Collection of Union soldier Sulivan J. Wiley

A soldier’s belongings reunited by Texas collector

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Civil War soldier Sulivan J. Wiley fought with the 8th Massachusetts Infantry and 12th Maine Infantry between 1861 and 1863. Nearly 150 years later, a handful of his scattered belongings—a kepi, trunk, cross belt plate, and portrait—all made their way into the Civil War Collection of John Nau, III.

In 1861, following news of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter and President Lincoln’s subsequent call for 75,000 militia troops, Maine native Sulivan Wiley joined a Massachusetts militia unit, the Salem Light Infantry (also known as the Salem Zouaves). The unit volunteered for 90-days service and were added to the 8th Massachusetts Infantry. In June 1861, the company received new zouave style uniforms, typically consisting of a short blue jacket with red or gold trim, pantaloons, white gaiters, and a fez hat with tassel. Union and Confederate zouave regiments modeled their uniforms and light infantry tactics on the elite zouave battalions of the colonial French Army, who in turn based their uniform and tactics on Algerian soldiers in North Africa. Wiley received this red felt kepi with a dark blue band and gold braid at this time, as well as a Salem Light Infantry (SLI) cross belt plate.

At the end of 90 days, Wiley traveled to Boston with his unit and was discharged. He returned home to Maine where he enlisted as a sergeant in Company E of the 12th Maine Infantry on November 15, 1861. On January 2, 1862, Wiley and the 12th Maine journeyed south by ship to Mississippi and Louisiana where they joined Benjamin Butler’s Department of the Gulf. Wiley returned to Maine following a disability discharge on October 12, 1863. The trunk and the portrait of Wiley as a sergeant are from his service with the 12th.

Interestingly, the kepi and cross belt plate joined the Nau Civil War Collection in August 2004. It was not until August 2012, however, that the trunk and photograph (and several other small items) were discovered for sale and Wiley’s belongings reunited. Wiley’s collection reflects collector John Nau’s desire to bring together artifacts that tell the personal story of individual soldiers.

Selections from the Nau Civil War Collection are on display through February 4, 2018 in the Collectors’ Gallery, an exhibition space devoted to showcasing the collections of significant Texas collectors and their efforts to preserve historical artifacts.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Collection of Union soldier Sulivan J. Wiley Artifact from Houston
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