PIECE OF PRIVATE PURCHASE SOLDIER’S HIGH RIBBED KNIT SHIRT FORT PEMBINA, NORTH DAKOTA

$395.00

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Item Code: 1052-1111

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Excavations at Fort Pembina in anaerobic soil conditions have yielded a number of expected and rare finds giving a glimpse of the material culture of a small US army frontier post during the Indian Wars. This includes a mix of issue uniforms and gear showing the issue of Civil War surplus transitioning into later experimental and issue patterns as well as lots of privately purchased items used by the garrison.

This is the remains of a high-ribbed knit shirt worn and later discarded by a member of the garrison. It is light brown color now, likely a shift of color, and shows holes, tears, and missing pieces, but clearly shows the nature of the fabric and much of the neck opening that was bound with fabric and secured at bottom with a large rectangle and a large figure “8” line of stitching, as well as two of the buttons used to close it. This seems clearly to be a privately purchased shirt used by a soldier to supplement his allotment of issue clothing, perhaps for extra warmth. Needless to say, it is hardly the sort of thing that would be preserved by a soldier as a memento of his army life, or even recognized by a collector as related to the frontier army, even though it may have been common and unremarkable to soldiers at the post. Army issue shirts had little going for them either in style or comfort. This likely dates 1870-1895, though early troops at the post were using Civil War gear and knit shirts are known to have been both issued and worn during the Civil War, and we do not know of any extant examples for comparison.

Situated in the Red River Valley in North Dakota near the Canadian border, Fort Pembina was established in 1870 and in operation until 1895. Trading posts existed earlier in the area as part of the fur trade, and the first U.S. military post there was temporary- manned by a detachment of Minnesota troops in 1863-1864 following the 1862 Sioux uprising. In March 1870 a new fort was established south of the Pembina River and about 200 yards west of the Red River, completed by July and named in honor of Gen. George H. Thomas. The name was changed to Fort Pembina in September and the initial garrison consisted of two companies of the 20th US Infantry. Their main duty was to provide security for settlers worried about Sioux returning south from Canada, but the troops were more occupied with escorting boundary surveys along the Canadian border and preventing Fenian raids heading north into Canada.

The fort included enlistedmen’s barracks, officers’ quarters, guard house, ordnance storehouse, company kitchen, root house, laundress’s quarters, quarters for civilian employees, hospital and hospital servant’s house, a barn for the “hospital cow,” quartermaster and commissary offices and storehouse, stables, wagon shed, etc. The garrison reached peak strength in 1878 af 200, but the average was about 125 enlisted men and 8 officers. An October 1885 return listed 97 men, 2 field pieces, 1 mountain howitzer, 100 rifles, 19 pistols, 23 mules, and 9 wagons. By 1890 the post had just 23 men, and after an 1895 fire destroyed some 19 buildings it was decided to abandon the fort rather than rebuild, the last detachment left in September. The property was turned over to the Interior Department and later sold in 1902.

This is in very good condition for an excavated piece, displayable, rare, and has a tight provenance to an Indian War post garrisoned by the U.S. army during 1870s and 1880s Indian Wars.  [sr][ph:L]

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