The Great Sonrel

One of my favorite overlooked photographers of the Civil War period is Antoine Sonrel, a lithographer, artist, and and one-time associate of the noted scientist Louis Agassiz.

Sonrel operated a studio in Boston, but rarely do I find examples of his work.

The carte de visite pictured here came up for auction on eBay recently, and I’m happy to have it in my collection. The unidentified gentleman sits sideways on a chair, gazing off camera with hand to cheek in what appears to be a contemplative, thoughtful frame of mind. The use of the hand to cheek pose is less common in images of this period, but it does occur. It may have been used by Sonrel and other photographers who wanted to portray men and women who wanted to see themselves as more cerebral. They were perhaps artists, scientists, and writers by occupation, or individuals engaged in similar pursuits for personal enjoyment.

This image is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Profile of a Gentleman with Light-Colored Eyes

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“Brave Randall Leaped Upon the Gun”

Randall-WilliamIn 15 years of telling stories of Civil War soldiers and sailors, I’ve never come across a published poem that contained a reference to one of the men that I was researching.

That is, until now.

George Henry Boker’s 1864 Poems of the War includes “On the Cumberland,” an account of the dramatic events during the March 8, 1862, naval Battle of Hampton Roads, Va. The era of wooden warships ended that day when the Confederate ironclad Virginia destroyed the Union gunboat Cumberland.

The crew of the Cumberland fought like hell, and prompted Boker to write his poem. In it, he mentions the current subject of my research, William Pritchard Randall of New Bedford, Mass. By all accounts, Randall inspired all with his actions as the wounded wooden ship breathed her last. This excerpt describes Randall at his gun station. He’s credited with firing the last shot at the “Virginia”:

We reached the deck. There Randall stood:
“Another turn men,—so!”
Calmly he aimed his pivot gun:
“Now, Tenny, let her go!”

It did our sore hearts good to hear
The song our pivot sang,
As, rushing on from wave to wave,
The whirring bomb-shell sprang.

Brave Randall leaped upon the gun,
And waved his cap in sport;
“Well done! well aimed! I saw that shell
Go through an open port.”

It was our last, our deadliest shot;
The deck was overflown;
The poor ship staggered, lurched to port,
And gave a living groan.

Randall survived the battle, and along with George U. Morris, the acting commander of the Cumberland, became heroes. Randall is pictured here in a photograph taken in New Orleans about 1864. Randall remained in the navy after the war, and retired in 1882. He rejoined the navy during the Spanish-American War (1898) and died in 1904.

This image is new to my collection, and is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.

Preserving the Honor of Lady Liberty

Columbia, or Lady Liberty, sits atop a podium trimmed with material on which is painted or sewn stars and an eagle with wings outstretched. She holds above her head a liberty cap hung from a pole, the traditional symbol of freedom that dates before Roman times. She also holds the shield of the United States, which represents defense, military strength and nationalism. Lady Liberty is flanked by representatives of the Union army and navy. Each holds a staff trimmed with ribbon, to which is attached the Star-Spangled Banner. The flags are crossed to provide a backdrop for Columbia, who they have pledged to defend.

This trio may have participated in one of the popular Sanitary Fairs to support the war effort, or perhaps a July Fourth celebration or other patriotic event. The photograph was taken by C.M. Pierce of Leominster, Mass.

This image is new to my collection, and is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Preserving the Honor of Lady Liberty

Escorting Gen. Sherman on the “Silver Cloud”

New to my collection is this carte de visite of William Henry Hathorne by R.A. Miller of Boston, Mass. A dry goods salesman in Worcester, Mass., prior to the Civil War, Maine-born Hathorne was appointed an acting assistant paymaster in the spring of 1863. Ordered to the Mississippi Squadron soon after, he served a stint on the casemate gunboat Cincinnati before reporting to the gunboat Silver Cloud for the duration of the war.

Hathorne was present for duty on the Silver Cloud in January 1864, when the ship and crew carried Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman on a trip from Memphis, Tenn., to Vicksburg, Miss. Three months later, on April 14, the vessell participated in operations against Fort Pillow, which had been captured by Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest two days earlier. Union forces were successful in driving away Forrest and his men.

Hathorne left the navy in the autumn of 1865. He returned to Worcester, married, and worked as a salesman until his death in 1904.

His image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Escorting Gen. Sherman on the "Silver Cloud"

A Massachusetts Master’s Mate in the West Gulf Blockading Squadron

Acting Master’s Mate Ansel Allen Delano served in the West Gulf Blockading Squadron on the screw steamer Buckthorne during the summer of 1864. On August 5, the ship and crew played an important support role as a fleet tender and dispatch vessel during the Battle of Mobile Bay. A note on the back of this photograph notes that Delano also served on the crew of two other vessels that supported the blockade, the screw steamer Arkansas and the side-wheel steamer Carrabasset.

