THE MAPLE LEAF
By Francis Lord
The discovery and subsequent recovery of the Maple Leaf is truly a time capsule in acquisition and identification of Civil War artifacts. This time capsule of great significance to collectors and historians alike comes at a time when collectors are giving up in their attempts to find anything at all in the Civil War line. Meanwhile, although many questions about Civil War artifacts have been answered, tantalizing puzzles still plague the collector and the historian. The cargo of the Maple Leaf will definitely increase substantially our knowledge of Civil War items, both military and personal. The Maple Leaf carried cargo consisting mainly of camp equipment and personal belongings of officers and men of brigade headquarters, three infantry regiments, and substantial sutler supplies. The Maple Leafs cargo included unusual items of historic interest as evidenced by the types of items thus far recovered. Although less than one percent of the cargo has been recovered so far, the nature of the individual items is such that one is thrilled at the future of this project.
The artifacts recovered to date are very well preserved. Equally important, they are being catalogued and treated for preservation by knowledgeable and dedicated professionals. There are possibly more artifacts on the Maple Leaf than any other Civil War ship which has been recovered thus far. The Cairo, sunk in 1862, has been reconstructed and is now on exhibition in Vicksburg, with about ten percent of the original material on exhibition. Other ships, including the Confederate vessels Jackson, Georgia and Chattahoochee have yielded a minimal number of artifacts. The Federal ship Monitor and Confederate Alabama have been found but not raised. In any event, they were combat ships and would have had a minimum of impedimenta on board. The Maple Leaf contains the largest and most varied store of Civil War artifacts still in existence - artifacts that are still waiting to be recovered and shown to an expectant public.
The cargo of the Maple Leaf consists of thousands of comparatively small articles which belonged to the 66 people on board and officers and men of a brigade of infantry, and some engineer troops. The troops left most of their impedimenta on the vessel. In addition to the personal effects of the soldiers, there may also be the baggage of 66 individuals left on board: the crew, passengers and even a few Confederate prisoners. To all of this must be added the stores of at least three sutlers. A catalogue of all of these goods cannot be made until complete recovery of all the cargo has been achieved.
Thus far only a small percentage of the ship's total cargo
has been recovered. But even with the small percentage of cargo avail able at this time,
we are amazed at the wide variety of artifacts. Cargo aboard the Maple
Leaf By general categories, the cargo recovered to date is as follows:
A delightful collection of what Civil War soldiers used in the field has been recovered to date. Included are mess pails, mess pans, different types of forks (two-tine and three-tine) and ladles. Of unusual interest are the scales and balances, funnels, and various sizes of wooden barrels. Since barrels on camp sites and battlefields rotted away except for their metal hoops, these barrels are rare indeed. Interestingly enough, the cargo included extensive numbers of civilian dishware and cutlery, including many plates and saucers which belonged to regular sets of dishes. This strongly indicates that the dishes were loot taken from plantation homes. Moreover, the discovery of door knobs and window panes in the cargo makes one suspect that some of the soldiers, at least, were stealing everything "not nailed down."
Another rich find was camp equipment. As expected, the ship yielded shovels, axes, and various other tools used in camp. But one is struck by the other equipment found, for example, rope tighteners, poles, field desks, and camp stoves with expandable chimneys. These are the real finds, which will be studied in detail as more are brought up and examined. The tent poles are of various sizes made for special functions, such as side poles and ridge poles. One square pole - six feet, ten inches long - has a hole at each end for attaching to other poles of the tent and is marked, Hilton Head, S.C.
The haste with which the troops left for the front can be seen in the quantities of basic medical equipment found on the ship. This includes medicine bottles, tourniquets, lanterns, mortar and pestle, and boxes of surgeon's supplies. A rare find is a cast steel measuring spoon, three and a quarter inches long, and one and an eighth inches wide. It is marked N. Ames Patent, Sept. 17, 1861.
As one would expect, most of this type of artifact would have been taken by the officers on disembarking. A small number of spurs, officers' belts, boots and shoulder straps have been recovered. These were probably extras. Left behind by officers were their expensive dress swords. A beautiful dress sword has been recovered which was a fine present to Second Lieutenant William H. Potter of Company D, 112th New York Volunteers. Personal belongings of Surgeon Asa B. Snow (1st New York Engineers) and Surgeon Charles Washburn (112th New York Volunteers) have been recovered and a great quantity of such artifacts probably remain aboard the Maple Leaf.
Enlisted Men's Equipment.
As with the officers, so also did the enlisted men take their basic equipment with them. Accordingly, only a few items of regulation equipment has been found. These include a few cartridge boxes and belt buckles. It is interesting that thus far the buckles found are only U.S. and not the S.N.Y. (State of New York). However, New York State buttons have been found.
