Thursday, October 08, 2009

Rare Artistic Pose of a Union Artillery Officer

Securing image scans and permissions, and researching and writing about African Americans who participated in the war is my top priority. However, I remain an avid collector of cartes de visite. A recent addition is this image of John Aiken Millard Jr., photographed in the studio of Pine & Bell of Troy, New York.

Millard's artistic pose in certainly unusual for the period. He reclines against a fabric and tassel covered box surrounded by the trappings of an officer: Binoculars and case, sword and scabbard. A leather bound journal lay open, leaning against his forage cap. On the page most visible to the camera appears to be writing. Upon closer examination, the "writing" is nothing more than wiggly lines added in ink by the photographer or an assistant. The presence of the book is perhaps symbolic of an man of letters. Millard's well-tailored uniform, cuff links, and lace handkerchief suggest he hails from a family of privilege and wealth.

The ink inscription in the upper left of the print area identify the sitter as "Lieut Millard 1 Reg Art'y A.P." He officially served as a second lieutenant in Battery H of the First New York Light Artillery, part of the the Army of the Potomac. On the right side of the image is stamped a large letter M, and is written the date, Nov. 29, 1864. Millard officially mustered in to the First a month later. He survived the war and left the army in June 1865.

Cartes de visite like this are rare. I am aware of only one other like it. Check out a larger version on Flickr.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Illuminated History

Vicki Profitt has created a unique entry point into the Civil War experience by leading the inaugural "Civil War Soldiers of Pittsford Tour" at Pittsford Cemetery in Pittsford, N.Y.

What began as a project to document veteran headstones has become a larger effort to learn more about the 120-plus men who served, their contributions to the Union cause, and, for those who survived, their impact on the community.

Vicki notes, "My goal is to put together a book with the information I have collected about each soldier and offer it for sale through our historical society." She maintains a blog, Illuminated History, to document her journey. I was particularly drawn to the compelling image on her latest post, which features the headstone of Sgt. John Buckley Bacon, Fourth Wisconsin Cavalry. The stone is flanked by a post-war image of Bacon and an American flag.

It is efforts like these that keep history alive, and help all of us to better understand and appreciate our roots.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Mystery of William Hydorn Jr.

This Civil War era carte de visite, identified in period pen as William Hydorn Jr., has been in my possession for years. The inscription does not include the unit in which he served. I've never been able to link him to a military organization. His name (using this spelling or variations) does not appear on any federal rolls, and is curiously absent from databases online and at the National Archives. I've speculated that he may have served under an alias, or perhaps his record is misfiled, mislaid, or listed under an alternative spelling with which I am not familiar.

Recently I posted this image on Flickr, hoping to make a connection. Late last week, Sam Small of The Horse Soldier in Gettysburg contacted me. He had recently purchased a Union captain's coat and a sword. He had the saber professionally cleaned, which revealed an inscription: William Heydorne. Eventually his online search results led to my Flickr posting.

Turns out the sword is an exact match with the one held by the soldier in this image, and the rather narrow shoulder straps on the uniform coat in Sam Small's possession also line up with the coat worn by this officer.

Since then, I have been obsessed with discovering this man's military service record. Yesterday I made the first connection that aligns the information on this carte with a record: Capt. William Hydorn, Company F. Ninety-seventh Regiment, Tenth Brigade, Third Division, New York National Guard. His rank dates to Dec. 24, 1864. His residence is Grafton. This information from the Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New York (1866, Vol. 1).

This is a promising lead, and I am currently seeking more information.

My working theory is that this is William Willard Hydorn Jr. (1837-1874) of Grafton, N.Y., who served in the Ninety-seventh New York State National Guard. Commanded by Col. Schuyler Greenman, the 500-man regiment served the state from late 1864 until it disbanded in 1868. The unit never mustered for federal service.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

In Living Color

I am a purist by nature and by training as a visual journalist. For these reasons, the thought of colorizing images instantly strikes me in a negative tone. However, when I reflect on the many Civil War period photographers who tinted cartes de visite, or employed colorists to artfully add a bit of pigment to enhance a black and white image, my gut instinct is challenged. Moreover, when I consider the value of examining images from different perspectives, and realizing the power of modern technology (in this case, scanners and Photoshop), my curiosity is aroused. What did these soldiers look like in living color? We'll never see these men exactly how they appeared. But, thanks to Photoshop, as shown here in this carte de visite of Maj. Edward Burgin Knox (left) and Capt. Alexander McRoberts of the Fourty-fourth New York Infantry, we can get an idea of what they might have really looked like.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Where is the Body of Aaron Hunt Ingraham?

There can be no doubt that Aaron Hunt Ingraham of the Forty-eighth New York Infantry fell in action at Cold Harbor, Virginia, on June 1, 1864. His military service record, regimental history books, and other sources all confirm this fact, and that his body was buried on the battlefield and never recovered.

However, the location of his remains are now in question.

Yesterday, I received an email from Jim Kravchuk of the 150th New York Volunteer Infantry Association. Jim and others have been looking for grave sites of members of the regiment, and to date have identified more than 400. Jim, who lives in Amenia, the hometown of Aaron Ingraham, informed me that he "came across a large stone covered by brush that on one side of the stone it has one family [name] but the brush covered side has the Ingraham Family. Listed is Aaron H. Ingraham with a very old GAR marker in front of his name."

Is Lt. Ingraham's body buried beneath the stone? Or, does his remains rest on the Cold Harbor battlefield where he fell and the stone serve as a memorial to his life and military service? Further research will be necessary. One clue may be on the stone itself, which is located in the Amenia Island Cemetery. According to Jim, "the first burials at this cemetery didn't occur until 1869. There are some older stones there that were moved there from an older burial ground so that families could rest together."

Jim wants to clean the stone, and the Sons of Union Veterans have expressed an interest in rededicating the site.

If you have any information, please comment.

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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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