Top 10 Most Popular Historic Photos of 2014

top-10-flickr-2014A carte de visite of a Civil War era deep sea diver was the most popular photograph posted to my Flickr photostream this year. A review of the data in Flickr’s interestingness feature revealed that it led the next most popular image, four sergeants from Company G of the Sixteenth New York Infantry, by more than a two-to-one margin.

Nine of the ten most popular were Civil War themed portraits, or 90 percent. Civil War military men composed 80 percent of all images posted in 2014 (37 of 47). The other images were portraits of civilians and other non-military subjects.

The Top 10 of 2014:

1. Deep Sea Diver
Carte de visite by an anonymous photographer. An individual wearing a Morse Diving Helmet and an insulated suit stands in a photographer’s studio. A modern pencil identification on the back of the mount of this image names this diver as “Hyde,” and is associated with a tintype of a man in the uniform of a Union sailor. According to a previous owner, the sailor’s first name is George.
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2. Ranking Sergeants of Company G
Carte de visite by an anonymous photographer. The Civil War was two months old on June 24, 1861, when these New Yorkers left their camp in Bethlehem, N.Y., and posed for their portrait brandishing weapons and an air of confidence. 3rd Sgt. Luther Lee Partridge, 4th Sgt. Andrew Christie Bayne, 1st Sgt. John Henry Austin, and 2nd Sgt. Edwin O. Betts all served in Company G of the Sixteenth New York Infantry, and they had mustered into the Union army a month earlier at Albany. All four men resided in De Peyster, a hamlet located in the far north of the Empire State. Although each man held the rank of sergeant, none had yet received the chevrons that denote their rank.
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3. Among the First Union Officers to Occupy Richmond
Carte de visite of Patrick Tracy Jackson Jr. by Whipple of Boston, Mass. According to a sketch of his life, Jackson, “Accepted a commission as First Lieutenant in the Fifth Mass. Cavalry (colored). After spending some time in guarding rebel prisoners at Point Lookout, Maryland, the regiment was sent to the front, and was one of the first to enter Richmond.”
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4. Navy Man “Hyde”
Tintype in a carte de visite mount by an anonymous photographer. A sailor identified in modern pencil on the back of the mount of this image only as “Hyde” is associated with a carte de visite of a man outfitted in a Civil War era deep-sea diving suit, his head and face covered with a Morse Diving Helmet.
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5. Famed Master of the Cumberland
Carte de visite of William Pritchard Randall by Washburn of New Orleans, La. Randall’s obituary, published on February 22, 1904, in the San Francisco Call recaps his eventful life: “Commander William P. Randall, U.S.N., retired, died at his home in this city to-day, aged 71 years. Assigned as acting master on the frigate Cumberland during the Civil War, he participated in the battle with the Merrimac and was credited with having fired the last shot from the frigate before she was sent to the bottom. After the war he entered the navy as ensign and served in various capacities until 1882 when he was retired. During the Spanish war he served as executive officer of the receiving ship Wabash.
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6. Escorting Gen. Sherman on the Silver Cloud
Carte de visite of William Henry Hathorne by R.A. Miller of Boston, Mass. 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 Silver Cloud. Hathorne was present for duty on the vessel in January 1864, when the ship and crew carried Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman on a trip from Memphis, Tenn., to Vicksburg, Miss.
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7. Preserving the Honor of Lady Liberty
Carte de visite by C.M. Pierce of Leominster, Mass. 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.
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8. Injured Union Cavalryman Flanked by His Comrades
Carte de visite by W.R. Phipps of Lexington, Ky. A federal officer with a bandaged foot sits with a pair of crutches. He’s flanked on either side by his comrades.
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9. Boy with Ornate Chair
Carte de visite by O.A. Taft’s Gallery of Middlebury, Vt. A young man with a slightly furrowed brow sits on the edge of an ornate chair with his foot perched upon a small stool. Visible behind the chair is the base of a brace, which the photographer or an assistant has wrapped in material to conceal its protruding iron feet. Iron braces were used during the early period of photography to hold an individual in place while an exposure was being made.
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10. Lost at the Battle of Mobile Bay
Carte de visite of George Work by Charles D. Fredricks & Co. of New York City. A Connecticut-born trader in his mid-40s when he joined the Union Navy, Work was assigned to the monitor-class ironclad Tecumseh and went down with the vessel after it struck an underwater mine during the Battle of Mobile Bay on Aug. 5, 1864.
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Book Talk at Reynolds Community College

ghazala-ronI’m overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of the fine team at Reynolds who made last night’s book talk a reality. Heartfelt thanks to Lisa, Ashley, and especially my good friend Ghazala Hashmi (pictured here). The friendship Ghazala and I share extends all the way back to high school, and I’m so happy to reconnect with her after so many years. She and I caught up over dinner at a local Thai restaurant before the talk.

