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RARE U.S. ARMY PATTERN 1851 CIVIL WAR HAVERSACK WITH MAKER’S STAMP – AN EXCELLENT SPECIMEN IN REMARKABLE CONDITION:  Haversacks were arguably one the most essential single pieces of equipment issued to the Civil War soldier, and in one form or another, every soldier carried one.   

The Pattern 1851 Tarred Canvas Haversack was the standard Federal haversack issued during the Civil War.  Manufactured of tarred canvas material to protect the contents from the elements, the haversack consisted of a single compartment body fashioned from two panels of the material, a fixed length shoulder strap sewn to the body, and a flap which was closed with a leather billet and small roller black japanned iron buckle.  

Despite the large numbers of these haversacks that must have been manufactured and issued - certainly some soldiers were issued more than one as their prolonged service required replacements - examples of the Pattern 1851 Haversacks have survived in very limited numbers, and are quite rare today on the collector’s market in any condition.  It is difficult to overstate just how rare they are, especially in the excellent condition in which this specimen presents.   

Several factors contributed to this rarity.  The very purpose of the haversack led to those which were issued being used to destruction.  The effects of the elements and wear from being carried, combined with the residue of contents such as grease laden meat, spoiling vegetables, acid from coffee, and sharp eating utensils all served to consume even this fairly substantially made sack.  Those that managed to survive were recognized as utilitarian and were repurposed after the war for a variety of useful tasks around the homes and farms until they too were gone.  And finally, even those which managed to survive in the army’s inventory and were sold into the surplus market, were consumed by time, the elements, and poor storage.  When exposed to prolonged excessive heat in the warehouses, the tarred surfaces melted and the stacked or crated haversacks adhered to each other to the point that once the tar had combined with those of the adjacent bags and hardened any attempt to separate them resulted in torn bags and broken straps.  I have been told that at the time when surplus dealers like Bannerman had ample supplies of Civil War knapsacks flattened in large stacks, these haversacks – particularly decent, undamaged specimens - were difficult to find.   

This haversack is in excellent condition, with all of the components intact and in the original configuration. If this haversack was issued, and from the condition that seems doubtful, it was used for a limited time and shows none of the wear associated with being carried by a soldier on the march, rubbing against his uniform in time to his gait.  There is no loss of the tarred finish on the surface due to abrasion, nor is the finish cracked, crazed or flexed as most of these haversacks exhibit.  The tin buttons are still in place inside the body at the top corners of the back panel to which removable liner attached.    

The only appreciable flaws consist of a small one inch long separation of the material at the top right hand corner of the flap along the fold, and a 1 ½” separation at the top of the adjacent side seam.  There is a 2” separation in the left hand seam just below the top corner – only visible if you pull the fold around the seam apart - , and a less than ¼” hole in the top center of the back panel where a third tin button for attaching the removable liner may have been sewn.  None of these three flaws affects the structural integrity, nor do they significantly affect the appearance of the haversack.  

The shoulder strap is properly made to pattern of folded tarred canvas, it retains its full original length, and it is still solidly attached to the back panel with the original stitching. As with the body, the tarred finish is overall smooth with no cracking, crazing or loss of the tarred finish.   

The original full length leather closing billet and the buckle, chape and standing loop assembly are both still present and fully intact.  These closing billets often became casualties of use and age, broken or torn away and many surviving haversacks are missing the buckle and leather billets altogether. 

As very few of the surviving examples of these early haversacks retain the maker or inspector stamps, this haversack is made even more attractive by the presence of the original maker’s stamp on the long billet reading, “___UNE, ROCKVILLE, CONN.”  The first three letters of the maker’s name are not legible; however with the last three letters and the name of the town, I’m sure the maker could be identified should the new owner wish to do so.  I did discover that the community of Rockville was an enclave of manufacturing shops – many of them engaged in the textile industry – located within the jurisdictional limits of the city of Vernon, Connecticut.  Rockville is situated along the banks of the Hockanum River where a naturally occurring rock outcropping formed a dam and high falls, making it an ideal location for a water powered mill.  The mill provided power to a number of the shops that were built in the community and several of those shops were involved in making haversacks and other equipment during the Civil War under contract to the army.   

While the soldier’s musket, bayonet and cartridge box defined his purpose and his effectiveness in battle, it was the contents of his haversack and canteen that sustained him while on campaign.  This is a rare offering of an excellent example of the Pattern 1851 Haversack, one that would be almost impossible to upgrade, and an opportunity to add a necessary accoutrement to your Civil War collection.  (0920)  $2200

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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