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Item Code: 433-06
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This rare and unique uniform belonged to Corporal William Stephens of Co. I, 23rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry also known as “BIRNEY’S ZOUAVES.” The uniform consists of jacket, vest, trousers and gaiters.
The dark blue jacket is trimmed with bright red cord. The cord runs in two parallel lines approx. 0.75 of an inch apart entirely around the edge of the jacket. The inner line of cord twists into a tombeau on each side of the jacket opening in the area of the lower front. This cord continues along the back of the jacket outlining and anchoring two split vents. The shoulder seams and back seams are also outlined with this red cord. Each cuff is outlined in red cord with a single loop for decoration. The jacket is held closed by a single brass General Service Eagle button halfway down the front. Red cord is used to decorate the area around the button and is used on the opposite side as a button hole. Each sleeve has a pair of Corporal chevrons made of red ribbed tape. The jacket is lined on the inside with white cotton that has turned to a tan color from age and use. The center of the upper back is clearly marked in period ink “W. STEPHENS.” There is some wear in the area of the neck and some light stains on the lower right side. The left chest has a pocket with what looks to be an ink stain along the bottom edge. The above mentioned stains and wear are very minor. The exterior of the jacket is excellent with one or two minor moth bites in each shoulder. The top of the left sleeve has an area approx. 1.00 inch long where the seam has split. This can easily be repaired.
The matching vest is trimmed at the collar and down the front with the same red cord as the jacket. It fastens with nine small General Service Eagle "I" buttons. One button is loose but present while the other is missing. The vest also has two small pockets at the waist. The polished cotton back is marked "W. Stephens" on the inside in period ink. There is some deterioration to the back at the collar but this has been professionally conserved by textile expert Fonda Thomsen of Keedysville, Maryland. The rest of the vest is in very good condition with no visible moth damage. The back of the vest has the original adjustment buckle as well.
The dark blue wool trousers have the same red cord running down the outer seam of both legs as well as a sewn a 0.50 inch red stripe which reflects the rank of a Corporal. The trousers are pleated at the top and straight legged, with pockets in the outer seams and a small closure belt at the back vent. The waistband has a small watch pocket and is marked on the inside with period ink "W. Stephens.” All suspender and fly buttons are present. The trousers match the jacket and vest in condition.
With the uniform is a pair of white cotton gaiters with six bone buttons. These are typical of what would have been used with this rare uniform. They are in good condition, however, the heel strap on one is separated and the other is missing. All buttons are present.
William Stephens (spelled Stevens on his records) enlisted as a Private in Company I, 23rd Pennsylvania Infantry on August 13, 1861. He is first listed as a Corporal in October of 1861 though no exact date of promotion is given. He attained the rank of Sergeant on October 15, 1862 and served as Quartermaster Sergeant for his Company. The regimental history states that Stephens was wounded at Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864 but this does not appear in his records. He was mustered out at Philadelphia on September 8, 1864. During his time of service the regiment was engaged in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles before Richmond, Chantilly, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. During its service the 23rd Pennsylvania lost 188 men killed, died of wounds and disease.
After his discharge Stephens returned to Philadelphia and married in 1865. He applied for a pension due to an injury sustained while laying pontoon boats at Fredericksburg. His injury caused a problem with his kidney and he developed a tumor which eventually killed him. He died at the age of 48 on February 22, 1888 leaving behind his wife Catherine and 12 year old daughter, Maria.
Not long after beginning active duty in the field the men of the 23rd found their colorful uniforms to be impractical and slowly changed to Federal issue uniforms. Hence, Stephens’ Zouave uniform comes down to us in very good condition. This an exceedingly rare and unique opportunity to own an outstanding Zouave uniform from one of the most well-known and famous regiments of The Army of the Potomac and one that is ID’d to a soldier who was present throughout the regiments three year service. According to Stephens’ records he never missed a day! This item also comes from the collection of the late John Henry Kurtz who was a well-known collector of fine Civil War enlisted man’s artifacts. Full military and pension records accompany the uniform.
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