A native of Barnstable, Mass., Delano survived the war and lived until 1914. His photograph is new to my collection.

His image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Massachusetts Master's Mate in the West Gulf Blockading Squadron

A Girl’s Best Friend

girl-standing-dog-BWhen it comes to Civil War era images of dogs and humans, you’ll find our canine friends almost always posed with boys, men and soldiers. Here is a rarity: A girl and presumably her faithful friend. The girl pictured here, with curled hair and dressed in a light colored frock, stands poses with a most attentive dog. The dog is in sharp focus, and kudos to photographer Israel Francis Irving Alger (1828-after 1900) for managing to keep her four-legged friend still. The large photographer’s back mark of the reverse of the mount dates this carte de visite to the late 1860s. This image was recently added to my collection.

This image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Girl's Best Friend

New to the Collection: Death at Sea

Massachusetts-born Francis Winslow started his navy career as a midshipman in 1833 at age 15. He served aboard the brig Washington during the war with Mexico. During the Civil War he commanded two gunboats in the Gulf Blockading Squadron, the Water Witch and the R.R. Cuyler. On the latter ship he fell ill with yellow fever and succumbed to its effects on August 26, 1862, outside Key West, Fla. He is buried in New Hampshire.

Winslow sat for this portrait in the studio of J.W. Black of Boston in 1861 or 1862.

This portrait is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Death at Sea

The Fifty-Fourth Tells It With Pride

mendez-coddington-cruzLast Tuesday night’s reception at the National Gallery of Art for the opening of the new exhibit about the Shaw Memorial and the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry was extraordinary.

At one point in the evening, as Anne and I were looking into the case in which my photograph of Maj. John W.M. Appleton was displayed next to his diary (on loan from the West Virginia University), a man came up and introduced himself. He was Carl Cruz, the great-great-grandnephew of Sgt. William H. Carney. Those of you who know the Fifty-fourth remember that Sgt. Carney carried the Stars and Stripes at Fort Wagner. He suffered several wounds that terrible night, and upon returning told a group of survivors, “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground.”

Carl is a great guy, and we had a wonderful chat next to the framed Medal of Honor that Carney received for his actions at Fort Wagner. Carl told me he used to play with the medal, take it to school, show it to his friends!

In this photo, Carl stands on the right. On the left is his cousin, Joseph Mendez.

There were a number of other attendees that we met. Chris Foard is a collector of Civil War nurse photos, letters and other personal items. Several images from his holdings were on display. Peter Drummey, the Stephen T. Riley Librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society, chatted with Anne and I in front of the Shaw Memorial. Among the topics we chatted about was Benjamin Butler. We had many stories to share, and both agreed that although the political general is known for his sordid dealings in politics, he also had a heart of gold who worked tirelessly for his constituents.

We also met old friends and acquaintances, including curators Sarah Greenough and Lindsay Harris. Sarah provided introductory remarks at the press opening earlier that day (I attended), and her words reflected her deep understanding of the importance of the memorial both as a work of art and as a reminder to us of the courage and sacrifice of the men who served in the regiment.

The exhibit opens tomorrow. It will travel to Boston in early 2014. Don’t miss it!

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.

New on Disunion: The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground

William Harvey CarneyMy latest contribution to the New York Times series Disunion is the story of Sgt. William Harvey Carney of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry and how he came to say these immortal words at Fort Wagner.

An excerpt:

Carney climbed the rampart with the Stars and Stripes. “All around me were the dead and wounded, lying one upon top the other,” he observed, describing the scene. “It seemed a miracle that I should have been spared in that awful slaughter. When I recovered from my semi stupor, on account of the scenes of blood about me, I found myself standing on the top of the embankment, all alone. It were folly for me to try to advance, so I dropped on my knees among my dead comrades, and I laid as low and quiet as possible.”

Carney planted the bottom of the flagstaff into the ground as musket bullets and canister shots plowed into the earth near his feet and sprayed sand into the air. “I was almost blinded by the dirt flying around me and nearly distracted by the shrieks and groans of the wounded and dying men about me. As soon as I could distinguish anything in the darkness, I could see dimly on one side a line of men mounting the ramparts and going down into the fort. I thought they must be our own men, but in the light of a cannon flash I saw they were the enemy.”

Read the rest of Sgt. Carney’s story.