Great New Gear and Books

The best way to shoot a rifle musket, to my mind at least, is using the offhand stance and wearing some good leather gear. Even when I go out to the range for some informal practice, I like to shoot "out of the (cartridge) box."

Available Civil War leather belts and cartridge and cap boxes vary widely in quality and price. Some of the best gear I have ever seen, for authenticity of pattern, quality of construction and value, comes from the shop of Nick Sekela. (Historic Clothiers, PO Box 28, Butler, NJ 07405. 201-283-0800.)

Nick makes a completely hand stitched Federal .58 caliber cartridge box with an original style cast finial (other repro finials are turned) for $125, and another version with machine stitching in the seams and implement pocket, as per originals in his collection, for $85. He also offers cap boxes, two varieties of Federal bayonet scabbards, knapsacks and reasonably priced leather musket and canteen slings.

I have met Nick Sekela off and on for almost twenty years, and recently stopped by his shop in Butler NJ. It should be noted that he is not only a fine leather craftsman, but, as the name of his business indicates, a Civil War clothier as well. A graduate of the State University of New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, Nick has a library of historic clothing and pattern books and an impressive collection of nineteenth century civilian and military garb.

Although I plan on having him make me up a .69 caliber cartridge box to go with my US Model 1842 musket, the true purpose of my visit was to upgrade my overall Civil War image. Skirmishing, of course, isn't as demanding in its authenticity requirements as "hard core" reenacting. (I had enough "hard core" military living in Vietnam to last me the rest of my life.) Now that quality authentic uniforms and leather goods are available, however, I don't see why we N-SSA shooters shouldn't take advantage of the opportunity to more authentically represent the soldiers whose service we commemorate.

I bought one of Nick's fine reproduction John T. Martin company contract federal fatigue blouses as well as a checked civilian style shirt. The Martin blouse, priced at $93, ( a bit more for the extra- large sizes) is made of the proper weight wool and features a custom made tan and cotton drill lining and authentic contractor markings. Historic Clothiers' 100% cotton civilian shirt has two deep rounded patch pockets and hand sewn button holes.

If you're in the market for some new Civil War leather gear or clothing, I heartily recommend Nick Sekela and Historic Clothiers.

Speaking of shirts, I have read numerous original diaries and letters that refer to soldiers ordering civilian style shirts, like the one I bought from Nick, to replace poorly made and ill-fitting army issue shirts. One recent description, from John F. Hartwell of the 121st New York to his wife, was particularly interesting. Hartwell, who felt his army shirt was a "poor miserable thing," wanted his wife to send him shirts with "two pockets on the breasts...on the outside & have them quite deep & button at the entrance & trimmed with blue tape. Have the collars small only large enough to turn over and look well. I do not wear a neck handkerchief. All I want is to have them look pretty to wear if I do not have on a coat."

The above is just a sample of the detailed information available in Ann Hartwell Britton and Thomas J. Reed, eds. To My Beloved Wife and Boy at Home: The letters and Diaries of Orderly Sergeant John F. L. Hartwell (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1997) I first became aware of Hartwell's letters and diaries when I met Tom Reed, a professor at Widener University School of Law, at last year's Antietam Seminar at Villanova University, where I spoke on the Irish Brigade's role in that battle. Tom and I had an interesting discussion on small arms instruction and effectiveness in the Union army and he subsequently forwarded me some excerpts from the as yet unpublished manuscript regarding musketry practice in the 121st, which, under the command of Colonel Emory Upton, conducted regular range sessions -- a rarity in the Union army -- prior to campaigns.

Upton was a distinguished regimental, brigade and division commander, who, following the war, became perhaps the foremost tactician in the US army. Although many of his ideas, as with most US army tactics, had their origins in French theories and were not original to him, Upton was one of the few officers who actually put new theories into practice, achieving notable successes at places like Rappahannock Station and Spotsylvania.

The 121st New York, often called "Upton's Regulars," served in the VI Corps' First Division and was one of the finest regiments in the Army of the Potomac. To My Beloved Wife and Boy... fittingly enough, is one of the finest diary and letter collections currently in publication.

While we're on the subject of books, another, somewhat different, yet also valuable tome which provides extensive detail on the minutiae of soldier life (There are three pages on haversacks!) is Wilbur F. Hinman's Corporal Si Klegg And His Pard (Ashburn, VA: J. W. Henry Publishing, 1997). A classic work originally published in 1887, this reprint edition comes complete with an informative new introduction by Civil War scholar Brian Pohanka.

As Pohanka notes, the book had its origins in a series of articles Hinman, who rose from the rank of private to major and acting lieutenant colonel in the 65th Ohio infantry, wrote for the Union veterans' newspaper The National Tribune, beginning in 1885. Although the Tribune was, as might be expected, awash with nostalgic submissions, the fictionalized story of Si Klegg of "Company Q, 200th Indiana," and his army experiences, struck a chord with its readers, mainly because, as Pohanka points out, it "was well grounded in the reality of Civil War service." At Hinman's death in 1905, the Washington Post classified Corporal Si Klegg And His Pard as "one of the best narratives ever produced of the experiences and tribulations of a private soldier." It still is.

© 1997 Joe Bilby

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