By Katie Graham
Earlier this year, our Director of Strategy, Development, and Historic Interpretation Dr. Taylor Stoermer came across an intriguing frock coat in our collections. The coat is an item I am very excited to work with for my final research project as part of my internship because it is a Civil War frock coat made by Brooks Brothers for a Union Army First Lieutenant.
Brooks Brothers agreed to a concordance with the U.S. government to mass-produce over 12,000 uniforms for the Union Army just two weeks after the first cannons were fired from Fort Sumter in Charleston. This was Brooks Brothers’ first major step – after 43 years of business – from small-scale line to American icon. By 1861, the company created 36,000 uniforms for the Union. The level of tailoring in our frock coat provides evidence that it was not part of a line of mass-produced uniforms, but was bespoke. This hypothesis is currently in the process of being confirmed by a team of archivists at Brooks Brothers corporate office in New York City.
The frock coat’s original owner was First Lieutenant George W. Halstead. I was excited to come across a portrait of the Lieutenant as well as a brief military biography in the Smithsonian’s digital archives during the initial phase of my research. I further learned that his portrait was once part of a collection on display at the National Museum of American History. My research so far has indicated that Halstead survived the war and lived in Manhattan with his wife Eliza and two children. I am currently in the process of cross-referencing an extensive Halstead genealogy in the HHS archives with a Halstead genealogy forwarded to me by an archivist with the Smithsonian to find what relationship he had with the Hudson Valley and HHS. Below is a portrait Halstead sat for at the Battle of Antietam in 1862, when he was an officer with Company G of the 10th New York Volunteers.
Here is a teaser for next week’s Object: