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

$65.00

Quantity Available: 1

Item Code: 1052-1112

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This piece of an Indian Wars soldier’s privately purchased shirt comes from the excavations at Fort Pembina, where anaerobic soil conditions have yielded cloth and leather in remarkable condition, offering real insight into the material culture of a small frontier army post in the years following the Civil War.

The piece is off-white or cream color, with a printed black design, though the colors may well have shifted. The edges show some tearing and some cutting, indicating it was likely salvaged for some other purpose before being discarded. There is a larger hole at bottom center and some smaller ones, but the piece is solid and displayable, showing stains and soiling, but clearly preserving its printed pattern of rows of rosettes joined by zig-zag or wavy rows of dense, but thin, spikey branches, with rows of small dots separating rows of floral elements.

Soldiers were allotted a certain number of issue shirts and had their pay docked for any drawn in excess, so there was some incentive to preserve them as long as possible, but comfort was likely a greater concern, as was style when off duty or on leaved. This likely dates to the fort’s active life of 1870-1895, though the earliest troops at the post were still carrying and being issued Civil War material.

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

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