Friday, October 31, 2008

CWPT and Education

Had lunch today with Dave Wiemer, a development associate at the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT). We swapped stories about our common interest and related topics. Of particular interest to me is the CWPT's commitment to education, evident in their History Center and Classroom effort. I gave Dave a copy of Union Faces, and also described to him the idea of using cartes de visite in schools (See related post). In short, a deck of cards — 30 soldier cartes de visite with the name of the soldier for the students, and 30 cards with their fate, either read or distributed by the teacher at the end of the lesson. He was quite enthusiastic, and I hope to pursue this soon.

Dave is a great guy! Easygoing and friendly, he is an excellent ambassador for the CWPT.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

"How Sad a Task"

This evening I was scanning the History of the Eighth Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteers, looking for references to Maj. Henry Howard Huse. I found numerous references to the major, some of which will be incorporated into his forthcoming profile.

As is often the case, I found an interesting anecdote unrelated to the subject of my profile. This one is part of a diary entry penned by Chaplain Daniel Plummer Cilley (1806-1888) three days after the June 14, 1863 failed Union assault on Port Hudson.

Rev. Cilley wrote, "The flag of truce is up and the dead and wounded are being removed. I saw 114 dead soldiers buried in one long grave. I have 'wallets,' papers, and pictures to send to the friends, one of the latter articles, the photograph of a very pretty young lady. How sad a task it is to tell of death and suffering to those at home. I cannot get the scenes out of my mind."

Cilley's straightforward accounting of what he saw, and his candid expression of feeling, caught my attention.

I wonder if he carried the memory of those tragic scenes for the rest of his life.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Prolific Dr. Bontecou

Dr. Reed Bontecou (1824-1907) left behind a massive amount of textual and visual material in his six decades as a physician, including five years as a surgeon in the Second New York Infantry and U.S. Volunteer Medical Staff. I have a folder on my desk bulging with documents, and file folder on my laptop desktop with numerous pdf files and a twenty page Word document of preliminary notes gathered over the past two years — the most time I've spent researching a single subject.

I've enjoyed every minute of the research, and it is with mixed emotions that I write his profile and bring this project to a close. Bontecou is a fasinating study. His name will likely ring a bell for those who have seen examples of the hundreds of pre- and post-operative photographs of wounded soldiers he ordered taken while chief of Harewood Hospital in Washington, D.C. "Bontecou is considered by photographic historians as probably the first to practice the application of photography to the field of military service," noted one biographer.

The time was spent tracking down various primary and secondary sources, and following several related stories. For example, to represent Bontecou's collection of images, I researched the life and military service of Pvt. Lewis Maston of the Second New York Cavalry. He came under Bontecou's care after suffering a wound at Five Forks that resulted in the amputation of his left leg at the knee. I also had to learn about the history of the formation of the Army Medical Museum. I am still in awe that, in the middle of a major war and national crisis of the first order, that the surgeon general would have the vision to establish a museum to improve soldier care and provide a base of materials from which doctors could study and learn and save lives.

I plan on publishing Bontecou's story in the January issue of Civil War News.

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Confederate Book Jacket Arrives

Senior Manuscript Editor Anne Whitmore sent me several jackets for Confederate Faces with a note that really brightened my day: "When these were sitting in my in-box, everyone who walked by stopped and said, 'Wow.' It's just as handsome, arresting, and haunting as the jacket for the Union volume — a tough standard to meet."

I salute the design team for coming through again! I am delighted with it. I took one of the jackets and wrapped it around a copy of Union Faces for this picture.

FYI: The rest of the book is due at the end of November.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Searching for Images for Next Volume

It has been more than a month since I received the issue of the Civil War News with the story about the Twenty-ninth Connecticut Colored Infantry, illustrated with a wonderful carte de visite of two sergeants from the regiment. The image motivated me to get serious about beginning the search for identified, wartime cartes of those who served in the U.S.C.T. Researching and writing about the African-American war experience is a natural next volume in this series.

Last week, I officially began by making contact with Harrison Mero of the Twenty-ninth descendant’s group. He was extremely helpful, offering to provide me with details about the two soldiers, and put out the word that I am looking for photographs. He also directed me to Yale University’s Beinecke Library, which owns the carte.

I am on the track of a few more images. Seventy-seven are required (to be consistent with Union and Confederate Faces).

If you can help, please contact me! My criteria is identified, wartime cartes de visite of African-American soldiers.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Culture of Death

The idea “that Americans came to fight the Civil War in the midst of a wider cultural world that sent them messages about death that made it easier to kill and be killed” is an argument worthy of study, and Mark S. Schantz explores the topic in detail in his new book, Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America’s Culture of Death. Schantz examines key factors, organized in a series of essays, to support the argument, including Uncle Tom’s Cabin and other books, memorial lithographs and writings, and postmortem photographs of the antebellum period.

I found the detailed descriptions of the materials interesting, and am certain that Americans were much influenced by the culture of death. However, I am not convinced it made it easier for the soldiers who went to war to kill, or for the veteran generals that sent them to their deaths to do so with an easy conscience. The thought that the constant reminder of death that surrounded their lives, be it by the loss of a family member to disease, the passing of a young wife due to complications of childbirth, or the untimely death of a young soldier on a battlefield, somehow enabled soldiers to take lives with tacit permission runs countercurrent to the argument.

The general impression left through my own research, having read by now thousands of pages of soldier letters and documentation in military service and pension files, suggests that the violence and wholesale slaughter witnessed by and participated in by soldiers on both sides left deep psychological trauma — known today as post traumatic stress disorder — that the medical establishment during the decades following the end of the rebellion were not organized to recognize and treat in a meaningful way.

