Piedmont Battle Shirts
Militia Uniforms of Central Virginia, 1859-1862.
Uniform Analysis by Rusty Hicks & Adam Scher
The uniform of the company will be made in Virginia of Virginia goods, the cloth being manufactured at Staunton; the suit made by our tailors; the caps by Sinzer..... Lynchburg Daily Virginian, January 24, 1860
John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in October, 1859 caught the citizens of Lynchburg, Virginia unprepared. The city had been without organized militia since the disbanding of the Rifle Guard a few years before. As with other localities in the South, Brown's raid provided the spark for quick action. Beginning in November, the city organized one company each of infantry, riflemen, cavalry and artillery: the Lynchburg Home Guard, Rifle Greys, Wise Troop and Latham's Battery, respectively. Around the nucleus of these units, the city and surrounding counties formed similar units which in April, 1861 went into state service as companies of the 11th, 21st, and 42nd Regiments of Virginia Infantry and the 2nd Regiment of Virginia Cavalry, to name a few. Collectively, these regiments participated in nearly every event associated with the history of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. We choose to focus on the experiences of the 11th Virginia Infantry because several of the images presented are of soldiers of this regiment, and also because that regiment was so closely identified with the citizens of Lynchburg .
Like most militia units throughout the South, Lynchburg 's companies had armed and outfitted themselves with contributions from its members and the community. Although some southern states had uniform specifications for their militia, most gave companies the prerogative of selecting their own style of dress. As a result, many companies chose distinctive uniforms which were worn even after they had been mustered into Confederate service. Lynchburg's early war uniforms, including those worn by a prewar beurktingent of cadets from the old Lynch-burg College, appear from the photographic records to have made consonant use of a short-waisted shirt or jacket with a fold down, colored collar (unobscured or fashioned with a cravat), cuff facings, and a double breasted front panel, commonly referred to today as a “fireman's shirt.”
The model could have come from the uniforms of other localities, perhaps companies such as Richmond 's distinguished Light Infantry Blues, the members of which were wearing a somewhat similar uniform.
The Lynchburg newspaper of the period gives occasional clues as to how these uniforms were procured and manufactured. In the year and a half between Brown's raid and the acceptance of the Lynchburg companies into Virginia (and hence Confederate) service, the citizens became very adept at providing for their volunteers. According to the following quotes from the Lynchburg Daily Virginian, an effective cottage industry emerged to outfit the companies:
Monday, April 29, 1861 Such members of the Lynchburg Rfles as have not had their measures taken for uniforms are requested to attend the squad drill at Martin's Warehouse on Monday 29th inst., at 8p.m. ”
Wednesday, May 1, 1861 The Lynchburg Rifles are progressing well in their drills. They promise to make a fine company. Their uniforms are being made and will soon be completed They are of gray goods trimmed with blue and will look well. Capt. [James E.] Blankenship commands the Lynchburg Rifles.
Thursday, May 2, 1861 The ladies of Lynchburg have made themselves very useful in the present emergency and deserve great praise for their patriotic spirit. They have fitted out several companies and parts of companies, and are now making up Uniforms for a company recently organized in Nelson County . They are worthy descendants of the matrons of the Revolution.
As the same newspaper frequently reported, the ladies of Lynchburg were kept busy not only in outfitting new companies, but also replacing worn uniforms after the city's soldiers transferred to Richmond and Manassas . Serving under Brigadier General James Longstreet, the men of the 11th Virginia probably were wearing these unique uniforms in the first battle at Manassas on July 21, 1861 .
Assigned to James L. Kemper's brigade in 1862, the 11th saw action that May at Williamsburg and again at Seven Pines. At some point, all of the 11th would have been issued solid gray jackets, surely by the summer of 1862 and the second battle at Manassas . During the Maryland Campaign the following month, the regiment was engaged at South Mountain and Sharpsburg . Among those killed on South Mountain on September 14th was Brigadier General Samuel Garland, Jr., founder of the Lynchburg Home Guard, who had since been promoted twice and was leading a brigade of North Carolinians .
At Gettysburg , the 11th Virginia assaulted Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863 with Pickett's division and suffered high casualties in the charge. In April 1864 the regiment took part in the attack on Fort Warren at Plymouth , North Carolina , then returned to Virginia , where they were engaged at Drewry's Bluff and Cold Harbor . They fought in the trenches at Petersburg in the winter of 1864 and incurred grievous losses at Five Forks and Sayler's Creek in the final campaign of Lee's army. When the 11th surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865 , they were led by Sergeant John Adkinson of Company E, who commanded a mere 28 men.
Much remains to be learned about the uniforms depicted in this article. Most of the images are undated, yet were likely taken either in Lynchburg or Richmond in the narrow span of time between when hostilities were imminent and the units were mustered into Virginia service. Although these pictures illustrate a continuity of style among companies formed in the vicinity of Lynchburg , there is no doubt that, as was the case throughout the South, variation was the rule rather than the exception. The authors hope that the article will serve as a catalyst to help uncover new images and data and a greater understanding of Lynchburg 's rich Civil War history.