Old South Military Antiques

Identified 1st Regiment Virginia Volunteers Breastplate
Item #: OS-6569




In 1851, the Virginia legislature made an attempt at forming regiments of Volunteers but made little headway. The earliest regiment was the 1stRegiment Virginia Volunteers, organized on May 1, 1851. The 1st Regt. Virginia Volunteers was made up of men from the old militia system, including the Richmond Howitzers, Montgomery Guard, Richmond Light Infantry Blues, Virginia Rifles, Richmond Grays and the Fayette Artillery. These pre-War units were made up of the flower of Virginia’s aristocracy.

The 1st fought in all the major battles of the Army of Northern Virginia, including:

1st Manassas, Williamsburg, The Seven Days Battles, 2nd Manassas, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, The Siege of Petersburg and the Battle of Five Forks. The regiment saw its last day as a unit at the Battle of Sailor's Creek.

This particular plate was worn by John W. Burnett. John Burnett is buried here in Hanover County on the family farm.

John Burnett was a 21 year old gun maker and a member of the Richmond City Guard when he enlisted in the newly formed 1st Regiment Virginia Volunteers on April 21, 1861. John’s skill as a gun maker was recognized and he was placed on detached service to the ordnance department on July 29th, where he contributed his talents for the remainder of the War.

The plate that the regiment wore is made of sand cast brass. The letters on the face were cast in, but were then chased by an engraver. Afterwards the letters were filled with a black substance similar to dried pitch in order to accentuate the letters in black against the brass background. The pin affixed to the back of the plate was intended to pass through the white web bayonet and cartridge box belts which crossed at the wearer’s breast to hold them in place.

The plate is in perfect condition.


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