Especially rewarding to the Civil War collector and historian has been the recovery of large numbers of shelter halves in fine condition. One of them is even stencil3d with the owner's name: Joseph B. Follet. Follet served with Company K, 169th New York Volunteers. There has been considerable confusion among Civil War collectors in their attempts to identify shelter tents of 1861 - 1865. The Maple Leaf supplies the answer. The shelter tents recovered from the ship demonstrate the valued expansion of our knowledge of what the Civil War soldier actually used at eh front. The small tent, now well known as the pup tent, was one of the unique contributions to soldiering in the 1860s. Most of the Civil War tentage has disappeared and genuine specimens are very rare. From war-time literature we do know that dimensions of the tent varied considerably. The standard size as called for by the regulations was a cotton duck half tent, five feet six inches by five feet five inches in size, with buttons and button holes on the edges matching up with the other end. Each soldier carried a half and two soldiers would each provide a half tent to make a complete tent for themselves.
Another type of shelter tent measured five feet two inches by four feet eight inches, but experience in the field showed that this type of tent was too small. Material varied from cotton duck to cotton drilling with rubber, but actually tents made of cloth fabric covered with rubber on the outside.
The Maple Leaf with its personal effects of a brigade has already yielded scores of shelter halves. These are in exceptionally good condition because they are of the rubber type. Interestingly enough, the Maple Leaf shelter tents are five feet seven and a half inches by three feet eight inches.
The only weapons so far recovered are swords and a few gun parts, such as trigger guards and spring vises. These were probably retained by the artificer or gunsmith for repair of damaged weapons.
There were at least three sutlers attached to the troops transported by the Maple Leaf and their stores are both voluminous and typical. Wine, bitters, ginger and patent medicine bottles abound. While the paper labels have long since disappeared from the bottles, there are still some with inscriptions in the glass itself. Among these are:
Along with the sutler supplies is an incredible assembly of personal items belonging to the individual soldier. Essentials such as shoe blacking, candles, candlesticks, pens, pencils, ink, inkwells, mucilages are plentiful. Such non-essentials as water-purifiers, perfume, daguerreotypes, and housewives have been recovered. Twists of tobacco, pipes (both plain and ornate), and checker pieces have been found. For personal health and appearance, there are toothbrushes, razors, shaving paste jars, shaving mirrors, combs (mustache, lice and hair), and hair brushes. For entertainment various types of musical instruments had been taken along by the troops. Already recovered have been a fife, flute, clarinet and violin.
Several examples of the soldiers' ability in carving wood and lead objects have been found with a multiplicity of souvenirs such as un usual sea shells and house furnishings already mentioned above as having been "liberated" from their Southern owners.
Since the Maple Leaf was not a combat vessel, there were no cannons on board. Her function was to move men and supplies. Inevitably, some collectors will lament the fact that the Maple Leaf's yield in weaponry is very meager. We cannot expect to find many weapons because the troops took their arms on shore with them. But one should not be disappointed at the lack of muskets or rifles on the ship.
The truth is that long arms (muskets and rifles) are among the most common of all Civil War artifacts. A brief reference to Federal Ordnance Department statistics alone makes this abundantly clear. A review of these statistics is appropriate since inevitably there are those who may not be completely satisfied with the lack of substantial piles of long arms on a Civil War ship.
On March 4, 1861, the Federal Government had on hand in loyal arsenals 437,433 muskets and rifles. Springfield Armory, contractors, and foreign imports kept the North well sup plied with long arms. Federal regiments were so well supplied, in fact, that there was a substantial surplus by 1865. At the end of the war, a total of 1,195,572 muskets and rifles remained unissued by the Federal Ordnance Department, in addition to all the weapons in the hands of troops.
To some extent, at least, this superfluity extends to the soldiers' equipment as well. In the last year of the war alone the Federal Ordnance Department produced 794,055 sets of accoutrements and harness.
Taking Equipment Home.
Many soldiers took their muskets and equipment home with them. About two months after Appomattox June 15, 1865 when hundreds of thousands of Federal soldiers were being mustered out and returning home, the Federal Government made it possible for each individual soldier to keep his weapon and equipment at small cost to him. The prices fixed by the Ordnance Department were as follows:
Accoutrements, in this case, were the necessary leather
accessories used with the weapons. A musket and a rifle would require a bayonet,
scabbard, a percussion cap box and a cartridge box. A revolver would require a holster and
At the same time (June 15, 1865), the War Department ordered that all soldiers who were honorably discharged could retain, without charge, their knapsacks, haversacks, and canteens.
