Latest “Faces of War” Column: The “Hornet’s Nest Brigade”

John Herman BorgerMy latest Civil War News ”Faces of War” column is now available. 1st Lt. John Herman Borger and his comrades in the Twelfth Iowa Infantry repelled wave after wave of Confederate attacks from their position in a sector of the Shiloh battlefield that would later become known as the Hornet’s Nest.

An excerpt:

Although outnumbered, Borger and his fellow Iowans had the advantage of superior ground. William P. Johnston described it in the biography of his father, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, who suffered a mortal wound during the battle. “Here, behind a dense thicket on the crest of a hill, was posted a strong force of as hardy troops as ever fought, almost perfectly protected by the conformation of the ground, and by logs and other rude and hastily-prepared defenses. To assail it an open field had to be passed, enfiladed by the fire of its batteries.”

Read the full story.

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New to My Collection: Union Officer With Table Top Stereoscope

Unusual subject matter in this carte de visite by Martin’s Gallery of St. Paul, Minn. William Crooks (1832-1907), the colonel and commander of the Sixth Minnesota Infantry, stands next to a table top stereoscope, likely made by Alexander Beckers, a pioneer photographer, artist, inventor and businessman in New York City. Beckers, a friend and competitor of photographer Edward Anthony, received ten patents for the stereoscope during two decades in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. Stereoview photographs could be viewed in 3-D using devices like the one pictured here.

This portrait is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Minnesota Colonel With Table Top Stereoscope

New to My Collection: Full Dress Zouave

Zouave BackA Union soldier dressed in the elaborate Zouave style photographed in Utica, N.Y. It is possible that this unidentified man served in the 146th New York Infantry, which was raised in Utica and other towns in Oneida County, N.Y. The regiment wore Zouave uniforms during part of their enlistment.

Original Zouave images are uncommon, and this is one of the better photos that I’ve seen.

J.B. Smith’s patriotic studio mark, stamped on the back of the mount of the photo, leaves no doubt where his loyalties were. I admire the lean and powerful eagle, wings in motion, head raised, Union shield below and thirteen stars above. Young, strong, powerful America!

This portrait is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Full Dress Zouave

My New Role as Publisher of Military Images Magazine

dave-ron-handshakeThis weekend Dave Neville (pictured, right) and I signed an agreement to finalize my purchase of Military Images magazine. Today I am delighted to share the news with all of you. MI was founded in 1979, and since then has enjoyed a long tradition of excellence in bringing to light rare military portrait photographs. Key to success has been the contributions of collectors, and I’ve been in contact with many of them to continue their relationship with the magazine.

My wife, Anne, will play a major role in the magazine, and I am grateful for her love and support. I simply could not take this responsibility on without her.

Here is the press release posted on social media today:

ARLINGTON, Va. — Historian David Neville has called it quits after a decade at the helm of Military Images. Neville, who has owned and edited the publication since 2003, sold the magazine to Ronald S. Coddington of Arlington, Va., in early August.

Coddington, who is familiar to Civil War News readers as the author of “Faces of War,” takes over as publisher and editor immediately. “Military Images has a long tradition of excellence in bringing to light rare military portrait photographs, and I am thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to guide MI to the next chapter in its life,” reports Coddington. He adds, “The magazine continues to play a key role in preserving the visual record and stories of citizen soldiers in America, and is a key source for information about uniforms and other aspects of the military. In the current digital age, with so much new material surfacing, it is more important than ever to have a publication that showcases and interprets these important images.”

Harry Roach founded the magazine in 1979. He set a mission to document the photographic history of U.S. soldiers and sailors from the birth of photography in 1839 through World War I, although the vast majority of published images date from the Civil War period. Roach sold the magazine in 1999 to Philip Katcher, from whom Neville purchased it four years later.

Regular contributors to MI include some of the most respected and knowledgeable collectors in the country, including Michael J. McAfee, John Sickles, Chris Nelson, David Wynn Vaughan, Ron Field, and Ken Turner.

“I’m excited to continue working with all of our contributors, and to invite new faces with a passion for military photography to participate,” notes Coddington, who can be contacted at militaryimages@gmail.com or militaryimagesmagazine.com.

My Next Book: “Faces of the Civil War Navy: An Album of Sailors and Their Stories.”