The event took place in the Massey Library auditorium on campus and was well attended. I was delighted to see a number of young faces in the audience, and applaud the teacher who gave one group of high school students extra credit for attending the presentation. I was also impressed with the raffle—four copies of “African American Faces of the Civil War” were given away, and another four copies of the book written by the author who will appear at the next event. In all the talks I’ve participated in, the book raffle is a first.

All of this happened on my birthday, and at the end of the presentation, event coordinator Lisa Bishop stepped up to the podium and asked everyone to wish me a happy birthday on the count of three. That was icing on the cake!

After the event, we all walked out into the lobby of the library for refreshments and a book signing. I met and signed books for a number of attendees, including Wendell, a teacher who planned to use the book in his class.

Great day!

Top 10 Most Popular Historic Photos of 2013

top-10-flickr-2013A carte de visite of four Union amputees was the most popular photograph posted to my Flickr photostream this year. A review of the data in Flickr’s interestingness feature revealed that it led the next most popular image, a photographer with his camera, by more than a two-to-one margin.

Eight of the ten most popular were portraits of Civil War soldiers or sailors, or 80 percent. Yet Civil War military men composed only half the images posted in 2013 (36 of 72). The other half features civilians and other non-military subjects from the 1840s through the end of the 1860s, and includes daguerreotypes, tintypes and cartes de visite.

The Top 10 of 2013:

1. Union Comrades, Fellow Amputees
Carte de visite by Burnite & Weldon of Harrisburg, Pa. Four federal officers pose with their swords, and carry the visible effects of the human cost of war. Three of the men have suffered the amputation of the right arm, and the fourth the loss of a finger or fingers.
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2. A Civil War Photographer
Carte de visite by Jos. Longaker of Attica, Ind. A photographer stands next to his bellows style, wet plate camera equipped with a Petzval style lens. The lens cap sits atop the camera.
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3. Elderly Woman Wearing Glasses
Daguerreotype by unidentified photographer. A woman wearing glasses and a bonnet sits for the camera operator in this circa 1850 portrait. Her hair is streaked with gray, and the fine age lines on her face suggest a senior citizen. Resting upon a small round table covered by a blue-tinted cloth is her age-spotted hand, and the well-worn and possibly arthritic fingers of a hard-working seamstress or gardener.
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4. Seven Times Wounded at Gettysburg
Carte de visite of James Brownlee by Haines & Wickes of Albany, N.Y. Irish-born Brownlee served in the 134th New York Infantry, which at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg belonged to a brigade commanded by Col. Charles R. Coster. During the afternoon of the first day of the battle, Coster’s Brigade was ordered to support the crumbling federal right on the northern edge of Gettysburg. Soon after the brigade formed, the Confederate juggernaut descended on Coster’s men. The 134th was overwhelmed by advancing rebels on the front, flank and rear. More than half the regiment became casualties, including Brownlee, who suffered wounds from four bullets and three buckshot.
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5. A Union Sergeant Stands Front and Off Center
Quarter plate tintype by an unidentified photographer. A bearded federal sergeant wearing a four button sack coat over a dark shirt with no collar and knee-high boots is pictured in front of an elaborate backdrop. He holds a forage cap in his left hand and 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.
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6. A New Hampshire Mountaineer Wounded at Gettysburg
Samuel Bean Noyes by Kimball & Sons of Concord, N.H. Noyes (1842-1870) started his Civil War service in 1862 as a private in the Twelfth New Hampshire Infantry, a regiment popularly known as the “New Hampshire Mountaineers” for the sturdy, rugged soldiers in its ranks. Noyes had his baptism under fire at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. He and his Mountaineers, along with the rest of their corps commanded by Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles, moved a half-mile ahead of the rest of the Union frontline and were attacked by alert Confederates. Noyes suffered a gunshot wound to the shoulder during the rebel assault.
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7. A Minnesota Colonel With Table Top Stereoscope
Carte de visite of William Crooks 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. Stereoview photographs could be viewed in 3-D using devices like the one pictured here.
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8. Full Dress Zouave
Carte de visite by J.B. Smith of Utica, N.Y. A Union soldier dressed in the elaborate Zouave style. 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.
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9. On “The Noxious Institution of Slavery”
Carte de visite of James F. O’Brien by McPherson & Oliver of Baton Rouge, La. Born in County Tipperary, Ireland, O’Brien came to America as a young man and settled in Charlestown, Mass., which was then a hot bed of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment. After the start of the Civil War, O’Brien began to organize an all-Irish regiment, but his plans were dashed when the U.S. War Department combined the six companies he raised with four non-Irish companies to form the Forty-eighth Massachusetts Infantry. O’Brien received an accepted a commission as lieutenant colonel and second-in-command of the regiment.
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10. A Navy Man with Gumption
Carte de visite of Benjamin Franklin Wood by unidentified photographer. Wood (1836-1910) had a long career in the U.S. navy. His obituary, which appeared in the November 1910 issue of Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers, tells his story.
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Afternoon Book Signing at the Smithsonian