Vast Surplus of Items.
The end of the war saw the Federal Government disposing of its vast surplus of military items. This was accomplished mainly through sales to foreign countries and by auction sales at home. The Federal Ordnance Department reported that 1,300,000 small arms were taken from the Confederate Ordnance Department shortly after the end of the war. Later an immense number were acquired but not tallied. Large numbers of weapons, both United States and Confederate States, were sold to foreign countries, especially during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. But, by far, the greatest single buyer was Francis Bannerman Sons on Broadway in New York City. Established in the very year the Civil War ended, this amazing company could supply entire armies with everything from cannons to buttons. Much of Bannerman's large store of Civil War surplus was obtained at government auctions.
So extensive was the Bannerman store of ammunition and other supplies that an entire island in the Hudson River was purchased for storage. Bannerman had Confederate relics. The firm won auction bids on captured Rebel arms. Until the firm went out of business, it was possible for the beginning collector to assemble at a reasonable price the basic items essential to a representative Civil War collection. Many of the fine collections today have some items which originally came from Bannerman. Many of the items were surplus after the war and were never issued to troops in the field. Bannerman got them directly from the government storehouse or arsenal, often still enclosed in their original wrappings. But Bannerman's items did not appeal to some collectors in that a substantial portion of them were new and therefore never saw service in the war.
Because of the government' s generous policy of permitting its veterans to purchase their arms and equipments, many Northern homes contained weapons and accoutrements which proud owners could show their children and could be "passed on in the family." And it is true that some families have honored their ancestors wish and have kept the items. But many were sold, lost, or frequently given to the local CAR lodge or museum.
Civil War Museums.
Now one would assume that once the treasured relics are deposited in a museum, they would be there for all time for the public to see. The author's experience of over 60 years of collecting has taught him that museums vary greatly. Profiting from my observations, I have placed the bulk of my military artifacts in the Fort Ward Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis shrine in Biloxi, Mississippi, and my extensive collection of rare Civil War regimental histories and manuals in the rare book collection of the University of South Carolina. Of course, such museums as Smithsonian, Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, and the various United States National Parks, as well as such technical repositories as the Quartermaster Museum at Fort Lee, Virginia, are professionally directed and excellently maintained. But, unfortunately, some state and local museums - containing priceless but perishable artifacts - are not only carelessly maintained, but, in some cases, very vulnerable to outright theft.
However, a substantial amount of the extant Civil War relics North and South - are in private collections. These collections currently are in a static stage - that is, comparatively little of their contents is surfacing for the public to acquire. Too many "Civil War shows" in our major cities have degenerated into a barter-and-trade exchange between dealers and collectors, with a disillusioned public looking on as spectators. The reason for this impasse is the present insanity of price-fixing.
To appreciate the current ridiculous price of Civil War relics, one must go back and trace the collecting atmosphere since 1865. The American soldier is an inveterate souvenir gatherer. The Civil War soldier was certainly no exception. Accordingly, many relics - Yank and Rebel - found a home in Northern families, both during and after the war. In the South, tourists visiting a battlefield could also see reminders of the battle carnage in both public and private collections. GAR halls and Confederate veterans' meeting places were often museums in themselves. Local pride developed into substantial expression as veterans or their widows donated items to such excellent repositories as the Loyal Legion Museum and the White House of the Confederacy.
Collections by private individuals were comparatively few. Such was the experience of the author. Looking back over a collecting span of nearly 70 years, I can see clearly the growth of interest in the 1861-1865 period. In the years after World War I, and continuing into the 1960s, Civil War items were easy to acquire. Bannerman was selling canteens for 30 cents and pistol carbines with shoulder stocks for $9.50 each.
At the age of 14, I wanted a Civil War musket. I went to an antique shop where I had my choice of a fine Enfield musket or a Colt contract musket at $1.50. I chose the Colt and still have it. A basic reason for the ease in getting into Civil War material in the post- World War I era was that many people did not consider Civil War relics as antiques. They thought of Revolutionary War items as really old. And, after all, there were always men in the neighborhood who had actually used the items themselves. There was no antique flavor in Civil War items, and they were not as usable as the tremendous amount of surplus World War I rifles, tents, shovels and even uniforms.
