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Lot 9    

Civil War Cavalry Officer's Nine-Button Frock Coat Belonging to Capt. Henry B. Hays, 6th US Cavalry
4/30/2014 - Firearms and Militaria: Live Salesroom Auction
Heavy navy blue wool cavalry officer's nine-button single-breasted frock coat with "Smith's Patent" captain shoulder straps and custom captain cuff braids in black silk.  Gilt buttons are marked "Schuyler Hartley & Graham N.Y."  Skirt measures 19.5" to rough edge.  Bell-shaped elbows measuring 9.5".  Back of coat has custom braiding right below the color and above the center vent. Vent has two buttons at top and middle of the vent.  Coat has three-button non-serviceable cuffs. The lining is a very dark olive, almost charcoal in color with a close quilt pattern throughout the chest and shoulders. Sleeves are lined in white and collar is lined in black velvet. On the left inside of jacket there is a leather belt with brass clip (right side missing).  Marked on the inside of right sleeve in ink : "Captain H. B. Hayes 6th Cavalry U.S. Army."

Henry Blake Hays (1829-1881) was a Pennsylvania-born diplomat, soldier, and wealthy coal baron whose extensive business interests encompassed banking, mining and railroads. Hays is best remembered for opening up the coal fields of Allegheny region and by extension building the system of narrow gauge railroads that efficiently transported the coal from the mines to the market.

Trained as a Civil Engineer, Henry Hays started his career as a diplomat. In 1850 he was was appointed attaché to the American Legation in Copenhagen later serving a private secretary to the US Minister to Denmark. Thanks to his linguistic ability, Hays traveled far afield during his early diplomatic career visiting the cities of the Byzantine Holy Land, exotic Egypt, and the Russia Empire in the wake of the Crimean War. In 1857 he returned home to employ his civil engineering credentials and immediately set to work building narrow gauge railroads as the coal industry sat posed on the cusp of expansion.

With the advent of the Civil War Henry Hays used his connections to obtain a regular commission as Captain in the 3rd US Cavalry in May 1861 which was rejected on the grounds of seniority by the Senate. On August 5, 1861 Hay’s was reappointed Captain in the newly organized 6th US Cavalry then being raised at Pittsburgh, but prevaricated and took over a month to accept. During Hays’ tenure the regiment served exclusively in the Army of the Potomac participating in over one hundred fifteen engagements including every notable fight and raid undertaken by the ardent troopers of Cavalry Corps. The Northern press soon became enamored by the exploits of the Cavalry Corps where glory abounded amidst reputations that ebbed and flowed among its flamboyant crop of leaders.

Hays must have speculatively been perceived as something of an outsider—an untried regular—as he remained in Pittsburgh on recruiting duty until January 1862 and periodically thereafter as mustering and disbursing officer posted to less glowing administrative duties according to his Military Record (1873). However, Hays’ Dictionary of American Biography reads differently—as if it were embellished— asserting that he was present with the 6th Cavalry from “Williamsburg, Mechanicsville, Hanover Court House, where he was recommended for promotion, Malvern Hill, South Mountain, Culpepper Court House, Upperville, Chancellorsville , Brandy Station and Beverly Ford. Unfortunately, Hay’s National Archive military records seem never to have been acquired.

The records agree that Captain Hays served on the Staff of General Pleasanton from October 1863 until July 1864. A well published Brady view of Hays sporting a luxuriant mustache in the company of Pleasanton and with other staff members illustrates that Hays deliberately stood out. The captain’s uniform coat sports non-regulation sleeve braiding with a large shield badge. He wears the mother of all slough hats, a Texas-style wide brimmed slouch hat with fashionable upturned sides featuring a target-sized oval embroidered crossed sabers insignia. The Official Records prove that Pleasanton thought very highly of Captain Hays when the general later wrote to the Secretary of War: “A very gallant and deserving gentlemen, who served throughout the late rebellion in the regular army and has since resigned; was so distinguished for his zeal, ability and great gallantry that I beg respectfully to recommend his case for the following brevets…” The Dictionary of American Biography further asserts that Hays was awarded “gallantry” brevets for the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam, and Gettysburg, adding that General McClellan had previously recommended that he be brevetted for “gallantry” at Williamsburg. Not one of these brevets are confirmed in Heitman or the Military Record.

Nothing in the short file of post-war paperwork that accompanies his resignation letter supports the multitude of battlefield claims and brevets excepting one endorsed by General Pleasanton, and never acted upon. While on Pleasanton staff Captain Hays served intermittently as ordinance officer and provost-marshal “and commissary of musters of the cavalry corps.” The enigmatic Hays obtained a surgeon’s certificate of disability and formally resigned from the Army on July 4, 1864. His biography, written when he had attained significant wealth and influence, also makes a number of post-war claims regarding subsequent military service as “inspector of Pennsylvania State troops…with the rank of lieutenant colonel” and afterwards into 1876 as “inspector general, department of Pennsylvania” as colonel. None can be verified with the records at hand.

With the opening era of post-war industry driven by westward expansion—railroads and factories powered by coal—Henry Blake Hay’s was poised to achieve infinitely more success in civilian life. He soon became Owner-President of the H.B. Hays and Brothers Coal Railroad engaged in mining and shipping, and as a director of the Pittsburgh, Virginia and Charleston Railway, as well as several large banks—collectively netting Hays fortune and influence in the early days the "gilded age."

Hays married in the daughter of the former Mayor of Pittsburgh in 1869 and built a baronial county home that he named “Sutherland Hall.” He became a member of the prestigious MOLLUS organization, but his association with the GAR is only presumed. He died a few days short of his 52nd birthday on August 10, 1881 and was laid to rest in Allegheny Cemetery (Section 19, Lot 100), Pittsburgh. His widow, Mary Howard Hays, lived until 1921 and a surviving daughter until 1939.

There are three lots (9, 10, 11) of Henry Blake Hays' uniforms, all from the same source. A handwritten letter of provenance relating specifically to Lot 9., the Captain’s frock coat, accompanies the group.


Provenance:  
T. Haas to Consignor 2007


Condition:  
Left shoulder Smith's Patent strap needs to be re-attached on the back side of coat. The 3rd button hole from the skirt shows period repair.  No apparent signs of mothing or thinning of wool material. Overall condition of coat is excellent.
Sold: $6,462.50
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