of Uniforms published in 1987 was one of the Museum’s most successful publications, selling out by 1990.  Reprinting the catalog has been on the short list of publication projects for a decade.  It moved closer to the top of that list last year when a Museum member notified the staff that a copy of the 1987 Catalogue – which retailed for $3 originally – sold on the E-Bay Internet auction site for more than $100!

In November, the Museum will finally publish a revised and expanded Catalogue.  Even with more (color) photographs and longer entries, the revised edition will cost substantially less than its predecessor commands on the marketplace.

Inevitably, the 1987 Catalogue became obsolete soon after its publication.  In act, a few days after it went on sale, the Museum received the frock coat of lieutenant colonel – later Virginia governor – Charles T. O’Ferrall.  The collection continues to grow slowley by the donation of other uniform pieces.

More notable than the growth of the collection has been the growth in the knowledge about the uniforms.  The Museum curators have inspected and analyzed the items and, for some of them, drafted worksheets that detail the construction and materials.  With the assistance of interns and other staff members, they have compiled files of biographical information about the men who wore each of the uniform pieces.  The revised Catalogue will incorporate all of this new research.

The guest curator of the revise Catalogue is the foremost authority on Confederate military uniforms, Les Jensen, who served as the Museum’s curator in the 1970s.  Jensen authored a landmark two-part article on Confederate uniforms in the Company of Military Historians’ 1989 Military Collector and Historian.  The Museum of the Confederacy’s collection represented the most important primary source for Jensen’s investigation.  Jensen’s analysis, in turn, sheds new light on the Museum’s uniforms.

The Museum collection consists of 215 uniform pieces.  More than three-quarters of these are frock coats and other types of coats and jackets.  Also included in the uniform collection are capes, shirts, trousers and undergarments (caps, hats and headgear constitute a separate collection).  The Catalogue is arranged alphabetically by the names of the soldiers who wore the items, but an analytical index divides the collection into categories, such as pre-war militia uniforms, commutation clothing for enlisted men, quartermaster issue uniforms of Confederate enlisted men (by theatre of war), and officers’ uniforms.

The collection includes some unique items, such as the clerical gown of Confederate Chaplain George Patterson, a stellar example of a Confederate Army Quartermaster Department uniform belonging to Pvt. John Blair Royall, and many with documented personal histories.

While most of the new information in the Catalogue is the result of careful research and analysis, some of it owes to serendipity.  Mr. John Lowry, a friend of the Museum and a member of the Richmond Civil War Round Table, acquired an edited copy of the Mary L. Williamson’s The Life of J.E.B. Stuart that had once belonged to Confederate veteran J.O. McGehee.  In the margins of a page describing the suffering of the soldiers during the winter of 1863 – 1864, McGehee wrote:

“I received from home a box containing fresh country sausage and a whole dressed turkey ready for cooking.  But the most touching thing of all was that my aged father, then nearing 80, had sent me his own overcoat, and when I protested by letter he replied that he could stay in the house by fire while I would be exposed to the rigors of winter on the march and in the trenches.”

“By sheer coincidence” Mr. Lowry wrote in 1999, he saw a photograph of J.O. McGehee’s overcoat in the Time-Life book Echoes of Glory, Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy and learned that it is in the Museum’s collection.  McGehee himself gave the overcoat (along with another coat) to the Museum early in the twentieth century.  As his father instructed him, McGehee kept the coat during the winter of 1863 – 1864, but subsequently lost it.  According to McGehee, he recovered it during the battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865.

No doubt there are other stories to be learned about the uniforms of the Museum’s collection.  As with its predecessor, the revised and expanded Catalogue of Uniforms will become obsolete soon after its publication.  Aggravating as this may be to a purist who seeks completeness, the continuing growth of the collection and the knowledge about it makes the Museum a living institution.

The Catalogue will be out in November 2000.  Price $10.95 non-members,

$9.95 members.