George W. MarchantI am pleased to announce the fourth volume of my Faces series: Faces of the Civil War Navy: An Album of Sailors and Their Stories. I’ve spent the last few months contemplating how to follow my first three books, which document major soldier perspectives in the Civil War: Union volunteers, Confederate volunteers, and African American participants. And I’ve concluded that the fourth major narrative is that of men, black and white, who served in the navies.

My book proposal includes this excerpt, which details why I believe these long-overlooked sailors should be the subject of the next volume:

A fourth major narrative is lesser known. It traces the lives and military service of those who served on Union and Confederate vessels during one of the most exciting times in world naval history—the transformation from wooden to ironclad warships.

Similar to their counterparts in the army, these volunteers came from a variety of backgrounds and aspired to serve their divided nation.

Those who joined the Union navy would play a crucial role in fulfilling the Anaconda Plan. The ambitious strategy devised by Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott in 1861 proposed to conquer the Confederacy by controlling seaports and the Mississippi River in the seceded states. The importance that Scott, who commanded all Union forces until forced into retirement due to his age and disabilities, attached to naval strategy as key to winning the war is significant. The subsequent success of the federal blockade along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico did as much to end the war as major battlefield successes. Historians continue to debate whether the turning point of the war in favor of Union arms was the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) or the surrender of Vicksburg (July 4, 1863). The latter event effectively ended Confederate control of the Mississippi River.

Those who joined the Confederate navy were part of an effort to establish a fleet of warships with scant resources in the face of a well-equipped and organized foe. What the Southern navy lacked in men and materials, they made up for with innovative technology and improvised tactics. Witness the design and construction of the ironclad Virginia and the submarine H.L. Hunley.

I’ve started the search for images, including the above portrait of George W. Marchant. A native of Massachusetts, he served as an acting masters mate on the side-wheel steamer Augusta. Shortly after Marchant joined the crew in the spring of 1864, the Augusta was dispatched to protect California mail steamers under threat of attack by Confederate cruisers and passengers sympathetic to the Southern cause. The Augusta survived a perilous journey to Panama and back.

I could use your help. If you are aware of original, wartime, identified images of navy men up to the rank of captain, please be in touch!

My Interview with the Grand Niece of a Gettysburg Veteran

Betty C. SchacherI met Betty C. Schacher, 85, this weekend in Windham, N.Y., and we found a quiet place to talk about her great uncle Simon Pincus. “Uncle Sime,” as she knew him as a little girl, was a kindly elderly gent who was confined to a wheelchair. I captured audio of Betty’s reminiscences of Uncle Sime, who died when she was six. One of her memories was a story he told about his Gettysburg experience. At the time he was a sergeant in Company C of the Sixty-sixth New York Infantry. From the transcript of the audio recording:

He was at the Wheatfield, and, um, I remember thinking, I didn’t know they grew wheat in Pennsylvania (laughter). When we saw pictures of wheat, you know, what was I five years old I was in kindergarten, it was out in Kansas, out in the Midwest somewhere, which to me was a foreign territory.

He told us about this, it was after the battle had quieted down. It was very quiet. I asked him, did the noise frighten him. And he said the silence was worse.

He told us, all of a sudden he saw something move, and it was a Confederate soldier trying to get back to his outfit and he had lost his rifle. And Uncle Sime told him, he better move quick to beat his trigger finger. And Uncle Sime did not shoot him. He let him go back to the unit. And, at first I asked him why, because I was told the Southerners were the enemy. And he said to me, well he was an American, too, and he was unarmed. That’s what he said.

Here’s Betty in the Windham Library. A retired librarian, the setting was most appropriate for our conversation. Uncle Sime survived the war, and mustered out as a second lieutenant. He became a cigar maker in Brooklyn. Lt. Pincus died in 1934.

Book Talk at the Windham Civil War Music Festival

Windham tableSpent an enjoyable weekend at the fifteenth annual Civil War Music Festival and Encampment in beautiful Windham, New York, located in the Catskill Mountains. On Saturday, I spoke about African American Faces of the Civil War. Pictured here is my table—almost all of the books sold! But most importantly, I had the opportunity to discuss the Civil War from the perspective of men of color who served. For this I am grateful to all who organized the event, especially the indefatigable John and Sharon Quinn.

The setting for the event is the historic Centre Church, which dates from 1834.

Centre Church, Windham, N.Y.One of my favorite participants during the two-day gathering was Steve Ball of Ohio. Steve is as much a music historian as a singer, and he performed two fight songs, one from the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry and another from the First Arkansas Colored Infantry. We had an enjoyable conversation about the meaning of music and poetry in Civil War-time America.

