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Steel breast plates

As defensive Armors worn by Federal soldiers in the war between the States, 1861-5.

It is in evidence that breast plates of steel were extensively worn by Federal soldiers in the War of 1861-5 as defensive armor.

In the memorable retreat before Jackson by Banks from Winchester, in May, 1862, which gained for him in supplies abandoned by him and sorely needed by the Confederates, the cheerful tribute of ‘Jackson's Commissary,’ the editor, then of the ‘foot cavalry,’ saw in the deserted camp of the enemy, on both sides of the road leading from Winchester, a number of examples of the ‘vest armor’ of thin plates of steel covered with blue cloth in vest fashion, which had been thrown away in flight by the Federal soldiers.

They were of the style of those secondly described in the following article, which appeared in the Times-Dispatch of July 31st, 1904.

Two instances of the use of such armor are given by John W. Munson in his ‘Recollections of a Mosby Guerilla,’ Munsey's Magazine, February, 1905, p. 784. One ‘taken from the saddle of Major J. S. Reed, the Federal officer who fell in the engagement with Mosby's men at Dranesville, February 22, 1864.’

Lieutenant Ben. Palmer says that he had them at his home [in Richmond] and that he and others often amused themselves by shooting at Reed's breast plates.” The other instance: ‘On the same day [February 22, 1864] Fred Hipkins, of our command, captured one of Reed's men who had on breast plates.’

Many surviving Confederates will tell of having seen these breast plates during the War of 1861-5.

The editor has since that period seen several of such preserved by the curious.

One example may at this day be inspected in our State Library here:

I have seen it stated in a recent newspaper article that the finding of a steel breast plate below Richmond where the Federal soldiers were buried, was proof that they did wear armor, although this point had been disputed. I was surprised to find that this had ever [222] been disputed. I myself have seen two styles of armor worn by them at the first battle of Manassas. I saw a vest made of strips of steel about an inch wide, connected together, but very flexible. This vest was taken from the body of a dead Federal soldier. At the first day's fight at Gettysburg I was courier for the inspector of Early's Division, Ewell's Corps, my business being to attend to the wounded and prisoners, I found a dead Federal soldier who had on a vest shaped armor, made of very thin steel. This was in two solid pieces, one for the back, and the other for the front, but the soldier was killed by a shell which tore his left arm out of the shoulder socket. This man was no coward, as the following pathetic account will show. By his side lay his furlough, dated the day before the fight, stating that it was to enable him to go home to get married. With it was a letter from his expectant bride, filled with glad anticipations of their approaching marriage, but he chose to remain and fight, and lost his life thereby. He was a very handsome, blonde young man, above medium size, and was from New York.

I write this as it may possibly meet the eye of some one who knew him in life.

J. Cabell Early. Bon Ton, Bedford county, Va., July 25, 1904.

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