It never ceases to amaze, the quality of clothing and for that matter, the quality of most goods that were available well over 150 years ago. Combined with the unbelievable condition of this grouping, it certainly makes for a great investment for any uniform collection.
The uniform has no name, but is associated with a Benson family. The group came with some research papers from the National Archives relating to the service of a Henry Benson, who entered service in 1845 as a private, corporal, sergeant, and first sergeant of the 2nd U.S. Artillery in the same year. Promoted to 2nd Lt. in 1848, 1st Lt. in 1853, and captain in 1861. He died from wounds received at the Battle of Malvern Hill, Va. in August of 1862. There is a copy of a daguerreotype of Benson in uniform; clearly not old enough to have held general rank prior to his enlistment in the army in 1845, and most unlikely to be the same man. Assuming that the paperwork and this general’s uniform came from the same source, then the family has confused the two. I only mention the Benson aspect, as some research may show a relationship to this family and the general’s uniform. We have only the uniform group at hand to work with.
Militia of this first half of the 19th century, tended to follow their own desire as to what uniforms they decided upon. There is a tendency, however, with officers of higher rank to adopt the uniform the United States, with at times some embellishment. This does not however mean unbridled tastes of the elite of the militia, taking things to the extreme. That being said, we have two things to immediately draw from; the pattern of this uniform in relation to that of the US Army general officer, and the back mark on the buttons used on this coatee.
There are 60 coat buttons for general staff (Albert’s GS13A), made by J.M.L. & W.H. Scovill, Waterbury, Conn. The period of manufacture of these buttons is 1827-1840. Allowance has to be given for post 1840 usage, using older stock by some tailors. The U.S. pattern of 1832 for general officers called for a double breasted coat, with front collar facings and cuffs to be Buff in color. Although this coat has a triple breasted front, the cut is extremely similar to the 1821 pattern general officer’s uniform, including the extra trim around button holes and decoration herringbone trim on breast and cuffs extending from buttons.
The epaulettes are certainly an earlier type; pre 1832 by regulations, they lack rank stars. The chapeau is a earlier style seen with regularity in the 1820s. The U.S. regulations had gone to an untrimmed edge and little embellishment other than a cockade of silk by this period. In researching the maker, C. St. John, 118 Broadway, New York, he shows up in Military makers and retails reference as having payed off debts by 1860. Clearly the hat is 1830s or earlier.
Taking all the data in consideration, you would have to surmise a period of the coat’s manufacture as being C1830-1840.
You be the judge, so on to what we do know; the dark blue wool serge is used for the coat, and on the lining, where black and white cotton are also used to complete the full lining including the sleeves. Black cotton herringbone extends from the coat opening, through the button locations and ends in triple loops. That same thing is repeating on the cuffs, tails and small of the back. The high stand-up collar has no embellishment other that a ½ inch gilt bullion tape sewn to the upper and lower edges of the collar. A similar bullion tape is used on the tails with the same theme triple loops, only this time with gilt thread. Again bullion tape is used on the shoulder with intermittent loops on wool to act as guide/supports for the epaulettes. As mentioned before, the 60 buttons really add to the dazzle factor. Without the outer two rolls of 12 buttons, the coat would resemble a regulation coat, with a few more buttons on the front.
In the photographs that I took, you see no buttons on the epaulettes. These same staff buttons types have been acquired and in now place. The buttons are held fast with the use of thin pink cotton tape that go through the two small holes on the shoulder and tie the epaulettes down to the upper shoulder area. The epaulettes are high quality, made of gold bullion, with pattern and wide gold bullion fringe. There appears to be on holes where rank stars may have been. Do to the condition you have to wonder if the uniform was worn at all? The size, condition of these epaulettes would be hard to match up to the condition and size of the shoulders on this coat.
The Chapeau, made of beaver felt and trimmed in floral pattern silk tape is sewn to both the inside and outside edges. A rounded silk cockade is surmounted by four wide rounded bullion strips running over the top edge at top, extending down to a single large button, also made of gold bullion. The lining in white silk, shows wear, and has the printed name of the maker already stated previously. There is no evidence of gilt cording fore and aft, buy most like was there originally.
The crimson silk sash is quite long, approximately 9 feet, and stretches to about 9 inches wide. A few pulls and areas of wear, but overall a fine example reminiscent of 1812 period.
I have never owned an earlier pair of gauntlets of this period before; they are magnificent. Made of buff cheme leather, lined in white kid leather.
Finally, the serpent head spurs are quite scarce. They lack the straps to allow them to be worn on boots. The patina is untouched on the brass, and I see no evidence that they were ever in gilt, just polished brass.
There was a sword belt originally with the group, but were sold before I purchased this lot. I have seen the photos of a finely made red Moroccan belt with stamped gold trim, gold metal sword hangers, and a beautiful New York State belt plate with an eagle mounted on globe, most typical of NY insignia to this day. I only mention the belt, to place the general in the New York State Militia.
A fabulous uniform! Condition that cannot be excelled!