“I’m Margaret!” are the first words I remember spoken by Margaret Fisher after she appeared at the table where I was signing my books yesterday afternoon. Margaret is a longtime and supportive fan of this page, and regularly comments on posts here. I was absolutely delighted to meet her in person, and have the opportunity to learn more about her Civil War connections.

Margaret is one of many individuals who stopped by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History yesterday afternoon. Anne and I were set up at a table on the main floor of the museum next to the mall exit—so we were the last stop for many visitors as they lingered at the gift shop or prepared to leave after a day of exploring the exhibits.

1-ron-coddington-signs-john-smithsonianAmong those I met was John (he’s pictured here), who had a particular interest in the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry. We had a great chat. A big thanks to everyone who stopped by, and especially those who purchased a copy of one of the books.

Special thanks to manager Brendan McGurk, who made Anne and I feel right at home, and the always energetic and enthusiastic Robin Noonan of Hopkins Press, who made the event happen!

Ed Bearss and “Faces of Gettysburg”

bearssI had the pleasure of speaking to a group gathered yesterday in Greencastle, Pa., for “1863—The Decisive Year of the Civil War.” The two-day event sponsored by the Allison-Antrim Museum and the Franklin County Visitors Bureau was coordinated by Ted Alexander, Chief Park Historian at the Antietam National Battlefield. My talk, “Faces of Gettysburg,” included a brief history of photography and capsule bios of 25 federals whose lives and military service intersected with the three-day Pennsylvania battle.

I arrived at the Green Grove Gardens Event Center about 3 p.m., and upon entering the building heard the distinctive booming voice of Ed Bearss, the Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service perhaps best known for his appearance on the Ken Burns Civil War series. Bearss, who reviewed all three of my books, and I are pictured here soon after he finished his talk about Ulysses S. Grant.

Thanks to Ted for the invitation, and for the opportunity to share soldier stories and images.

“African American Faces” Talk at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

wisconsin-meI felt right at home in the Wisconsin Veterans Museum from the moment I entered the building yesterday afternoon. Located across from the stately Capitol building in Madison, the museum delivers on its tagline, “Connecting the past to the present, one story at a time.” Established by Civil War veterans in 1901, the museum is ably led today by Director Michael Telzrow (pictured, right) and Curator of Research & Public Programs Kevin Hampton (left).

Mike and Kevin generously shared their time and expertise as they took me on a behind the scenes tour of the museum, the highlight of which was a viewing of Wisconsin Civil War soldier images. In recent years they’ve built an impressive collection of cartes de visite, tintypes and ambrotypes. The team at the museum are on the front lines of preserving these wonderful images, and they deserve tip of the forage cap for their ongoing efforts.

Mike himself collected photos for a number of years, and we had fun referencing dealers we know and trading stories about unusual finds we’ve made along the way.

Another highlight was a viewing of original flags from Wisconsin regiments. These celebrated relics, torn and damaged from being carried into action on battlefields and faded from the elements, still remain powerful icons of the sacrifice of citizen soldiers from Madison and elsewhere in Wisconsin who stood up to fight for freedom and Union. The emotion attached to these banners continues to resonate, and I was instantly moved by their power.

We then toured the museum’s Civil War exhibit, which includes a Confederate cannon captured at Shiloh and almost immediately shipped to Wisconsin as a war trophy, and other objects with stories that are equally fascinating.

