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Bearskin and Brass: A Stylish Bay Stater

Sixth-plate daguerreotype by an anonymous photographer. Paul Reeder Collection.
Sixth-plate daguerreotype by an anonymous photographer. Paul Reeder Collection.

At first glance, the mammoth bearskin cap parked on the table next to this soldier is an attention-grabber. Though the name of its wearer is currently lost in time, the uniform and accouterments provide important clues as to his place of origin. The white shoulder and black waist belts were popular with companies in the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. A close examination of belt buckle insignia reveals a Bay State design. His shoulder belt includes a prominent brass shield embossed with a wreath and the company letter D. He holds a militia staff sword with a bone or ivory grip, likely manufactured by the Ames Manufacturing Company of Chicopee, Mass., a major provider of weapons and equipment from the antebellum period through the Civil War. The high collar and narrow sleeves of his dark-colored (likely blue) tailcoat indicate a timeframe of the late 1840s to as late as 1860.

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