FIRST LIGHT INFANTRY VETERANS COAT OF PROVIDENCE R.I. CA. 1870: “FOUR GENERALS, TWENTY-NINE FIELD OFFICERS, TWENTY-FOUR STAFF…”

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The First Light Infantry Veterans Association was organized in Providence, R.I., June 3, 1869, and consisted of former members with at least five years’ service in the First Light Infantry of Providence, R.I., and honorary members. That unit had furnished two complete companies to the First Rhode Island Detached Militia in April 1861 who fought at First Bull Run, with scores of members serving in other units as well. They reckoned that by the end of the war they had furnished, “four generals, twenty-nine field officers, twenty-four staff and one hundred forty-eight-line officers, besides one hundred twenty-three noncommissioned officers and privates…”

This double-breasted coat closely follows the Civil War pattern for a field officer’s coat using Rhode Island buttons and likely dates not long after the organization of the unit. The blue satinette body is lined in a green silk, perhaps black originally with the dye shifting color, with the upper body quilted and the skirts lining coming very close to the un-hemmed bottom. The sleeves are lined in a plain white cloth. The tails have pockets accessed from the inside. The coat is fastened by two rows of Rhode Island state seal buttons with D. Evans backmarks, which can date from the 1850s to post-Civil War, and have nice gilt color. The tails were fitted with four of these, of which one is missing. The cuffs, non-functional, each have three smaller versions. The low stand-up collar is secured at the bottom front by a hook and eye. The condition is excellent. We see just two very small moth nips on the lower back near the center seam.

The shoulder straps are Civil War style with gilt bullion embroidered borders with jaceron wire edges. The color of the embroidery and wire is excellent. The wire is all there, but needs to be tacked back in place in a couple of spots. Organized in 1869, the veterans’ group was formally incorporated by the state in 1882 as the First Light Infantry Association, which may give an upper date to the “F.L.I.V.” straps, but that may be only a formal legal distinction and the word “Association” was later dropped from the articles of incorporation by the state in 1902. Not all former members of the First Light Infantry joined the veterans’ group, of course, but by 1886 (Greene’s History of Providence) they numbered more than 400. Members took part in parades and field days, but also performed duties such as escorting the acting Governor of Rhode Island to the centennial celebrations at Bunker Hill in 1875. The organization seems to have lasted until 1940, at least that is the upper date of it in the Rhode Island Historical Society.

Their parent unit, the First Light Infantry, had a long history, first meeting April 21, 1818, adopting the name four days later, incorporating by the State Assembly in May, and first appearing on parade on July 4. They performed ceremonial escort duties, parades, drill exhibitions, hosted and visited other military groups, participating in ceremonies both in state and out of state such as the reception of Oliver Hazard’s Perry’s body at Newport or the Bunker Hill anniversary of 1843. They also performed more active service: in the Olney Street riots they fired into a mob, killing four, and were activated in the Dorr Rebellion.

The significant number of officers they furnished during the Civil War gives an idea of the social standing of their veterans in the community. This is an interesting coat that deserves a place in a Rhode Island collection or one devoted to Civil War veterans and their organizations.  [sr] [ph:L]

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