Action at Bloody Bridge

My profile of James Harvey McKee of the 144th New York Infantry, which appears in the current print issue of the Civil War News, is now available online.

An excerpt: “The New Yorkers peered through the dim morning light obscured by heavy fog and gunsmoke and saw what appeared to be the forms of men ahead. Some believed that the shadowy figures were members of their own picket line and cried out to stop firing. They soon discovered their error. McKee and the rest of the 144th reacted with a volley, and fired off a couple more. This appeared to drive the gray troops away. The Confederates had not however withdrawn, but had moved around the unsupported left flank of the regiment and caught the New Yorkers off their guard.”

McKee from my Flickr Photostream:
James H. McKee

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New to My Collection: A Boy’s Best Friend

The subject of this carte de visite by J.H. Crittenden of Fall River, Massachusetts, is an earnest boy who sits cross-legged on the floor of the photographer’s studio. His left arm is draped across the shoulders of a big dog with his head turned in a submissive manner towards his young master. A collar is just visible about the dog’s neck.

This portrait is now available on Pinterest, Tumbler, and Flickr:
A Boy's Best Friend

New to My Collection: Children of Kentucky

In this carte de visite by I.B. Webster of Louisville Kentucky, four smiling children pose for the camera operator. Their names are written in pen on the cardboard mount: B. Lewis, F. Shively, J. Camp, M. Camp

This portrait has been added to my Flickr Photostream:
Children of Kentucky

New on Disunion: The Last 15 Feet at Vicksburg

wrightMy profile of Joseph Cornwall Wright is now available. A prosperous and popular Chicago entrepreneur, Wright made a rousing war speech in early 1862 that led to the formation of the Seventy-second Illinois Infantry. A modest man, he declined the colonelcy due to his lack of military experience and instead served as lieutenant colonel and second-in-command. The Seventy-second wound up in Vicksburg and suffered major losses during the ill-fated assault against the stronghold on May 22, 1863.

An excerpt from the story reveals an exchange between Wright and Brig. Gen. Thomas E.G. Ransom before the attack. The exchange was recounted by Maj. Joseph Stockton of the Seventy-second:

Wright and Ransom sat with other regimental and staff officers on the sweltering morning of May 22 and discussed the pending attack. The main topic of conversation was most likely the finalization of plans for the participation of the 72nd and the rest of Ransom’s Brigade in Grant’s full-scale assault set for that afternoon. Major Stockton attended the impromptu gathering and recalled, “We all knew we were to assault the rebel works, and that there would be bloody work.”

The conversation continued. Stockton recalled that Ransom noticed an especially fine field glass carried by Wright. Ransom turned to Wright and, perhaps in an effort to ease tensions, jocosely remarked, “Colonel, if you are killed I want you to leave that glass to me.” The good-natured Wright replied, “All right.” Stockton chimed in: “Stop, Colonel, you forget you left that to your boy when you made your will at Memphis,” where the 72nd had spent part of the last winter. “That is so,” said Wright in acknowledgment of the promise he had made to his 13-year-old son, John. The discussion presumably turned back to the grim work ahead before breaking up.

Read the full story of Wright and his war experience.

New on My Flickr Photostream: A Pennsylvania Cavalry Officer Killed in Tennessee

Amos B. Rhoads (1836-1863) started his war service as a sergeant in the Eleventh Pennsylvania Infantry, a regiment organized for a three-month term of enlistment in the spring of 1861. He returned to the army later that year as a first lieutenant in the Seventh Pennsylvania Cavalry. Captured during a skirmish near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on July 13, 1862, he spent the rest of the year as a prisoner of war before he was paroled and exchanged. Rhoads returned to his regiment in Tennessee only to be killed in action on June 27, 1863, in fighting to take a rebel battery in Shelbyville.

He posed for his carte de visite portrait in the studio of Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C.
A Pennsylvania Cavalry Officer Killed in Tennessee

New to My Collection: A Union Officer Wounded Four Times During the War

Francis Welch Crowninshield, known as “Crownie” to his friends, left Harvard during his sophomore year in 1861 and enlisted as a second lieutenant in the Second Massachusetts Infantry. Over the next four years, the regiment participated in some of the biggest battles of the war. Crowninshield suffered three wounds in action, including Winchester (May 25, 1862), Antietam (September 17, 1862), and Gettysburg (July 3, 1863). His fourth wound of the war occurred in Georgia at Raccoon Creek (June 6, 1864), when a guerilla shot him in the leg as he prepared to bathe in the stream. He barely survived his injuries, dying in 1866.

Crowninshield wears the shoulder straps of a first lieutenant and sits with a cane in this photograph taken in late 1862, when he was at home in Massachusetts recovering from a severe leg wound received during the Battle of Antietam.

His carte de visite portrait has been added to my Flickr Photostream:
Wounded Four Times in the Civil War

New on NYT Disunion: Samuel Noyes, Mountaineer

Samuel Bean NoyesMy profile of Samuel Bean Noyes is now available. A New Hampshire native who dropped out of school to enlist in the Twelfth New Hampshire Infantry, Noyes’s officers did not think he had much potential as a soldier at first, and assigned him to be the regiment’s mail carrier. After the Twelfth was decimated at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Noyes was moved into a combat role and participated in his first big fight at Gettysburg.

This is my 45th contribution to Disunion, and the first in which I included a paragraph to explain the origins of the carte de visite:

“Noyes went home to New Hampshire for a brief visit about this time and sat for his portrait in a Concord photograph studio. His image was captured in the popular carte de visite format, a French style that became a world phenomenon after it was introduced in 1854. Indeed, “Cardomania” was all the rage in America during the war years. One of the advantages of the format was that multiple paper prints could be inexpensively produced from a glass negative. Photographers typically offered a dozen cartes de visite for a few dollars. Noyes likely purchased at least a dozen and distributed them to family and friends.”

Read the full story of Noyes and his war experience.

Appearance on WYPR Baltimore

wyprThoroughly enjoyed talking about African American Faces of the Civil War on “Midday with Dan Rodricks” at Baltimore’s NPR affiliate today. Dan is an engaging host and one of the city’s most popular. He has an interest in the Civil War (and World War I). Dan’s team deserves a round of applause, especially producer Sean Yoes. He and I had an excellent conversation before the program started. Prior to the show, Dan’s Facebook page featured images from the book—a smart way to highlight a few of the compelling portraits of the African American men who participated in the Civil War.

Listen to the podcast.

“The Napoleon of Surgeons”

Read Brockway BontecouThose of you who read the recent story by Dave Bakke in the Springfield, Ill., State Journal-Register about the quest for a grave marker for Lewis Martin of the Twenty-ninth U.S. Colored Infantry, and saw the startling photograph of Martin that shows the results of two amputations, may be interested to know that the image was commissioned by Dr. Read B. Bontecou (pictured here). I profiled Bontecou in the January 2009 issue of Civil War NewsHis story is now available on my blog.