New Review of African American Faces in “The Journal of America’s Past”

african-american-faces-of-the-civil-war-200DPIThanks to to Roger D. Cunningham for his insights and observations on pages 97-98 of the spring/summer 2013 issue of The Journal of America’s Past (formerly Periodical). The full review:

This attractive volume is the third in a series of books on Civil War portraits, by Ronald S. Coddington, assistant managing editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. His first book, Faces of the Civil War, depicted Union soldiers, and the second, Faces of the Confederacy, showed Confederate soldiers.

Each of the author’s previous volumes included 77 images, accompanied by brief biographical sketches pieced together from various sources, including newspapers, regimental histories, and the military service records and disability pension records that are available at the National Archives. This book follows the same format, and its images include cartes de visite, ambrotypes, and tintypes, which come from public archives as well as several private collections. The images include infantrymen, cavalrymen, artillerymen, sailors, and a few noncombatants. The last category includes Robert Holloway, who was Maj. Gen. Ambrose P. Burnside’s servant, and a slave, Silas Chandler, who went to war with his Confederate master, Sgt. Andrew M. Chandler, of the 44th Mississippi Infantry. The tintype of the Chandlers also appeared on an episode of PBS’s Antiques Roadshow.

The rest of the images show the men, both freeborn and enslaved, who enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), as well as a few sailors from the Union navy. Among the USCT images, there are a handful of officers, including Maj. Martin R. Delany, who served in both the 104th and the 52d U.S. Colored Infantry regiments. Capt. Louis A. Snaer, of the 73d U.S. Colored Infantry, was awarded the brevet rank of major for his gallant conduct during the assault on Fort Blakely, Alabama, in April 1865. Another soldier who wanted to be an officer but was denied that goal was Sgt. Maj. Christian A. Fleetwood, of the 4th U.S. Colored Infantry. Fleetwood was awarded the Medal of Honor for the heroism he displayed during the Battle of New Market Heights, which was fought near Richmond, Virginia, in September 1864. After the war, however, Fleetwood was able to secure a commission as a major, commanding one of the black battalions in the District of Columbia National Guard.

A few of the men who are depicted left the USCT after the war and enlisted in one of the six black regiments—four infantry and two cavalry—that were added to the Regular Army in 1866. These black regulars have come to be known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” After serving in the 108th U.S. Colored Infantry, Solomon Starks enlisted in the 9th U.S. Cavalry in 1866 and rode with that regiment to west Texas, where he died from dysentery at Fort Davis, a year later. Kendrick Allen also served with the 108th and after mustering out of the Union army and working as a stonemason for five years, he spent ten years in the 24th U.S. Infantry, before enlisting in the 9th Cavalry in 1881. Allen finally retired from the Army as a sergeant in 1897.

All those who are fascinated by Civil war photography or black history in general will find this volume to be a most enjoyable read. The book helps us to remember that during the Civil War a significant number of black men were willing to fight for their freedom or to help secure freedom for their fellow African Americans.

New to My Collection: A Union Sergeant Stands Front and Off Center

My latest acquisition is this quarter plate tintype of a bearded federal sergeant. He wears a four button campaign jacket over a dark shirt with no collar and knee-high boots as he stands in front of an elaborate backdrop.  Holding a forage cap in his left hand, he grasps the edge of his jacket with the other. He stands off center in the frame of this image, leaving the viewer with the impression that it may have been intentional. The empty space to his left may represent a missed loved one or friend, or a fallen comrade. The space may also have been the work of the photographer, who may have artfully posed the sergeant between the tents and foliage pictured in the backdrop. Or perhaps this soldier first posed with another individual before having this image made of only himself, and the photographer failed to adjust the camera or the soldier.

This portrait is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Union Sergeant Stands Front and Off Center

Maj. Appleton’s Stay at the National Gallery of Art

Bethann HeinbaughMy original wartime photo of Maj. John Whittier Messer Appleton of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry was delivered to the National Gallery of Art this afternoon at 12:30. The image will be part of a new exhibit, Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial, that opens next month. Here, Loans and Exhibitions Conservator Bethann Heinbaugh performs a condition check. She noted a watermark in the upper left of the image, a nick in the lower edge of the mount, and pencil markings on the back of the image. Behind her are paintings from the NGS storage which will soon be digitized.

AppletonI took this photo of Maj. Appleton just before leaving the Gallery. Visible here is the paperwork associated with the loan. The acetate sleeves are mine.