Also, I’ve read several collections of letters, all following a similar arc: In the beginning of the war, the soldier has an idyllic view of military life and thinks in terms of a romantic adventure. Over his term of enlistment, the perspective changes as the realities of campaigning, battles, disagreements with generalship and government policy, and regimental politics sets in. Yet underlining this arc is genuine patriotism: Whether it is the spring of 1861 or the summer of 1864, love of country and commitment to the end the conflict remains steadfast on both sides.

I recently spoke by telephone with Betty Schacher. Her great uncle, Simon Pincus, served with distinction in the Sixty-sixth New York Infantry. One of the stories she told me was how her “Uncle Sime” let a Southern soldier go at Gettysburg. He said he couldn’t shoot him because they were all Americans. In this case, it appears patriotism came before death.

Schantz does not mention the peace movement that broke out throughout the North, the result of many factors, including the shock of long casualty lists. This suggests that citizens were repelled by the massive death tolls.

For these reasons, I argue that the culture of death in which they lived reinforced the fragility of life. I cannot imagine the great frustration and hopelessness that so many families struggled with as they helplessly watched children sink into death from disease, or the life of a desperately wounded soldier slowly ebb away. Their own powerlessness stands in stark contrast to today’s society, in which so many physical and mental problems are treatable or able to be successfully managed.

Without question the men and women of the nineteenth century lived in a culture pervaded by death. Yet they also lived in a culture of life, and that culture dominates.

I recommend you give this book a read. I found it to be thought provoking.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Alert Flickr Member Spots Officer

An alert Flickr member, bch10, saw my carte de visite of 1st Lt. Robert S. Robertson of the Ninety-third New York Infantry, and left a comment that included a link to a Library of Congress image of the regiment's officers and non-commissioned officers, noting that Robertson sat front and center.

I downloaded the high-resolution, archival version of the image from the LOC (use this link, then enter call number LC-B817- 7515) and enlarged it to see the detail. I instantly recognized two of the other officers in the group, sending shivers through me.

The second man seated to Robertson's left is Capt. Dennis Edwin Barnes of Company C, who died in action during the Battle of the Wilderness. His image is in my Photostream. The officer with the sideburns standing behind Robertson's right is 1st Lt. Waters Whipple Braman of Company H. Braman later became a captain, and served as an aide-de-camp to generals David Birney and Gershom Mott. Braman's photo is not in my Photostream, but is included in Union Faces.

Robert Stoddart Robertson left the Ninety-third to become an aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Nelson A. Miles in December 1863. Five months later, during the Wilderness Campaign, near Corbin’s Creek, a Confederate charge broke the Union line. Robertson rallied the men, turned back the enemy attackers, and later received the Medal of Honor for his actions. Three weeks later, at Totopotomoy Creek, while carrying orders to a front line position, he suffered a serious leg wound that ended his military service. After the war he settled in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and served as lieutenant governor from 1886-1888. His full profile will appear in an future issue of Civil War News.

A detail of the LOC image is shown here. Sepia-toned portraits from my collection overlay it. (Note: The Barnes image was part of my collection for a short time. Purchased on eBay from Daniel Lorello, it has since been returned to the state of New York).

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Advertisement in "Civil War Times"

Pleasantly surprised this morning to discover an advertisement for Faces of the Confederacy while thumbing through the latest issue of Civil War Times magazine (December 2008, Gen. Benjamin Prentiss on the cover). Included is the endorsement of author Bob Zeller of the Center for Civil War Photography, who noted, "Coddington has brought new life to Civil War photographic portraits of obscure and long-forgotten Confederates whose wartime experiences might otherwise have been lost to history."

The ad also refers to two other books, Gustavus Vasa Fox of the Union Navy by Ari Hoogenboom and Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C., by Kathryn Allamong Jacob.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Cartes de Visite in Education

I received an email last night from a woman who has, over the past two years, been researching Civil War veterans with her maiden name. She is also planning to speak to her son's sixth grade class about the Civil War, and this is why she contacted me: Her idea is to give each child a reproduction of a carte de visite of an identified soldier at the beginning of the lesson, and, at the end of the lesson, reveal what became of each soldier. She wants to represent the death toll by having one of every four cartes a soldier who did not survive his war experience.

I am eager to help! I pointed her to my Flickr photostream, which currently numbers sixteen soldiers, and plan to email additional scans.

This is such an unique way to educate children about the Civil War, and I am excited to provide materials to make it happen. It reminds me of two museums in nearby Washington, D.C.: The Holocaust Memorial Museum, which provides visitors with a card that contains the name of a person at the beginning of the visit, and later reveals what happened to that individual, and the International Spy Museum, which allows you to pick a undercover identity, then provides you with basic facts, name, hometown, reason for your visit, which you have to remember while you tur the exhibit.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

"The Art of the Carte" Photography Exhibit

"The Art of the Carte" has been enhanced with additional images and a new look. The exhibit has been expanded to eighty images, arranged in ten galleries grouped by subject. More cartes will be added in the future. This gallery celebrates the artists and their contribution to vernacular photography during the Civil War period.

The images are displayed in Tiltviewer, a 3D Flash viewing application by Airtight Interactive. Airtight makes a free version, but I used Tiltviewer-Pro, which allows for customization.

I chose Tiltviewer because it allows a user to preview thumbnails, enlarge them in a single click, then flip the image to read the caption. In short, the navigation is the content. Also, its intuitive interface and organic qualities are a big plus.

Take a look!

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