ON CUSTER’S ESCORT! WILLIAM WATLINGTON, 3rd INDIANA CAVALRY, THIRD CAVALRY DIVISION HQ ESCORT AND ORDERLY, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC

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Item Code: 915-06

This grouping includes a great outdoor quarter-plate tintype of William Watlington, 3rd Indiana cavalry, uniformed and armed, astride his horse; another armed photo od him during earlier service in the 55th Ind. Infantry; his cavalry saber belt with a cartridge box; his California or Mexican style spurs; a CDV of Custer and souvenirs from Custer’s headquarters; his army discharge; his GAR hat cord; and copies of his extensive 1863-1865 diary notes that he turned into a regimental history.

Watlington (1842-1930) served in the three-month 55th Indiana in 1862 and reenlisted in the 3rd Indiana Cavalry in June 1863, though before actually joining that regiment he was briefly in a group of volunteers from the Madison, Indiana, area armed with Henry rifles who scouted the flanks of Morgan’s column in his raid through Indiana. In October he and other recruits joined the six companies of the regiment attached to the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac. As chronicled in his journal/regimental history, a copy of which is included, more than 160 pages, he took part in various patrols and picket duty as well as the cavalry raids on Richmond and the Weldon Railroad in early 1864 and the extensive cavalry operations at the beginning of Grant’s Overland Campaign in May 1864.

In July 1864, the battalion was consolidated to two companies, with Watlington’s Co. B assigned in August as escort at General Wilson’s 3rd Division HQ, where Watlington was also designated one of twelve mounted orderlies, often carrying orders and messages, a particularly dangerous job after the command moved into the Shenandoah in late August to deal with Early: forces were spread out and lines of communication were frequent targets. Watlington continued this duty after Custer took over the 3rd Division in September and remained on duty with the escort for the rest of the war. His journal/regimental history is detailed and includes several close calls as well as praise for Custer’s role in the fighting in the Valley up through Waynesboro, with references to Mosby and Rosser, and in the Appomattox campaign.

A ninth plate tintype shows Watling during his first enlistment, June 1 to Sept. 6, 1862, in Company A 55th Indiana, a 3-month regiment. He wears a 4-button fatigue blouse and holds up a musket for the camera while cocking the hammer. He has switched his cartridge box sling and bayonet around to make them appear correctly oriented. He has an infantry horn and two numerals on his cap, reversed by the tintype. The photographer lightly gilded his US belt plate and hat insignia. The latter, once reversed again, seems to read “54” rather than “55,” which is likely a mistake by the photographer’s assistant, but could reflect some changes while the unit was being organized: an 1896 pension document, signed by Watling also lists his regiment as the 54th, which he then corrects in another affidavit two months later. The image is very clear and clearly resembling Watlington in the other image, with only one tiny spot at left and upper right, neither anywhere near the figure. The regiment first guarded prisoners from Fort Donelson at Camp Morton, but was sent to Kentucky in August and as part of Mahan’s brigade were involved in the defeat at Richmond, with most of the regiment, likely including Watlington, being captured and paroled. The image was originally housed in a broken leatherette case. It was rehoused by a collector in a thermoplastic figural case that is slightly loose on the hinge and has one crack near the spring.

Watlington reenlisted 11 June 1863, at Madison, IN, as a recruit for the six companies of the 3rd Indiana Cavalry serving in the Army of the Potomac. He was mustered in August 5 and joined the regiment in the field in October, being assigned to Company E. In the quarterplate tintype Watlington wears a slouch hat pushed back slightly to reveal clearly his whole face, and wears a saber hanging from his saber belt, complete with shoulder strap. His jacket is a regulation mounted shell jacket and a set of issue saddlebags is very clearly shown at the rear of his McClellan saddle. The ground is open behind him in the center and right. At left appear some tents and soldiers, along with a tall flag pole. The image is excellent, with no emulsion issues, and very clear, shading a little dark, but with great detail. It is matted, glassed, and framed in half a leatherette case with geometric and floral motifs on the back and gilt blindstamped edges.

Watlington’s saber belt, originally black, now oxidized toward brown, is complete with buckle, tightener loop, keeper, and both slings in place. The buckle and keeper have a matching patina and fit perfectly, but different bench numbers, indicating it was switched at some point in the period, likely while cleaning gear, something not uncommon in real field-used gear. Watlington also modified his belt by adding snap hooks pilfered from link straps to make it easier to attach and remove a saber. Lastly, he mounted a M1861 infantry cartridge box with its original plate on the belt. This has the initials “AK” scratched on the outer flap and was likely a pick-up by Watlington or liberated from a careless infantryman. The latch tab is broken and one buckle partially detached, but is in otherwise good condition, matching the belt. The box has no magazine tins and given Watlington’s frequent duty as courier he likely used it as dispatch case, though it would certainly hold more ammunition than the standard cartridge box or allow him to carry both carbine and pistol cartridges in one box. (He mentions several times carrying pistol, carbine, and saber.)

Along with this are his California or Mexican style spurs. These were commercially available and marketed to soldiers, most notably in the 1864 Schuyler, Hartley and Graham catalogue, but are also clearly shown by Alexander Gardner on the heels of Lt. Wright of Averell’s cavalry in camp at Westover Landing in 1862. These are plated iron, with the double instep chains in place, and still have their wide, embossed leather two-piece spur straps that fit over the top of the foot and buckle to hold the spur in place. The spurs omit the bobs sometimes hung from the neck at the rowel, which added to the sound effects, but were a liability in military service.

Watlington was active in the GAR after the war. His GAR hatcord is in the group along with a 1905 souvenir booklet from an Indiana GAR encampment. He also preserved his original discharge from the 3rd Indiana cavalry dated 7 August 1865 and held in a commercially made cardboard “U.S. Army Discharge Shield.”

He apparently visited old battlefields in 1913. Three small pieces, likely taken from the ruins of the Ward house, mentioned by him in his diary, are in an envelope that had been addressed to him, which he labelled in pencil on the reverse: “Pieces of Mortar, Brick & Plastering from House in which Gen. Custer had his Headquarters- winter 1864 & 65. This house burned about 1893. Collected July 1913 by Wm. Watlington.” He also retained a Civil War CDV of Custer with a tax stamp on the reverse. There is no backmark, but the image is usually dated to May 1865 and credited to Goldin. Custer wears his major general’s frock coat and is seated, one arm resting on the photographer’s chair, with broad brimmed hat turned up on one side.  [sr] [ph:m]

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