Mike, Kevin and I then had dinner, followed by my presentation about African American Faces of the Civil War at the museum. I was impressed with the quantity and quality of questions from the audience.

wisconsin-booksAfterwards, I signed books in the lobby gift shop. Here I met Kate Wheat of the 1st Brigade Band. Kate has purchased “Huzzah” refrigerator magnets from my wife, Anne. Kate kindly gave us her CD, “Frock Coats & Hoopskirts: Music for a Military Ball.” It’s currently playing in the background as I write this post.

I also met a young man named Matthew, who purchased a copy of the book. He is fascinated with the Civil War, especially the Battle of Gettysburg and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. He reminded me of myself as a boy, and I was particularly pleased that a copy of African American Faces is in his possession. I hope it deepens his appreciation and understanding of this pivotal moment in our nation’s history.

I’m deeply appreciative for the opportunity, and thankful to Mike, Kevin, Jen, and the rest of the staff for making my Wisconsin visit memorable! I left the museum deeply impressed, and highly recommend a visit. I look forward to working with Mike and Kevin as they continue to seek out Wisconsin Civil War images.

Eyes out for the five-button coat!

Appearance at the Slouching Salon

slouching-salonLast night I gave a talk about African American Faces of the Civil War before a small discussion club at a private home in Arlington, Va. The group, known as the “Slouching Salon,” has been in existence for years. They normally convene to discuss a specific topic, but occasionally entertain speakers. I found them to be tight-knit group who were eager to learn and had plenty of good questions. An excellent event, and many thanks to host Bob Roll for inviting me to participate. Speaking in a small private space instead of an auditorium was a more intimate experience, and reminded me of the popular House Concert movement currently in fashion. I’d like to do more events like this!

Here I am kicked back in the living room of Bob Roll’s residence, at the very beginning of the presentation.

Book Talk at the Historical Society of Kent County

photo 1Located in the heart of Chestertown, Md., the Historical Society of Kent County has one of the best locations of any I’ve visited. It was an excellent venue to present a talk about African American Faces of the Civil War. Yesterday I spoke to members of the society and guests as the streets outside were crowded with locals participating in First Friday events.

I enjoyed my visit, thanks in large part to Steve Frohock, who coordinated the event. Steve was responsible for having all three of my books available for purchase (thanks to all who did!) and a wonderful display in the front window of the Bordley History Center (pictured top and bottom).

photo 3Steve (pictured, right) told me that the society had worked with The Johns Hopkins University Press on a number of book-related events.

About 400 African American men from Kent County served in the Union army, and the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Hall they built in 1908 still stands. But the area is best known to historians and others, according to Steve, for the War of 1812. On August 30, 1814, the Kent County militia battled the British at Caulk’s Field. The site is in pristine condition today, and plans are underway for the bicentennial celebration next year.

photo 2Thanks to everyone who came out yesterday afternoon! On a side note for those of you familiar with the Bay Bridge and Friday beach traffic, it was minimal!

New on Disunion: A Slave’s Service in the Confederate Army

24disunion-img-blog427I originally wrote about Silas Chandler, the slave who served two masters in the Confederate army, in African American Faces of the Civil War. In a new version posted yesterday on the New York Times Disunion blog, I’ve revised the story with a few additional details, including this paragraph that provides context about slaves who served Mississippi Confederates:

“In 1888, Mississippi established a state pension program for Confederate veterans and their widows. African-Americans who had acted as slave servants to soldiers in gray were also allowed to participate. Over all, 1,739 men of color were on the pension rolls, including Silas.”

Read the full story.

“African American Faces” in the Baltimore Sun

sunFred Rasmussen, who writes the popular column Back Story for the Baltimore Sun, featured African American Faces of War yesterday. Fred attended my recent book talk at the Johns Hopkins Club, and I thoroughly enjoyed having he opportunity to meet him. Fred was born in raised in Dunellen, N.J., only a mile or two from my boyhood home in Middlesex.

An excerpt from Back Story:

Some 200,000 African-Americans enlisted in the Union army or navy — some of them were free while others were runaway slaves. They served as soldiers, servants or laborers.

Not only did Coddington, who lives in Arlington, Va., draw on his own collection, he turned to other collectors, historical societies and libraries such as the Beinecke Library at Yale University, which had images of the 108th Infantry of the U.S. Colored Troops in its collection, for instance.

He selected only images of men who were identified by name, which allowed him to go to the National Archives and the Library of Congress, where he was able to go through pension records, revealing a great deal of biographical information on the individuals.

Read the full column.