Civil War Union Shell Jacket and Kepi 1862
Corning-Painted Post Historical Society houses a textile archive with clothing and accessories from the early 1800’s up until the present. Two of these are a jacket and hat worn by a young Union soldier during the American Civil War.
This uniform belonged to a private in the 106th New York Infantry Regiment from St. Lawrence County. This soldier possibly trained at the Elmira barracks, as it was one of three major training camps in the state, although it later became a prisoner of war camp. This unit became active August 27, 1862 and served until June 27, 1865. They participated in many small battles across West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland, as well as the Siege and Fall of Petersburg, which led to the capture of the Confederate Capital in Richmond. They were also present at Appomattox Court House and witness to General Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The jacket is a standard shell jacket issued by the state of New York with six of the original
New York Seal buttons. The other three buttons were most likely replaced by the soldier after he lost the original buttons but it is also possible the buttons were replaced deliberately as a memento from home or a place the soldier had been. The hat is a standard state issued kepi. Both were made of wool and sewn together hastily, which is why many of the uniforms have not survived. The wool was good for the autumn and spring months but was not warm enough for the winter and was far too warm for the summer, leading to hypothermia and heat exhaustion respectively.
Despite that, the North was far better equipped than the South. Most Union soldiers had uniforms, even if they were made cheaply, and had many other supplies such as blankets, extra rations, and canteens that could help them survive. At the beginning of the war many Confederate soldiers fought in their own clothing, some obtaining uniforms as they moved up in rank but by the end of the war most of them were in rags and were starving from a lack of supplies.
This jacket represents a harrowing time when this country was divided against itself and both sides wrought destruction against each other. Across the nation countless innocent lives were uprooted and destroyed in order to create a country that was free for all.
If you would like to learn more, materials in the archive at the Corning-Painted Post Historical Society can be made available by appointment. If you wish to see or donate to our archival collections please call 607-937-5281.