Case closed on hat and brother

We've got questions, guest blogger Harry Smeltzer has answers...

On McDowell's mystery headgear, he writes: "I found [this] in Detzer [Donnybrook], page 428. He gets the description from Averell’s Ten Years in the Saddle ..."
On the portico [Arlington House] was the solitary figure of a large man sitting on a chair with his arm hanging over the back of his bare head bowed on his breast. His flushed face and stentorian breathing indicated a profound slumber. At his feet lay a soiled helmet that had once been white and the metal lance-head on top of it was broken off.
Harry says, "The question is, Did Averell ever see the spike or is he assuming that it was broken off since he did not see one? It would appear that McDowell still had this or a similar hat one year later at 2nd Bull Run, where Union soldiers claimed he was signaling the enemy with his unusual headgear. ISTR that Hennessy describes the hat as wicker and looking like an inverted canoe. I don’t remember him mentioning a spike."

I'll look up that reference tonight. Could an "inverted canoe" describe a toppee? I don't think so - that description speaks more to some sort of custom headgear, some sort of straw Hornblower chapeau.

Tim Reese has more on America's love affair with the toppee:
Forgot to mention that the basic toppee shape is that which was later adopted by American cops, Keystone and otherwise. Just a blocked gray felt blank with a tin star stuck on the front. Brit Bobbies still wear a nearly identical version of the Army's 1881 Universal Pattern Helmet. Toppee, by the way - is Urdu for "clump of trees". I've been fascinated by this form since childhood. Very attractive to us graphics types. My example is attached, this from the Zulu War of 1879. I used to have half a dozen versions of this before I sold off my collection. Fascinating subject. They were so flimsy you could easily crush one between your hands. That's why so few originals have survived.
On the matter of McDowell's putative brother Col. John A., Harry Smeltzer writes: "I found mention of John McDowell in Wiley Sword’s Shiloh: Bloody April. On page 128 of the revised edition:
Portly Colonel John A. McDowell of the First Brigade [of Sherman’s division, 6th IA, 46th OH, 40th IL, 6th IN Battery] was the younger brother of General Irvin McDowell, leader of the Union army at First Bull Run. Yet John had only served briefly as a captain of an independent militia company about fifteen years earlier, and knew more about railroading than fighting. He held a low opinion of artillery and was fond of asking, "Whoever heard of a dead or wounded artilleryman?"
Harry says Sword's "source for this is a book by A. A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments. John McDowell is not listed in Heitman."

Last night my trail converged with Harry's at the doorstep of Simpson and Berliner's book Sherman's Civil War. I put the book down after a little checking, skeptical of finding the brotherly connection. Harry was more patient and produced this recap.
A footnote in “Sherman’s Civil War” says John was Colonel of the 6th Iowa. On page 341 is a letter from WTS to Irvin McDowell; Sherman notes that his brother John “is a good kind hearted Gentleman, full of zeal for our cause”, when he left him in command of a brigade at Oxford. Cump says he urged his name for promotion. A letter dated 3/13/63 “Camp before Vicksburg” says “that McDowell has resigned”, Simpson’s note saying that this was probably John who commanded a brigade in 15th Corps. The index to Sherman’s “Memoirs” (LOA edition) lists references to John under “McDowell, General J. A.”, but the text only refers to him as colonel. Sherman is complimentary of John in all the writings I looked at in these two books and in his report of Shiloh.
Gentlemen, I think this this calls for another cigar.