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C.S. Trans-Mississippi "Penitentiary" Jacket by N.J. Sekela
C.S. Trans-Mississippi "Penitentiary" Jacket by N.J. Sekela

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Product Code: SEKELA-009

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C.S. Trans-Mississippi "Penitentiary" Jacket by N.J. Sekela

Natural, coarse, un-dyed kersey wool penitentiary cloth, lined with coarse cotton. Impeccably patterned and constructed, all exposed seams are hand-stitched with a great deal of additional handwork throughout. Wooden buttons complete the beauty and authenticity of this jacket.

The Penitentiary Jacket is a garment without surviving examples and very little in the way of period images. No known photographic image survives although sketches of the garment exist from period lithographs and other like works. Additionally, these garments are mentioned in a good many letters and reports. Historians Fred Adolphus and Don Smith have both done a significant amount of research into Penitentiary Jackets and have concluded the following- the garments were constructed of a "military styled" pattern, the jackets featured little in the way of adornment or embellishment, and finally, there was no set number of buttons nor other points of uniformity. The shared trait of all Penitentiary items was the cloth of which they were made.

In January 1862, one of the first moves of the Military Board was to use the State Penitentiary at Huntsville, Texas for the manufacture of cloth and uniforms. [The first unit to be outiffted by the Penitentiary was the 18th Texas Cavalry on January 22, 1862.] Its inmates were put to work looming and weaving millions of yards of cloth to provide to the lacking people of the State of Texas as well as the Confederacy as a whole. Much of this fabric was sold or provided to families for personal needs. However, vast quantities were also transformed into jackets, trousers, and other badly needed uniform items for both State and Confederate forces. A large proportion of the cloth manufactured at Huntsville was undyed, both to speed production and reduce the cost of making it. Therefore, thousands of jackets and trousers were constructed of "natural" (or undyed) cotton jean cloth. Another advantage inherent in making uniform items from light colored, cotton cloth was the comfort of the combatants. Trans-Mississippi soldiers on garrison or on campaign in the torrid summer heat of Texas or the thick, muggy humidity of the Louisiana cane breaks no doubt appreciated any relief afforded them. Thus, Penitentiary uniforms were a very common sight in the states west of the Big Muddy. Moreover, there is building evidence which indicates similar types of uniforms were worn by troops east of the Mississippi as well. Several letters and diaries make mention of Confederate troops clad in white uniforms, particularly around the time of the Chickamauga campaign. Finally, it is important to remember that these garments were not known as "Penitentiary Coats" during the time of the war. Rather, that term is one crafted by modern historians and material culturists as an identifier.

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