Jack Vernon’s Coat
By: Steven Curtis and Christopher Vernon
Nineteen year-old Jack Vernon had his photo taken in his new uniform
John Murray Vernon was born August 21, 1841 on his parents’ farm in Millbrook,Illinois then called “Camden”. The area was known as Camden because many of the early settlers, including John’s parents, had come from Camden, S.C. in 1833 and 1834.
His parents, William Vernon, a Scottish immigrant, and Sarah Murray Vernon, the daughter of a slaveholder who later freed his slaves, moved to Illinois from South Carolina in 1833. Her father, James Syng Murray, and others of her brothers and sisters moved to Illinois in 1834. The Murray family had split over slavery and states rights: some stayed in South Carolina or moved to Alabama, thus creating a family-against-family scenario which would later play out at the Battle of Resaca in 1864.
The Vernons and Murrays settled on small farms along the Fox River, about 50 miles southwest of Chicago. John’s father was an indifferent farmer, and was more successful running a pioneer store. In the mid-1840s, William Vernon gave up his farm and store and moved to Chicago, where he became an accountant for the Frink & Walker stagecoach line, which at this time was one of the Midwest’s largest.
In April 1861, John, known as “Jack” to his friends, was a nineteen year-old bank clerk in Chicago. Caught up in the spirit of the times, he joined Taylor’s Battery of the Chicago Light Artillery, later known as Battery B, 1st Illinois Light Artillery. Israel Rumsey, later Captain of the Battery remembers Jack in his memoirs,
"Col. Taylor said we could take the muster rolls, enlist the men, and agreed to take command of the Battery. Taking the muster rolls I put my name down first on April 23, 1861, and soon secured the required number. Among them were Samuel E. Barrett, Levi W. Hart, William Chandler, and so on. I remember well the circumstances surrounding the enlistment of those men but others I have forgotten. Among the many who came to the Armory to enlist were Jack Vernon, Albert Dickenson and Charlie Pierce and they are all alive today and belong to the Birthday Dinner Squad. Henry Dudley must have been amongst us then too, we all came from the First Church.” (1) Jack’s older brother, William Blanding Vernon, also was involved with the Artillery. He had joined the Chicago Light Artillery, Battery A.
In June of 1862 through November of 1862 Battery “B” served Garrison duty in Memphis, Tennessee. During this time the majority of the men from Taylor's Battery marched en mass to one of the local photographers in Memphis to have their images struck. With groups of 5 or 6 seated at a time, 29 cartes de visite were taken. A total of 147 enlisted men and NCOs had their pictures taken that day. (2)
Frank and Charles Affeld
E. P. Wilcox Sgt. James F. Whittle A. B. Wilcox
Memphis, Tn. 1862
The cdvs in this collection show that most of the jackets issued to them at this time were a variant on the standard issue shell jacket. The Revised Regulations for the Army of the United States 1861 gives the following description of a Mounted Service Jacket,
An example of a Regulation Mounted Service Jacket (Author’s Collection)
“1455. All Enlisted Men of the Cavalry and Light Artillery shall wear a uniform jacket of dark blue cloth, with one row of twelve small buttons on the breast placed at equal distances; stand-up collar to rise no higher than to permit the chin to turn freely over it, to hook in front at the bottom, and to slope the same as the coat-collar; on the collar, on each side, two blind button-holes of lace, three-eights of an inch wide, one small button on the button-hole, lower button-hole extending back four inches, upper button-hole three and a half inches; top button and front ends of collar bound with lace three-eights of an inch wide, and a strip of the same extending down the front and around the whole lower edge of the jacket; the back seam laced with the same, and on the cuff a point of the same shape as that on the coat, but formed of the lace; jacket to extend to the waist, and to be lined with white flannel; two small buttons at the under seam of the cuff, as on the coat cuff; one hook and eye at the bottom of the collar; color of lace (worsted), yellow for Cavalry, and scarlet for Light Artillery.”(3)
The jackets that appear to be the majority in these cdvs are jackets with 11 buttons not 12. Jackets of similar construction were produced at the St. Louis Arsenal, which of course would be a likely source for western troops. Jack Vernon’s Mounted Service Jacket appears to have similar attributes of a Mounted Service Jacket from the St. Louis Arsenal. Jack Vernon’s Mounted Service Jacket is constructed following the standards set by the Regulations of a 6 piece body and two part sleeves.
