SILVER IDENTIFICATION SHIELD: JOHN H. KEYES, 18th MASSACHUSETTS

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Item Code: 1179-638

Roll call in Company F of the 18th Massachusetts must have been a headache: there were three men named John Keyes in the company. One had the middle initial A, but the other two both had the middle initial H. The Massachusetts records keep them separate by calling one John and one Jonathan. The company First Sergeant may have adopted that practice. We are not so sure the maker of this identification shield was so careful. The shield style is one of many that could be purchased from sutlers, jewelers and by mail order by soldiers who were not provided with a means of identification in the field by the government. This is made of thin sheet silver and measures 000 inches by 000 inches, with the shield bearing an impressed zig-zag border and beautifully engraved on the face, “JOHN H. KEYES / Co.F / 18th Regt / Mass Vols.” with the upper portion being in block letters and the lower in script, with the lettering ornamented with flourishes. The badge shows to have been excavated and carefully cleaned on the front to better show the engraving. The back is uncleaned and shows the bases of the T-bar pin and fastening hook. There is a small nick on the upper left and the badge shows to have been bent across the middle, producing a narrow crack running from the right about half-way across, but seems to be missing no metal and appear from the front more as a bend than a break. The damage was likely done when the badge was lost and both candidates were casualties: one wounded in action at Second Bull Run, and the other killed in action at Fredericksburg.

The soldier who was wounded survived to take a commission in the 10th USCT. He was an 18 year-old farmer from Dedham, Mass., when he enlisted as a private 4/19/1861 and mustered into Co. F as a private on 8/24/61. The 18th Mass organized in the Spring and Summer 1861, but only reached eight companies by August, who were nevertheless mustered in at that point and sent to Washington, where two more companies joined them only in October and January. They performed outpost and picket duty until March 1862, when they moved to the Peninsula as part of the 5th Corps. Their first serious fighting was at 2nd Bull Run, and it was a bloodbath, losing 169 men, including 54 killed or mortally wounded, in the attacks on Jackson’s lines along the railroad embankment. The wound kept him in the hospital at Broad and Clay St. in Philadelphia until October 1863, when he was honorably discharged to accept a commission as 1st Lieutenant in the USCT in November (records indicate both Nov. 10 and Nov. 19.) That unit served in the 18th Corps in the Dept. of VA and NC until joining the Army of the James in summer 1864, after which they took part in operations against Petersburg and Richmond. In December the corps was dissolved and the regiments segregated with the black troops going into the 25th Corps. In June 1865 they were among the forces posted to Texas, where they served until muster out in May 1866.

Our other candidate was 19 years-old and a “spinner” by profession (a weaver, we presume) when he enlisted, also on April 19 and mustered also on August 24. His service record says he, too, was from Dedham, but a note on CWData says he was from Lewiston, Maine. He made it through Second Bull Run and Antietam, where the regiment took some casualties in the pursuit of Lee on Sept. 20, but was killed in the disastrous attack on Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg, where the regiment lost another 134 officers and men, including 27 killed or mortally wounded.

This was formerly in the collections of the Texas Civil War Museum. We don’t have a find location for it, but if information should turn up in their files, we will pass it along. The unit is an interesting one- we note they were one of the units awarded chasseur uniforms for their proficiency on the drill field. They also saw heavy fighting, as the record of out two candidates attest.    [sr][ph:m]

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