|Detail showing letters "M.S." on Strap|
It appears that some officers took matters into their own hands and had shoulder straps made with the abbreviations of their departments on the field. No authority is known to exist approving this, but since officers purchased their own uniforms and there was practical valve in knowing whether you were addressing the regimental surgeon or the quartermaster, the practice appears to have been tolerated. Artifacts and photographic examples for these exist for nearly every department that used staff shoulder straps. Surgeons straps are perhaps the most common.
It is interesting that among the evidence that can be cited is the painting by Winslow Homer titled Playing the Old Soldier. Homer was a war correspondent and spent time at the front. He was an artist with an eye for both detail and the humor to be found in camp life. "Playing the Old Soldier" was a period term for malingering. Claiming to be ill was a way of avoiding duties in camp or battle. In addition, many period medications contained alcohol and often soldier presented themselves with symptoms that were known to be treated with liquor. The surgeons were fast to catch on and just as often dosed the suspected malingerer with something unpleasant. The painting above captures the encounter of the regimental surgeon and an "old soldier." Physicians of the time believed that the tongue held many clues to a persons health. Detail of the surgeon's shoulder strap shows that it has the gold leaves of a major (typical rank of a regimental surgeon) with the letters "M.S." between them.
The surgeon's uniform is not shown in great detail. It appears to be a single-breasted frock coat with a rolled collar. This is despite the officer being a major, who should be wearing a double-breasted coat if this were a regulation frock coat. No buttons are visible on the cuff, which is unusual . His pants are the correct dark blue of a staff officer rather than light blue of a line officer. He is wearing boots with boot straps on the outside. The two enlisted men are wearing sack coats and the correct light blue trousers. The recorder's kepi shows the regimental number "61" and the company letter "B." The soldier is depicted as a member of the 61st New York Infantry, which was commanded by Francis Channing Barlow, a Harvard classmate of Winslow Homer's brother Charles Homer. Soldiers wearing insignia of the 61st often appear in Homer's paintings.
|Metallic Surgeon's Strap||1861 photograph Surgeon of the 69th NY|
|Courtesy: Dr. Francis Lord||National Archives B484|
|Embroidered Assistant Surgeon's Strap||Surgeon David O. McCord|