A WEST VIRGINIA SOLDIER’S WARTIME SOUVENIR: A CS WOOD CANTEEN FOUND AT RICHMOND IN 1865

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Item Code: 1097-21

It is very symbolic that a Virginian who had remained loyal to the Union carved a captured Confederate canteen in Richmond, Virginia, on July 4, 1865, the anniversary of the newly re-united nation’s birth. This canteen, along with Naish’s writing portfolio, recently came out of a longtime, respected central New York collection and bears a great inscription on one face reading, “Wm. NAISH Co. A 11 W.V.V.I. RICHMOND VA.” In the center Naish has added, “JULY THE / FOURTH / 1865.”

William Naish (sometimes recorded as Nash, and once misread by record-keepers as “Noist”) was born in 1845. His father was a farmer in Pleasants County, then Virginia. He served in two West Virginia infantry units: Co. A of the 11th and, briefly in Co. E of the 10th. Some records have him enlisting 5/1/62, but muster rolls indicate he joined 6/2/63 at Parkersburg, WV. (An entry for July 1863 indicates he received a $25 bounty plus $4 “for presenting himself as a recruit.” It is thus possible that he had enrolled in some fashion in May 1862 when the regiment was being organized, but did not join and muster in until his eighteenth birthday.) He was present with the company June 1863 to the end of March 1864, when he goes into the hospital. This would place him in the ranks for operations against Morgan in July 1863 that included a number of small engagements. He returns to duty May 31, just after Cloyd’s Mountain, in time to move into the Shenandoah with the regiment and see action at Snickers Ferry and Kernstown, among others, before joining Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign where the regiment saw action at Winchester and Cedar Creek. He is hospitalized again from October 1864 into March 1865, rejoining the regiment as part of the 24th Army Corps in the Army of the James in the later stages of Petersburg Campaign, where it took part in the assault on Petersburg, High Bridge, and Appomattox.  During its service the regiment lost 4 officers and 63 enlistedmen killed or mortally wounded.

Elements of the 24th Army Corps were among the first Union troops into Richmond and occupied it for some time. Whether Naish acquired the canteen earlier and was carrying it as a souvenir or found it in Richmond is unknown, but the carving implies he picked it up there and he certainly chose an appropriate memento and date to commemorate. Wood canteens with simple lathe-turned faces and staves held in place around the perimeter with iron bands were relatively simple and were made throughout the south. They were readily recognizable and became the quintessential piece of Confederate gear and war trophy for Union soldiers. The wood on Naish’s is dark and in good condition with just expected handling marks, slight shrinkage gaps from dryness, and some chipping at the spout. The iron bands holding the slats are in place and secure. The three narrow iron straps that acted as brackets for a shoulder strap are gone, but it is plain to see where they were mounted, the wood being lightly carved out to permit their ends to pass under edge bands, where they would have been bent up slightly at the outside edge to retain them and keep the bands in position. Whatever stopper was in it when issued to the Confederate soldier has been replaced by the tin-capped stopper with pull ring from a Federal canteen that still has some of its retaining cord.

Naish carved his unit as the “11 W.V.V.I.,” taking pride in his regiment and its status as  “Veteran Volunteer Infantry,” from re-enlistments of its members, though technically he had been transferred to Co. E of the 10th West Virginia a short time before, “by order of Gen. Gibbon.” This was likely a consolidation necessary after men whose time had expired were mustering out: higher numbered units traditionally were taken into the lower numbered units. For Naish, of course, bookkeeping could not override regimental pride, though he appears on rosters of the 10th as mustering out in Richmond on 8/9/65.

Nash returned to West Virginia and farming, married and had at least three children. He died July 13, 1906, and is buried in Pleasants County, WV. We include with the canteen a small, wartime, writing portfolio that was also part of Naish’s effects. This pattern has embossed leather covered boards with a brass key latch bearing Naish’s name scratched in. This folds open exposing an interior pocket and a flat writing surface. The exterior is very good, but the interior shows wear and the fabric gussets have deteriorated. Still, this is a nice example of soldier’s camp gear and writing gear that is legitimately identified and it belongs with the canteen that he obviously treasured as a memento of his service.

This is a classic Confederate canteen with a great inscription.  [sr]

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