Light traffic and springtime glory accompanied me on yesterday’s drive to Charlottesville, Va., to present a talk about Civil War photography to the local Civil War Round Table. I found, upon my arrival, that Duncan Campbell has managed all the technical considerations. I soon met president L. Peyton Humphrey and other group members.
My program, The American Soldier in Portrait Photography, 1861-1865, describes the emergence of the carte de visite as the dominant photographic format during the war years and traces its rise from the origins of photography.
The 60-slide presentation includes a group of six cartes to illustrate the individuality of Union and Confederate soldiers, and I swap the six out depending upon the audience (Example: When I presented this program in Augusta, Ga., back in January, the six were all Georgians). This time, one of the portraits I chose for inclusion was U.S. Navy Paymaster George Work, pictured here, who drowned when his ironclad gunboat Tecumseh sunk at the Battle of Mobile Bay. I selected his likeness to add a navy man to the grouping. Turns out one of his descendants, Jean Turrentill, was in the audience! We met afterwards and I’ll be sending her the information that I’ve collected about Work’s life and tragic death.
I also met someone seeking an image of her forefather, and this is a common experience in my presentations. This time, Patricia Ford approached me with a request for a photograph of William Condra Gass of the Union 9th Kentucky Infantry. Gass, from Clay County, Ky., was mortally wounded at the Battle of Stones River on Dec. 31, 1862. A quick search of my subscription databases turned up no portraits. Perhaps you can help! Patricia’s email is email@example.com.
A big thank you to everyone who attended!
If you are looking for one of the premier Civil War Round Tables in the country, go to Augusta, Ga. A few years ago, the organization had declined to about a dozen members. Now, they are an army of about 160 thanks in large part to their leader, Gwen Fulcher Young.
I had the privilege to speak to a large number of the membership last night and thoroughly enjoyed my visit. I presented a new talk, The American Soldier in Portrait Photography, 1861-1865. It is in fact part history of photography and part understanding of how it came into its own in the form of the carte de visite style on the eve of our Civil War. I was delighted with its reception, and by sales of my books and Military Images magazine afterwards.
A big thanks to everyone who made the event possible, especially Gwen, her husband Bob, and my old college pal Greg Hunnicutt.
There came a moment during the Aug. 5, 1864, Battle of Mobile Bay when Rear Adm. David Farragut’s most powerful warships went up against the Confederate ironclad ram Tennessee.
The Hartford, Brooklyn and Richmond lined up abreast and bore down on the Tennessee, hell bent on taking her out of action.
The Richmond’s crew included one of the navy’s youngest officers, Philip Henry Cooper, pictured here, center. A recent Naval Academy graduate, he had served aboard the Richmond for about a year.
Cooper and his shipmates, and the crews of the other two Union vessels, traded shot and shell with the Tennessee for more than an hour before the rebel ram called it quits and raised the white flag.
The crew of the Richmond was lucky—no casualties and minimum damage. For Cooper, it was the beginning of a long career in the service of the navy that included cruises around the globe and stints on the staff of his alma mater. He posed for this carte de visite with two of his comrades, Lt. Cmdr. Charles W. Tracy and a secretary named Procter, during a South American cruise about 1866-1868.
Cooper retired as a captain in 1904 and died in 1912 at age 68.
Union officer Charles H. Shepley had loaded revolvers on countless occasions. But on March 21, 1862, something went horribly wrong. Shepley was loading it when it suddenly discharged. In one awful moment, a lead slug tore through him.
Shepley was no stranger to firearms. Back in 1856, soon after he and his family had relocated from Vermont to Chicago, 15-year-old Shepley joined the National Guard Cadets, a militia group formed by Col. Joseph R. Scott. The organization was taken over by the young and charismatic Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth soon after and turned into a crack drill team that toured the East. They were met by throngs of cheering citizens impressed with the discipline and precision of Ellsworth, Shepley and the rest of the boys.
When the war started, Shepley became an officer in the 19th Illinois Infantry, a regiment originally commanded by his old senior officer, Col. Scott. This was in the spring of 1861. Shepley started out as a second lieutenant in Company K and soon advanced to captain.
Sent to the South, the 19th was stationed at Murfreesboro, Tenn., when the accident happened. “While quietly engaged in loading his pistol, the weapon suddenly discharged itself, the ball passing into and nearly through his body, producing a fatal wound. He lingered till early on the morning of the 23d, when, despite all the surgical skill and kindly attention out forth on his behalf, Capt. Shepley was compelled to yield up his young life while bright hopes and well-merited honors were clustering around him.”
