Richmond Howitzers Knapsack
White stenciled lettering on the leather flap of this Civil War–era knapsack identifies the owner as being a member of the Richmond Howitzers. The knapsack belonged to John Henry "Jack" Vest, a farmer from Louisa County, who enlisted as a private in Company H of the 1st Virginia Volunteer Regiment on April 21, 1861—four days after Virginia seceded from the Union, and the day that Colonel John B. Baldwin, of Staunton, the state's inspector general of volunteers, mustered the unit into state service. When the Richmond Howitzers were expanded into a separate battalion just weeks later and divided into three companies, Vest was assigned to the 2nd Company. By February 1863 he had risen to the rank of sergeant, but he died the following October of typhoid fever. Vest had brought to camp with him a slave named Aleck Kean, who served as his body servant and as a cook in the company mess. Kean remained with the Howitzers after his master's death and until the end of the war.
The back of this knapsack is made of painted black canvas atop a pine frame. Though the leather straps are dry and broken and the steel buckles are rusted, the lettering on the front of the knapsack remains vivid. The official uniform of the Howitzers, which had to be purchased by every member of the unit, included a gray frock coat and trousers with black and red trim, and a gray fatigue cap trimmed in red. Other accoutrements included white trousers for summer dress uniform, white gloves, an overcoat, and a knapsack.