“MY OLD CANTEEN” CANTEEN OF G. W. MOWERS, 21st PA CAV. & 87th PA INF., PAINT-DECORATED IN 1890, ON HIS 1865 LIST OF GEAR, WITH DISCHARGE & REUNION PAMPHLET

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Item Code: M26506

This canteen and documents come from the family of George W. Mowers of Fayetteville, PA. Mowers served in the 21st PA Cavalry from July 1863 to February 1864, and in the 87th PA Infantry from February to June 1865. This canteen is likely the very same one on his retained list of issued equipment and noted as being drawn at Harrisburg before departing for Virginia.

The canteen is a Philadelphia Depot pattern made by Rohrman of Philadelphia and bears a dark blue cover, which often happened at the Philadelphia Depot from their use of uniform cloth for the covers. The shoulder sling is still there, though it has some wear spots and one break that has been knotted together. The sling was also knotted to shorten it, sometimes taken as a sign of cavalry use, but here more likely done to hang it on the parlor wall. This is in keeping with the flowers painted on it for decoration, a typically Victorian addition, and the words, “My Old Canteen” with the date 1890.

The neck has been drilled or punched to make a vent hole, a common practice by soldiers to prevent a vacuum when drinking from it. The stopper is in place, but only a piece of the stopper cord remains in one bracket. The cover is shows field wear and appropriate age, but has good color and no large holes, open seams or moth damage. Mowers also attached his G.A.R. badge to the lower part of the canteen, where it would display nicely as it hung on the wall.

The canteen is one of Rohrman’s eight-ring products that date from contracts awarded to him from 8/13/63 through 2/16/64. This corresponds with Mowers’s service in the 21st PA Cavalry, but given delays between contract and delivery dates it more likely dates to his service with the 87th PA Infantry. He enlisted 2/25/65 and was sworn in on 2/28/65, though not officially mustered in as a sergeant in Co. K until 3/17/65. During his period of service the regiment, part of the 6th Army Corps, took part in the final assault on Petersburg on April 2. It captured a large number of prisoners and several cannon, though losing 8 officers and enlisted men killed, 22 enlisted men wounded, and 5 missing, Four days later, April 6, taking part in the pursuit of Lee, it was in action again at Sailor’s Creek. Mowers was present in the company until May 23, when he was hospitalized for jaundice and eventually discharged in June. He returned to Franklin County and resumed his trade as wagon maker, married, fathered four children and died there 28 January 1895, aged 50. He is buried in the Union Cemetery in Fayetteville.

The canteen is one of several items on a handwritten list by Mowers that starts with his enlistment in the 87th and details locations and specific items of equipment or clothing he drew at each. The list includes a canteen, knapsack, haversack and rubber blanket drawn at Harrisburg under the date “31st Feb. 1865,” which is obviously a mistake, perhaps for March 3. (He was in Chambersburg on February 28, and may simply have added three days.) It is also interesting that he records drawing shoes twice, an indicator of how much marching they were doing.

The list would have come in handy in settling his army accounts at muster out and we also include Mowers’ discharge from the 87th PA on 6/26/65, which also bears a stamp indicating he was paid on 6/28/65. It is worth noting that he was discharged directly from Harewood Hospital and the discharge bears the signature of Surgeon Reed B. Bontecou, whose medical photographs of wounded soldiers are well known to collectors.

Lastly, we include a copy of the pamphlet published for the first reunion of veterans of the 21st PA Cavalry, held in Gettysburg in 1890. Mowers had served with them for six months beginning in the Gettysburg Campaign and was active in the regimental veterans’ organization as well as his local G.A.R. post. The 1890 date of the reunion ties in nicely with the date painted on his canteen.

The canteen remains untouched, just as Mowers, or his family, decorated it and hung it up as a memento of his service as the twenty-fifth anniversary of the war approached, and perhaps spurred by the coming reunion with his cavalry comrades. The pamphlet, documents, and canteen are among the relics he brought back from his service and also gathered from the fields of Gettysburg, preserved by his family for another 129 years after his death. A few other items from the estate show painted decoration similar to that on the canteen, indicating they were on display in the house for visitors to admire- relics of war, but softened with some peaceful floral decoration. [sr]

Accompanied by military & pension records.

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