There’s more. “He had often expressed to his fellow soldiers a desire that if he must lose his life in the war, it might be his privilege to die on the battlefield, rather than in camp or on picket duty. But that wish was not to be gratified; and yet those best acquainted with him know that he died none the less a hero than if his life had been taken by the hand of the enemy amid the carnage of battle.”
His story can be found in Martyrs and Heroes of Illinois.
If you believe that the fighting at Little Round Top on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg prevented the Union army from being destroyed by the Confederates, and that this act set up Pickett’s Charge on the third and final day of the engagement, then you might reasonably argue that you live under the Stars and Stripes today in part because of this man.
Pvt. Peter L. Quant of the “People’s Ellsworth Regiment,” also known as the 44th New York Infantry, hustled into position along the crest of Little Round Top on the afternoon of July 2, 1863. He and his comrades in Company K and the rest of the regiment, along with other hastily organized Union troops, stopped the Confederate juggernaut in its tracks.
A 29-year-old farmer from Montgomery, N.Y., when he enlisted during the summer of 1861, Quant survived numerous engagements with the 44th, including the Seven Days’ Battles, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. He also made it through Gettysburg without injury.
His luck ran out the following year. On July 7, 1864, along the front lines of Petersburg, a Confederate bullet found its mark. Critically injured, Quant languished in a hospital at City Point, Va., until he succumbed to his wounds on July 24.
Quant did not live to see the States reunited.
The Signal Corps was in its infancy during the Civil War, and among the pioneers who played a critical role relaying orders and messages that kept the Union military moving forward was Loring Robbins (1841-1925). His service ranged from the warships Ellen and Sebago from 1862-1863 to working with army in the Department of the Gulf from 1864-1865. In the latter situation he posed for this photograph in New Orleans. A native of Massachusetts, he’s buried in North Auburn, Maine.
This inscription can be found on the back of the mount of this photo of an unidentified Union officer by Mathew Brady. Also inscribed is “For Dr. Stanton.”
The image was once part of an album that included other photos inscribed to Dr. Stanton. The photos were portraits of officers who served in the Army of the Potomac—14th Connecticut Infantry, 14th Brooklyn Infantry, 8th Illinois Cavalry, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry and 24th Michigan Infantry. Other images include surgeons and various hospital personnel.
One theory is that the men in the album were all patients of Dr. Stanton, who may have been Surg. Joshua Otis Stanton. According to one source, “He entered the military service in June, 1862, as acting assistant surgeon and served in and about Washington till February, 1865. In 1864 he was appointed surgeon of the First New Hampshire Cavalry, but declined on account of ill health. In February, 1865, he was appointed surgeon of the United States Veteran Volunteers and attached to the provost-marshal general’s bureau and served till October of that year.”
John Caskey Hall (1842-1907) served in the 16th Ohio Infantry from 1861 to 1864, during which time he worked his way from a private to sergeant in Company C. He fought in the June 3, 1861, Battle of Philippi, W.Va., considered by some as the first land battle of the Civil War.
Hall went on to participate in the Vicksburg Campaign. He suffered a concussion in the May 19, 1863, assault on the formidable defenses of Vicksburg—the first of two failed attacks by the Union army that prompted Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to ay siege to the fortress city.
Hall also served in the 102nd Ohio Infantry.
After the war he returned to his home in Wooster, Ohio, where he operated a coal business. He wed in 1874 and started a family that grew to include a daughter and two sons. His wife died in 1897, and he remarried.
800 federals, including Capt. Spencer W. Snyder (1841-1920) and his comrades in Company D of the 169th New York Infantry, were on the picket line at Foster’s Plantation, Va., when attacked by Confederate troops on the morning of May 18, 1864. The Union troops were initially forced back, but rallied.
A correspondent from the regiment narrated what happened next: “The One Hundred and Sixty-ninth went at the rebels with a yell that I apprehend neither party will soon forget. A grand charge was made by the command. The “rebs” ran like sheep, our boys driving them and gallantly retaking the original picket line.”
Snyder was wounded when a bullet struck him in the shoulder. Initial accounts state the wound was not serious, but later reports note that the bullet became lodged in his shoulder and could not be removed. At his death, he still carried the Confederate lead in his shoulder.