To add further to the ease of acquiring a good Civil War collection was the abysmal ignorance of many antique dealers. Even as late as the 1940s collectors profited from this. For example, in 1941 I inquired of a woman in an Alexandria, Virginia, antique shop if she had any relics of the Civil War. She replied that she had only one - a Confederate canteen. As soon as I saw it, I knew it at once as a French World War I canteen (it had the typical two spouts). She was absolutely adamant that this canteen was Confederate, even after I showed her the French maker's name and 1916 stamped in the metal. Soon after this encounter, I visited a Maryland antique shop - again with a woman in charge. She informed me that she had nothing in her shop from the war. When I found a Confederate States wood canteen in very good shape, she told me that was a water bottle and I could have it for two dollars. When I was teaching in Mississippi, I frequently visited an antique shop near the entrance of the Vicksburg National Park. I could buy all of the I buttons I wanted for practically nothing, because the shop owner insisted that these were Illinois or Indiana buttons! However, the most flagrant example of inexcusable ignorance was displayed in an antique shop in Columbia, South Carolina. There I found a knapsack in quite good condition. The frame was of pine wood, covered with black canvas or oil-cloth material. The straps were of cot ton. The knapsack had wooden drawers and on one of them was written the following in pencil: Lt. W. E. Campbell Co. "F" 8th S.C.I. Bratton's Brig. Field's Division Longstreet's Corps A.N.V. General R.E. Lee Commanding 8th April 1865 The proprietor of this shop - in Columbia, South Carolina, stronghold of the Confederacy - had no idea of the significance of Longstreet' s Corps, A N. V., or 8th April 1865. And he was a native South Carolinian. Sometimes Civil War items were given to collectors with the accurate identification of such items by the donor.
Civil War Centennial.
Despite all of the ignorance and confusion about many items that survived the war - and especially with the approach of the Centennial years, 1961-1965 - individuals began to put in written form the knowledge that they had acquired. These men were pioneers in their special fields, and collectors and historians today owe them a debt of appreciation. Their published works were never best sellers, but they are invaluable to the neophyte or seasoned collector today. It was my great pleasure to be personally acquainted with these men - Colonel Fred Todd, Bill Gavin, Kerksis, Dickey, Albaugh Phillips, Peterson, and others.
I early realized that there were no published works on the less glamorous items used by the soldiers. Other researchers had concentrated on such categories as long arms, hand guns, edged weapons, artillery, projectiles and ammunition. I therefore put all of my time and research into less exotic items. For the whole decade of the 1960s, I contributed a column each month in the magazine, Civil War Times Illustrated. Entitled Weapons and Equipment, this column covered a multiplicity of Civil War items.
The response was good and I decided to expand my research and put my findings into final book form. The end result is a series of five volumes, Civil War Collector's Encyclopedia. Each volume is complete in itself and not a revised version of an earlier volume. Collectors from throughout the United States and several foreign countries contributed material. Naturally, the main sources of information for these volumes have been Army Regulations, Ordnance and Quartermaster publications, the National Archives, regimental histories, diaries and the items themselves.
Material Culture of the War.
The difficulty in identifying items as to the actual time when they were used has been considerable in some cases. Family tradition will ascribe Civil War usage to an old gun or a hunting flask, and, of course, some individuals, especially Confederates, did take their hunting rifles or shotguns with them to the war. However, the items presenting the most difficult identification problems are the types of equipment used by the militias, some of which were used during the war, but most of them were used after 1865.
One of the great values of the Maple Leaf Project is that the cargo is constantly answering questions or confirming previous analyses of Civil War artifacts. The obvious - but delightful - strength of the Maple Leaf appeal is that every single item of the cargo is unquestionably of the Civil War. Only one who has toiled endless hours with research personnel in collections and museums can fully appreciate the significance of the Maple Leaf find. Many questions on authenticity and dimensions of 1861-1865 items will be answered in the years to come. Already much has been done. The condition of the artifacts is well nigh fabulous. Portions of newspapers and books are still legible. And very probably both brigade and regimental records are still on board the ship. Interest generated by writers like Bruce Catton and Douglas Southall Freeman, movies like Gone with the Wind, and the extensive coverage of the Centennial years, have resulted in a plethora of such organizations as Civil War roundtables, re-enactment groups, and Civil War gun shows. Thousands of avid students of the war period soon depleted antique stores and Grandma's attic of Civil War items. Then they turned to the battlefields themselves. Equipped with ever more sophisticated metal detectors, and using excellent war and post war topographical maps, they scoured the battle areas and camp sites. Operating as loners or as task forces, they would arrive in a battle area and get down to work. Their appetite was voracious: a buckle and a few bullets was only the appetizer. Day in and day out they would h return. The result is that today it is only by great good luck that a significant amount of relics can be found, at least, in the well-known battle and camp sites.
It was time to turn to the rivers and the sea. And the St. Johns River has responded with the Maple Leaf, a treasure trove of Civil War memorabilia and one from which we will be learning a great deal - both now and for years to come.
The Maple Leaf. Copyright 1993 by St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions, Inc. Contact Keith Holland