Last week’s tease mentioned that I’d solved a persistent mystery. Ah … I really thought I had the answer to the Texas mystery. Late last year I ran a three-installment story about these two men in their embroidered shirts. In the first piece, I showed you the pictures and mentioned some possible solutions. The following week I raised a couple of other issues. The third installment focused on readers’ suggestions.
A couple of weeks ago I was browsing through a book, Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War by T. J. Stiles. One of the illustrations is a photo of the outlaw “Bloody Bill” Anderson, and he’s wearing an embroidered guerrilla shirt from the Civil War. I immediately jumped up and thought, “Oh, gosh, that’s it!” The two men in their shirts could be guerrillas fighting for the Confederacy.
It seemed logical. The tintypes date from the Civil War, and Dr. Francis Montgomery was a Confederate officer for a short time before he was sent home ill with diabetes.
But was this new theory true? I picked up the phone and called the Museum of the Confederacy. Curator Robert Hancock was able to explain a few things about embroidered guerrilla shirts. He’d never seen anything like these two shirts before and really doubted that these two were Confederate guerrillas. Oh, DRAT!
He told me that guerrillas wore whatever they wanted to. Since they weren’t sanctioned by the Confederacy, they weren’t issued any uniforms. They worked outside the Confederate military establishment.
While he wasn’t familiar with these two shirts, he was able to tell me a fascinating fact: During the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s, some young men wore embroidered shirts. Hancock told me that this fashion statement was akin to the shirts of the 1960s. In the 19th century, young men rebelling against the white shirts and black frock coats their fathers wore would wear embellished shirts. There were even outlandish printed shirts in England. Some of these featured skulls and crossbones, snakes and other outrageous designs. I’d love to see one of these 19th-century shirts!
There were other similar shirts to the one’s worn here. Battle shirts for men and those worn by firemen could feature some designs. Hancock was quick to say that these two men are wearing very unusual floral pattern motifs that don’t fit either category.
The big problem with these shirts is that while the shirts and the pictures are identical in many ways, the embroidery is not. So who are these guys and why the shirts? Perhaps we’ll never know.