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A Militia Corporal with an Artillery Sword

Militia uniforms worn during the years preceding the Civil War are full of surprises. The militiaman in this ambrotype is no exception. Of particular interest is the corporal’s gold-tinted chevrons on his uniform sleeves. They point upwards, a style associated with Marines. They also appear light in tone, which is unexpected: The artillery foot sword he holds sets an expectation that the chevrons would be a darker tone associated with this branch of the service.

Quarter-plate ambrotype by an unidentified  photographer.  Dan Binder Collection.
Quarter-plate ambrotype by an unidentified photographer. Dan Binder Collection.

The sword is a Model 1832 manufactured by the Ames Company. The scabbard is tucked into the militiaman’s waist belt, and its throat is tinted with a flourish of gold. The lack of a frog to secure the sword raises questions about the relationship of the sword to its holder. Why does he lack a proper holder to store his sword? Does it belong to him or is it perhaps a prop supplied by the photographer?

The plate fastening his belt is marked with the letters IG, which suggests Independent Guards, Independence Guard, or another variation.

The large A at the center of the wreath on his tapered shako indicates his membership in Company A or perhaps marks him as an artilleryman. His shako, with leather visor, chinstrap and crown, is topped by a pompon and Hardee eagle plate. This plate, and the shoulder scales on his uniform, suggests a date in the second half of the 1850s. The militiaman’s facial hair, which likely sprouted as part of the beard movement that began in America during the middle part of the decade, reinforces the timeframe connected to the eagle plate and scales.

The trousers, which appear to be civilian, hint that the volunteer may be new to the militia, and his ensemble is not yet complete.

— Dan Binder, Mike Cunningham and Ron Maness

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