Clothing the troops

November 7, 2013 · Collections ·

Clothing is one of the basic necessities provided by the American government to its faithful soldiers.  Even as a patriot army before the United States was truly a nation in her own right, she still did her best to clothe her troops.  One of my favorite uniform pieces in the CHS collection is a uniform coat worn by Captain Thomas MacDonough during his service to our country in the War of 1812.

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Thomas MacDonough was born on the 31st of December in 1783.  He joined the United States Navy in February of 1800 and first served as a midshipman.  In 1807 he was given the commission of Lieutenant.  By 1806 MacDonough was ordered to Middletown where he settled and married Lucy Ann Shaler in December of 1812.

Like many soldiers, MacDonough would have been issued a uniform from the United States government.  According to an anonymous account book from 1810-1815, in the CHS manuscript collection, soldiers in the 37th Regiment of the US Infantry were issued “1 Coat, 1 Vest, 2 pr. cotton Pantaloons, 2 pr. Shoes, 2 Shirts, 1 Stock & 1 Cap complete except the front piece.”  And exactly 200 years ago tomorrow, this particular soldier was issued a second coat.

ImageIf you are unfamiliar with 19th century clothing terminology, the pantaloons issued were basically pants.  Pantaloons were a name given to a specific style of pant that reached to the ground and fit snug to the body (in the 18th century loose fitting knee breeches were the fashion).  The term stock may also be new.  It was used to describe a type of neck covering/decoration similar in some ways to today’s tie.

ImageIf you look closely at this portrait miniature of Jedediah Huntington, circa 1790, you can just make out a strip of white fabric that has been wrapped about his neck.  That is his stock.  Some stocks feature a bow in the front, others, like Mr. Huntington’s, are plain at front.

Now, back to Captain MacDonough…

When the War of 1812 began, MacDonough was given new orders and eventually sent to command the US Navy fleet stationed on Lake Champlain.  This command would prove to be the defining moment in MacDonough’s naval career.  September of 1814 saw the Battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain.  In this battle the British had intended to take control of the Great Lakes, which would have created a variety of problems for the United States during the remainder of the war.  Due to MacDonough’s excellent command of his fleet, the British not only lost the battle, but were forced to retreat into Canada.  For his actions during the battle, MacDonough was awarded many honors and the promotion to Captain.

ImageFollowing the end of the War of 1812, MacDonough served as a commander of the navy yard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  In 1820, MacDonough was honored with another promotion, this time to Commodore, and became commander of the Mediterranean squadron.  However, his health was deteriorating and he eventually resigned his command to head back home.  In 1820 MacDonough died en-route to the United States.  He passed away at sea approximately 600 miles from the American coast.

Many men, and more recently women, have fought to protect our freedoms as United States citizens.  This Veteran’s Day, remember those who fought for your freedom, whether it was 238 years ago, or this morning.

If you are interested in seeing some of our 20th century collections of military items, please join us this Saturday for the behind-the-scenes tours.

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To support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, the Connecticut Historical Society will temporarily close now through April 22. We will re-evaluate the situation at that time. All public programs and tours are canceled during this time. We hope to reschedule some of the events if possible.