Rare Early War Alabama Volunteer Corps Frock Coat with Accompanying Prewar Alabama Military School Cadet Coatee


Rare Early War Alabama Volunteer Corps Frock Coat with Accompanying Prewar Alabama Military School Cadet Coatee – We have had numerous pre-Civil War and Civil War period military textiles, but these two coats are truly the rarest textiles we have ever had. Both coats, which were apparently obtained by a long-time collector, in the 1950s, were discovered by a descendant of that collector, in a box, together, after the passing of the collector. We obtained the two coats from the descendant – neither coat has ever been on the collector’s market. Both coats showed evidence of both period wear and poor storage, so we had both carefully cleaned by a specialty, organic cleaning entity; both coats’ fabric elements are in reasonable condition, with some obvious areas of insect damage and war period staining. Of truly great significance, are the coat size, AVC buttons affixed to the frock coat – four remain on the front of the coat, with all four remaining on the tails of the frock; the maker’s RMDC mark on these buttons represents Scovills Mfg. of Waterbury, Connecticut, listed in Tice as AB214A7.

The frock coat is constructed of a light, blue (per regulations as stipulated by the Governor of Alabama, in 1861) jean cloth and appears to be completely hand-sewn. The exterior piping is a flat, bullion wire-like mesh and appears on the cuffs and on both sides of the collar. Originally, there were eight AVC, coat size buttons on the single-breasted front of the jacket – only four remain; all AVC coat size buttons remain on the back skirts; there were originally three, Eagle I, cuff buttons on each cuff; now there are three on one cuff and only one on the other. The coat is lined in a green, polished, satinet, with off white, cotton sleeve linings. There are interior pockets in the tails of both skirts and one breast pocket. The interior chest area is lightly quilted. This coat was worn by a very young officer, of diminutive size, in all likelihood, an Alabama military school cadet who left his academy to join the war effort, in 1861.

The cadet coatee, which we feel was originally worn by the same individual who wore the frock coat, is constructed of a cadet, gray-blue wool; it has tails, both of which exhibit some noticeable insect damage. The coat has three rows of large, brass, ball buttons, some of which are missing, with additional buttons on the high, standing collar, cuffs and tails. The buttons all have an early “Extra Rich” back mark. The decorative piping is unusual in that it is constructed of bullion, twisted, fine mesh wire. The interior of the coatee is lined with a thick, white cotton, as are the sleeves. This jacket also appears to have been completely hand-sewn. The original owner of this coatee was also, comparable to the AVC frock coat, most assuredly a young, diminutive cadet, who left his military school, in Alabama, to join a Confederate AVC regiment. Research indicates that this coatee probably was worn by a cadet at the “West Point of the South” – Alabama’s LaGrange Military Academy. Period images of LaGrange cadets, depicted in the 1907 book “History of LaGrange Military Academy and the Cadet Corps, 1857-1862” by John Allan Wyeth (a former LaGrange cadet), show antebellum cadets wearing virtually the same coatee.


Alabama’s troops formed what the state called the ‘Alabama Volunteer Corps’. Its uniforms, according to General Orders No. i, issued 28 March 1861, included dark blue frock coats, cadet grey wool pants (both trimmed ‘as prescribed for the Confederate states service’) and US Military Academy-style shakos. These were to have ‘the letters A.V.C. … to be placed on the cap below the eagle’. Such letters were noted as being worn by Alabamians in Virginia in 1861. Woolen overcoats of jeans material lined with ‘heavy checked or striped osnaburg’ were also to be issued. Shirts were usually brown. The state also ordered 10,000 black felt hats with the brims ‘looped & buttoned on the left side’.

Sgt. Crawford Jackson, 6th Alabama Infantry Regiment, wrote in July 1863 that he wore ‘a black broad cloth coat, Alabama staff buttons, cut and trimmed in regulation style, a pair of gray trousers and slouch hat’, indicating that the AVC uniform lasted in some form at least until that date.

Grey soon became the most common Alabama coat color, however. On 31 August 1861 Governor Andrew B. Moore issued a circular in the Montgomery Weekly Advertiser that spelled out exactly what the state uniform should be. It included grey wool jackets made with seven brass military buttons down the front; a double thick standing collar lined with osnaburg; a strap on each shoulder running from the shoulder seam to where it buttoned at the neck; and two belt straps, one 011 each side of the jacket, five inches long, buttoned at the top and sewn into the jacket bottom over the side seam. 1 1 ouscis were also to be of grev wool.

