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Thursday, May 29 • 4:30pm - 5:00pm
(Textiles Session) From North to South: The conservation of Civil War Costume from the Tennessee State Museum

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In November 2013 Tennessee commemorates the 150th anniversary of the death of two important figures in both the Civil War and state history; General Patrick Cleburne and Sam Davis ‘the boy hero of the Confederacy’. The Museum holds the kepi that General Cleburne was wearing when he was killed in the Battle of Franklin and the great coat worn by Sam Davis, a Confederate courier who was caught and executed by Federal Troops.

The conservation of the artifacts was supported by the Tennessee Chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SVC) for events taking place at the Museum and off site. The two objects were both in very fragile condition and their conservation was considered an act of commemoration by the SVC. This paper will detail the conservation and analysis work undertaken and the management of a project that had to balance so many stakeholders and interested parties.

General Cleburne’s kepi was the first object to be worked on. Following examination on site and the submission of a treatment proposal, in-depth discussion of the treatment protocol between the conservator and curator ensued to assess the long-term consequences of treatment. The curator was very concerned that conservation should be minimal, enough to aid future preservation but not change the character of the object, and be sustainable in terms of the longevity of the materials being used, thereby reducing the need for future interventions. Preventive conservation was of course a critical aspect of the project, as a new mount was required to fully support the kepi on permanent display and also allow easier handling when necessary.
Sam Davis served in various combat roles in the Confederate army. As a courier for Coleman’s Scouts he was captured wearing a makeshift Confederate uniform and in possession of Union battle plans. Part of that uniform was a Union wool greatcoat that had been given to him by his mother. In very poor condition, dirty, structurally unsound and having been ‘souvenired’ consultation took place to determine what condition issues should be treated and what important information should be left in place. As was the case with the kepi, there was concern that intervention be kept to a minimum and that all materials used for the conservation and the new mount be long-lasting.

Towards the end of the War, with supply routes to the South limited the use of Union uniform parts by Confederate armies became commonplace. Family lore states that Sam’s mother had over-dyed the originally sky blue Union coat with a brown dye to make it appear more like a confederate issued coat. The truth to that story has always been in question and the origin of the coat is central to the legitimacy of his eventual execution, so an integral part of the project was to try and solve the mystery using Direct Analysis in Real Time – Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry, a newly developed method for identifying organic dye chromophores in natural fiber textiles.


Howard Sutcliffe

Principal Conservator, River Region Costume and Textile Conservation
Howard Sutcliffe holds a Post-graduate Diploma in textile conservation from the Textile Conservation Centre (TCC)/Courtauld Institute of Art and an MA in Museum and Gallery Management from City University, London. Since graduating from the TCC he has held positions at National Museums... Read More →

Thursday May 29, 2014 4:30pm - 5:00pm PDT
Seacliff A-B