Overall body measurements are 20 ¼” down the back following the center seam from the top of the collar to the bottom of the jacket. The front of the jacket measures 18” from the bottom of the collar along the seam by the coat buttons to the bottom of the jacket. Speculation is that this was done for vanity reasons. Jack was only 5’1” tall at the time of enlistment. Also, with the shorter body of the Mounted Service Jacket there are only 10 buttons instead of 11 as in the St. Louis Depot issue or 12 buttons as in the prescribed Regulations.
The Published Regulations describe the collar of a Mounted Service Jacket as having a “stand-up collar to rise no higher than to permit the chin to turn freely over it, to hook in front at the bottom, and to slope the same as the coat-collar; on the collar, on each side, two blind button-holes of lace, three-eights of an inch wide, one small button on the button-hole, lower button-hole extending back four inches, upper button-hole three and a half inches” (4)
The collar on Jack’s Mounted Service Jacket is a stand up collar but has been shortened from the regulation height to 1½” in the back and 1¼” in the front. In addition to this change to the collar there is only one “False” button hole on the collar with the scarlet lace extending 3¾ inches back.
On Vernon’s jacket going down the front there should be 10 small artillery buttons. Each has an eagle and shield but no “A” in the shield. The buttons are not marked by any manufacturer. Unfortunately, this coat only retains 8 of the 10 buttons the coat was made with. The first button is 1 inch from the collar with the last button being attached just above the trimmed edge on the bottom of the jacket. All the button holes are hand stitched and do not look to have been done by a professional.
The sleeves of the jacket have nonfunctional cuffs and no buttons sewn on them to even give the illusion of a functional cuff. Each cuff of the jacket has the prescribed chevron trim that is 2” on the back and 4½”at the point of the chevron. The sleeves have a cuff sewn ½”from the end.
On Vernon’s jacket going down the back at the end of 15” of scarlet lace is a pillow shaped bolster which is one of the distinguishing attributes of a Mounted Service Jacket. The chief job of the bolsters was to support the saber belt of the Artilleryman. The bolster is 2-3/8” long and 1” wide. The top and bottom of the bolsters are trimmed in scarlet lace as the jacket. It looks as if the trim on the edge of the jacket is sewn right onto the bottom of each bolster as is the trim that runs down the back of the jacket to the top of each.
The lining of Vernon’s jacket seems to have been a white cotton cloth but has now turned to a tan to brown color with age. There is no size stamped, inspectors name or arsenal indicated on the inside of this coat. Speculation is that Vernon’s jacket is actually a privately purchased item.
Jack Vernon served faithfully with the 1st Illinois Light Artillery seeing action at Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Resaca to name a few. During the Battle of Resaca (5/13 through 5/15 1864), Jack Vernon and Taylor’s Battery fought with conspicuous bravery. Also at Resaca, Jack’s uncle, Alfred Rudulph Murray, Adjutant of the 38th Alabama Infantry, was involved in the battle. Alfred Murray was shot through both hips which invalided him for the rest of his life. Alfred Murray was the younger half-brother of Jack Vernon’s mother. Research has not revealed whether Vernon’s Illinois battery and Murray’s Alabama infantry actually faced one another at Resaca.
John Murray Vernon mustered out after the Atlanta campaign, in July 1864, along with most of Taylor’s Battery. He returned to Chicago, where he married, had a family and pursued a career as a banker.
The Civil War, and his membership in Taylor’s Battery, was clearly a defining point in Vernon’s life. He was very active in the GAR, and in the Taylor’s Battery Association. He was heavily involved in the planning of the annual picnics held on the lawn of Israel Rumsey’s estate in Lake Forest and other social gatherings including the Reunion dinner held in Chicago on the 6th of November, 1886. This was the 25th anniversary of Battery B’s first battle, which was the Battle of Belmont. Jack was also involved in the procurement and placement of the Taylor’s Battery monument at the Shiloh Battlefield in Tennessee. After spending his later years insuring that his fellow battery members were remembered, Jack died in Wilmette, Illinois on November 21, 1921.
Invitation to the Taylor’s Battery Reunion held on November 6th 1886 (Author’s Collection)
(1) The unpublished The Autobiography and Civil War Letters of Israel Parsons Rumsey (courtesy of the Lake Forest - Lake Bluff Historical Society
(2) The Uniforms of Battery B, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, 1862. by Richard K. Tibbals Military Collector and Historian, 38 (Summer 1986), pp. 88-92.
(3) The Revised Regulations For The Army of the United States 1861
(4) The Revised Regulations For The Army of the United States 1861
(5) Christopher Murray Vernon owner of the jacket and supplier of background information on Vernon family