A grey wool overcoat was also described. This also had seven brass military buttons down the front in a single row. A detachable cape was to be attached to the collar by six hooks and eyes. The cape had a single row of five small brass military buttons down the front, and was lined with checked or striped osnaburg. Two straps on the back waistline, hidden by the cape, adjusted the waist size. The state also wanted ‘shirts of flannel, or checked or striped cotton; drawers of woolen, or cotton flannel, or stout osnaburgs; woolen socks; gloves, shoes and blankets’.

By the end of 1861 Alabama had acquired 7,416 complete uniforms, 2,974 greatcoats, 2,412 blankets, and some 3,000 pairs of shoes. An additional 1,532 uniforms, 900 greatcoats, 1,644 pairs of cotton drawers, 1,082 pairs of shoes, 607 blankets, and 83 pairs of gloves were acquired in the first quarter of 1862. By March 1862, however, the Confederate government was able to supply Alabama’s soldiers, and thereafter the state restricted its activities to clothing reserve and local militia units.

Following the Zouave craze of 1861, a number of 1861 volunteer units also called themselves ‘Zouaves’, apparently wearing some variation of that distinctive dress. These included the Alabama Zouaves (Law’s Company), the Eufaula Zouaves (Co. K, 15th Alabama Infantry Regiment), and the Tallapoosa Zouaves (Smith’s Company). Their dress was extremely short-lived.

Alabama issued belt and cartridge box plates (the latter being the size of Mexican-American War US Army belt plates) which were copies of the US oval plate, but stamped with the Roman letters ‘AVC’. These letters also appeared on brass buttons over a US Army-style eagle. Pre-war buttons with the state seal were also issued, though much more rarely. Small numbers of pre-war belt plates (but no box plates), resembling the US oval plate but with the state seal stamped on them, were also issued. There was some issue of uncommon rectangular cast plates and two-piece sword belt plates bearing the state seal as a design.

After 1862, when the Mi841 rifles and Mi842 muskets that had originally been supplied by the US War Department had all been issued, Alabama contracted for weapons. Contracted long arms were to be copies of the Mi841 ‘Mississippi’ rifle, and were made by Dickson, Nelson & Co., who provided at least 645 rifles; J. P. Murray, who produced at least 262; Davis & Bozeman; and I.. G. Sturdivant. James Conning J nr. made copies of the US Mi840 light artillery sabre for the state, while other edged weapons purchased by Alabama included pikes and knives.

The Antebellum Alabama militia wore a hodgepodge assortment of uniforms and it would have been hard to tell the Alabama militia from the militia of most other Northern or Southern states. This all changed in March of 1861 when Alabama formed the Alabama Volunteer Corps. General Order No. 1 set the official uniform for the Alabama Volunteer Corps: Dark blue frock coats and gray pants. With officers above captain wearing double breasted dark blue frock coats. Headwear was a based on the 1853 U.S Military academy cap, a black felt body with leather top and an eagle badge.

This was the uniforms worn by the 1st and 2nd Alabama Volunteer Infantry Regiments as well as 1st Alabama Artillery Battalion. The main difference being that cloth forage caps or felt hats looped up and buttoned on the left side often replaced the stiff caps. Regiments not called up for service in the above regiments were authorized to wear cadet grey frock coats and trousers.

*Article from “Mine Creek Battlefield

Antebellum Southern Military Academies or Colleges

There were ninety-six military colleges, military academies, and universities with cadet programs in the slave states in the years 1827. Only fifteen such schools have been identified in the free states in the same period. As noted before, the North did not have the same education needs as the South, a major reason why no Northern state ever established an equivalent to VMI. The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa was converted into a Confederate military school at the start of the U.S. Civil War.

In the 1850s, the University of Alabama’s president, Landon Garland, began lobbying the Legislature to transform the university into a military school. In 1860, with the Civil War impending and in the wake of a violent brawl which resulted in the death of student, the legislature authorized Garland to make the transformation beginning in the fall of 1860. As a result of this transformation, during the Civil War, the school trained officers for the Confederacy.

The State Normal School had roots back to the Methodist Church’s college located originally in LaGrange, AL named LaGrange College but moved to Florence, AL shortly before the Civil War it was renamed LaGrange Military Academy before being destroyed by Union Forces in1863.

