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Uniforms & History

Shortly after the guns at Fort Sumter fell silent, the militiamen of Philadelphia conceived the idea of creating a home guard in defense of their city. Formed on April 17, 1861, the 1st Regiment was one of four “reserve” regiments in a militia brigade, and, because its regimental by-laws called for plain gray uniform coats and trousers worn with the black felt 1858 uniform or “Hardee” hat, one of its member wrote that the men looked “like a regiment of Quakers” in their severely plain uniforms. 

The 1st Regiment, Philadelphia Reserve Brigade (Gray Reserves)

Initially, the men appear to have worn a fatigue uniform of cadet gray jacket with black collar and cuff trim, and a forage cap of the same cloth with a black band. This uniform may be seen on enlisted men standing behind a group of officers in dark blue and cadet gray frock coats taken in camp in 1861. In 1862, with the possibility of federal service arising, a standard fatigue uniform of dark blue blouse and light blue trousers with dark blue forage cap was adopted.  

The 1st Regiment dressed in this latter uniform on two occasions during its federal service, the first time, in 1862, in response to Lee’s initial invasion of the North. During that call, they were re-numbered as the 7th Pennsylvania Militia. In June of 1863, they were called out for the Gettysburg Campaign and re-numbered as the 32nd Pennsylvania Militia. Enough members went into the volunteer service during the war that the First is credited as the nucleus of the 118th and 119th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantries. During the post-war reorganization of the state militia, the Gray Reserves became the 1st Regiment, National Guard of Pennsylvania in 1870.

Image of a group of officers and non-commissioned officers from the 119th Pennsylvania Infantry by an anonymous photographer. Library of Congress.

Col. Napoleon Kneass began his service in the 1st as major. His dark blue uniform coat has nine buttons in each row, which was an early war affectation seen on some officers. A group photograph taken in 1861 at Camp Lafayette near Chadds’s Ford, Pa., shows field and staff officers wearing dark blue while those who appear to be company grade are in gray. 

Carte de visite by J. Cremer & Co. of Philadelphia.

This unidentified officer wears the 1858 uniform and a Hardee hat specified for the regiment. His double-breasted overcoat is not of the federal pattern.

Carte de visite by J. Cremer & Co. of Philadelphia.

Leaning against a photographer’s prop pillar, an unidentified private of the First holds his Hardee hat with federal pattern insignia. His distinctive oval belt plat bears the Pennsylvania state seal. His musket is an altered Model 1816 musket.

Carte de visite by J. Cremer & Co. of Philadelphia.

Samuel Wagner Jr. turned out in 1863 for the regiment’s second stint in federal service. He wears his field uniform and bears his accouterments, appearing here probably in the field during the Gettysburg Campaign. Again, his distinctive belt plate is visible.

Carte de visite by Frederick Gutekunst of Philadelphia.

MI Senior Editor Michael J. McAfee is a curator at the West Point Museum at the United States Military Academy, and author of numerous books. He has curated major museum exhibitions, and has contributed images and authoritative knowledge to other volumes and projects. The photographs reproduced here are from his collection.

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