Myrtle Avenue Clothiers presents:   

                A Closer Look...

with photo-analysis by Jason Wickersty (member, National Center for Civil War Photography)
 and sartorial-analysis by Marc Hermann.


Click here for the November, 2004 edition.

GREETINGS, readers, and inquisitive viewers.  Welcome to the first online edition of "A Closer Look."  In this space, we will challenge the myth that photographs from the Civil War era are doomed to be faded and grainy.  Naturally, they will be so after being reprinted generation after generation, but fortunately we are able to see many of these images as they originally were.  The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division has thousands of original glass plate negatives which have been scanned in to computers at a high resolution, allowing us to see details many of us never dreamed of seeing.

As living historians, this information is invaluable to us as we endeavor to not only fine-tune our military and civilian impressions, but also because it helps us learn a thing or two about material culture and life in general of the mid-19th century.

This is "LC-B817- 7136", showing a "group of officers at headquarters, Army of the Potomac," circa August, 1864 around Petersburg, VA. This is a very interesting image, particularly for the variety of shirts that are being worn.


1. Pleated front, striped material.  This fellow is wearing a shirt with a pleated front which is entirely made of a pinstripe cotton material. While it seems that many shirts of the period used a finer material for the pleated fronts, collar, and/or cuffs (i.e. white linen or cotton), this shirt is worthy of note for being made entirely of the lesser quality fabric. Also note the row of pegging visible on the raised boot -- and the cigar.

2. Pleated front, white material.  Perhaps one of the "nicer" shirts in the bunch is this man who wears a shirt entirely of white cotton or linen. This one also has a pleated front. Could that be a detachable collar made of either paper or linen? The tie gets in the way, but it may very well be. His boots feature decorative stitching on the flap. Also check out the hardware visible on his chair -- and the cigar.

3. Trim, please.  This shirt is one of the more interesting among the group. It looks to be made of a heavier material, likely wool flannel or a knit material.  The trim down the front of the placket in the squiggly line, commercially available as "rick-rack," appears in this case to be flat braid such as soutache, manually applied in the squiggly fashion. Could this have been a field modification to an otherwise bland shirt? Check out the tightness of the sleeves, too -- and the (again, likely detachable) collar that doesn't look like it belongs; perhaps this was originally an undershirt?? Perhaps the pinky ring is there to distract us from thinking such thoughts.

4. Pleated again...  Just like his comrade in #2, this officer is wearing a white, pleated front shirt -- with a fold-down collar that looks like it's originally an integral part of the garment.

5. Just like at JoAnn's...  In the rear row is this man wearing what some might consider an over-represented style of shirt, a plain cotton check. If nothing else, this is to prove that shirts like this were worn, in this case with a white collar -- and the cigar.

6. Commercialism?
  While there's no way to be certain, this shirt appears to be a sample of the commercially made kind. At the very least, the lines of stitching appear to have been done by machine. The twin buttons on the collar show up considerably often in images of shirts from the 1860s, and the oblong rectangle of reinforcement stitching jutting out perpendicularly to the bottom of the placket makes one look at the shirt front more closely -- it appears to be of the "large pleat" variety, with perhaps only one or two pleats on either side of the shirt's opening, as are seen in commercial advertisements of the day. Note also that the cuffs are folded back on themselves, with the row of topstitching visible. His hatcord and off-center Engineer's insignia complete the picture along with, yes...the cigar.

And, we STILL see people getting this wrong, so until a widespread change in re-enactor manual of arms occurs, look again and very closely at "LC-B811- 201," taken by Timothy O'Sullivan at Port Royal, South Carolina.


Note the position of the stock -- parallel to the outer side of the left hip -- and the straightness of the piece.  The weapon is carried in an almost perfectly vertical manner.

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