On the morning of June 18, 1864, Pvt. Payson Wolf trudged through the streets of Petersburg, Va., with other battered and bloodied Union prisoners of war. The captives were herded into an old tobacco barn with hundreds of other bluecoats to await their fate in the hands of Confederate military authorities.
Only hours earlier, Wolf had come out on the wrong end of a rare nighttime assault, which put him and his comrades in an advanced position near the formidable defenses of the Cockade City. They had been attacked by veteran North Carolina troops and compelled to surrender after a brief and brutal fight.
The prisoners were quickly divested of their muskets; one company of Tar Heels jumped at the opportunity to trade their worn weapons for the captured guns. They soon noticed that the wooden musket stocks had been ornately carved with fish, snakes, turtles and other animals – perhaps their first clue that their captives were no ordinary Union soldiers.
Sylvanus Backus (born 1839) was appointed an acting midshipman to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1857 from his home state of Michigan. After the Civil War began, he received an appointment as a lieutenant, and served on the Constellation, Ohio and Mohongo. He left the navy in 1866, and died about 1915.
His story, and this carte de visite by Hodcend & Degoix of Genes (Genoa, Italy), will be featured in my forthcoming book about the Civil War navies.
A richly toned carte de visite by Philbrook’s Gallery of Detroit, Mich., pictures a cavalry soldier who sits with legs crossed and saber at his side. A revenue stamp on the back of the mount dates this image from 1864-1866, during which time the federal government taxed photographs and other items to pay for the Civil War.
The state of Michigan organized eleven regiments of cavalry during the war. Four of these regiments, the First, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh, composed the Michigan Brigade, also known as the Wolverines. Commanded for a time by Gen. George Armstrong Custer, the brigade distinguished itself during the Battle of Gettysburg and other campaigns with the Army of the Potomac.