LaGrange Military Academy 1857-1862

After LaGrange College moved to Florence in January 1855, a group of LaGrange citizens reorganized the college in the vacant buildings under the old name. Rev. Felix Johnson was elected president. To increase the patronage, a military feature was introduced in 1857. Major J.W. Robertson became superintendent, and classes were suspended while a third major building was erected for the cadets. The college reopened in February 1858, as LaGrange College and Military Academy. The new institution’s financial situation was dismal until the State of Alabama provided military equipment and scholarships. The Academy soon flourished and became known as the “West Point of the South.” In 1860, the name was changed to LaGrange Military Academy. By 1861, the enrollment was almost 200 cadets. During its existence, 259 cadets from nine states attended the Academy.
In 1861, many LaGrange cadets left to join the Confederate Army. Consequently, the Academy was forced to suspend classes on March 1, 1862. Only two cadets had graduated. Major Robertson was authorized to organize the 35th Alabama Infantry Regiment, C.S.A. He was elected colonel and the remaining cadets formed part of one company. The regiment was mustered into the Confederate Army on March 12, 1862, for three years. On April 28, 1863, the 10th Missouri Calvary of the Union Army, known as the “Destroying Angels,” commanded by Col. Florence M. Cornyn, burned the Military Academy, the nearby La Fayette Female Academy, many businesses, and homes. The village of LaGrange dwindled away. In 1995, LaGrange Park was transferred from the Alabama Historical Commission to the LaGrange Living Historical Association. Thereafter, the site of Alabama’s first chartered college was enhanced and stands today as a historical landmark.

After LaGrange College moved to Florence in January 1856, a group of LaGrange citizens organized a college in the vacant buildings under the old name, LaGrange. To increase patronage, a military feature was introduced in 1857. The college reopened in February 1858. as LaGrange College and Military Academy. The Academy soon flourished and became known as the “West Point of the South”. In 1860, the name was changed to LaGrange Military Academy. During its existence, 259 cadets from 9 states attended the Academy. The Academy was forced to suspend classes on March 1, 1862, due to cadets leaving to join the Confederate Army. Major J.W. Robertson was authorized to organize the 35th Alabama Infantry Regiment, C.S.A.. Robertson was elected Colonel of the regiment and the remaining cadets of the Academy formed part of one company. On April 28, 1863, the 10th Missouri Calvary of the Union Army burned the Military Academy. The village of LaGrange dwindled away after this.

Between 1858 and 1860 Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Alabama either established their own military schools or started subsidizing existing private military schools. And in 1861 then Missouri legislature passed an act to establish a state military school in Lexington, but the Civil War halted the plans.

These states used a variety of methods to establish and promote military education. Alabama had throughout the 1850s used state money to aid private military schools, in lieu of establishing its own military school. These efforts culminated with an 1860 law funding two scholarships for each county, to be used at either of two private military schools (La Grange and Glennville). Under the law the scholarship students committed themselves to go home after graduation and “there teach school and drill the militia … for the same length of time during which he may have been a state cadet.” States also aided private military schools by providing them with cadet rifles and instructional materials. The state of Mississippi loaned muskets to Brandon State Military Institute, Mississippi Military Academy, and Jefferson College. Alabama provided the Southern Polytechnic Institute with 110 rifles plus books on military tactics. Georgia loaned one hundred muskets and one hundred light cavalry swords to the military program at Bowden College. Florida furnished arms to both the West Florida Seminary and the Quincy Military Academy. In addition to the usual muskets, Arkansas provided the Arkansas Military Institute with six cannons.

The Alabama legislature’s plan to subsidize two cadets from each county to attend its two designated military schools, begun in 1860, would by 1870 have (in theory) resulted in one thousand young Alabamians trained at these schools — enough to provide one trained cadet for every company of troops Alabama actually raised in the Civil War.

A sixteen-year-old cadet at La Grange Military Academy in Alabama recalled the excitement of the war’s first year, and its impact on the school:

By March and April there was a call for volunteers and a very considerable

number of the cadets had resigned and returned to their homes in order to

enlist in the first companies which marched to the front. By the time the

first session ended with the Commencement on the 4th and 5th of July, 1861,

fully one-fourth of the corps had enlisted [and most of the remaining cadets

were at this time not so much unwilling as too young, under the law, to


… [A visit by a cadet who had been wounded at Bull Run] excited the

envy of every lad who had not been allowed to go home in order to volunteer.

To have been in a great battle, wounded and furloughed made Jimmie a hero and

all of us would probably have signed away our hopes for immortality to have

been in his place…. It was an unwise step on the part of the college

officials to permit this visit as it was followed by a second exodus of

cadets…. [O]n March 1, 1861, [the school] was formally closed.