The New Dags, and the original Tintype that started it all…

Here are the three new daguerreotypes that arrived yesterday. The scans do not do them justice, as they pick up every fleck of dust and scratch and magnify them, plus the images themselves are slightly soft due to being just out of the scanner’s focusing range. They’re all 1/6 plate daguerreotypes in full leather cases. Mrs. A.A. Hill and the gentleman with the top hat have had their seals replaced and glass and mats cleaned recently. The anonymous gentleman in the fancy vest still has his original seals on the packet. Given that the cases of the two gentlemen’s photos are almost identical (same style of mat and packet frame, same style of case lining – plain red silk), the odds are in favor of them both having been made within a year or two of each other – the gent in the fancy vest would have been photographed sometime between 1847 and 1851.

Gentleman With Top Hat, dated October 15, 1849
Gentleman With Top Hat, dated October 15, 1849
Mrs. A.A. Hill, Daguerreotype
Mrs. A.A. Hill, Daguerreotype
Anonymous Gentleman in Fancy Vest
Anonymous Gentleman in Fancy Vest

And last but certainly not least, is the photo that started it all. This was the first image I ever “collected” – it was an inheritance from my grandmother. Alas she did not get to tell me what if anything she knew about him, as it came to me shortly before she passed away. Thanks to a friend who is a serious civil war buff and re-enactor, I have been able to put some information together about who he might be. The soldier was a member of the 76th Pennsylvania Zouaves, who trained and fought in Moroccan-style uniforms adopted from French Zouave units. Zouaves (pronounced zoo-ahh-vah), patterned after the French Zouaves, were elite units especially popular in the Union Army. They were known for their precision on the drill field and for their colorful uniforms consisting of gaiters, baggy pants, short red jackets with trim, and turbans or fezzes.* Given the area of Pennsylvania in which my family lived, he was probably a member of Company B, D or E of the 76th Pennsylvania. The 76th Pennsylvania was involved in a number of major conflicts during the Civil War, including the assault on Fort Wagner (made famous in the movie Glory where the 54th Massachussetts (the first authorized all African-American unit) won their honor in the assault on the ramparts), Drewry’s Bluff, Cold Harbor, the siege of Petersburg, the battle of Fair Oaks, and the surrender of Johnston’s army. As typical, they lost more men to disease than to combat – 161 killed vs 192 laid low by disease. The officers fared better- 9 killed vs. 2 lost to illness. I don’t know for certain, but I believe my ancestor was one of the survivors.

According to my friend, this image was made in late 1861 or early 1862, as the uniform changed over the course of the war to more closely resemble the standard Union blue uniforms. Also, in this picture he looks to be in the peak of health. Most veterans by late in the war were looking rather thin, and on the Confederate side, downright malnourished.

The photo is a 1/9th plate tintype in a half-case – the case is designed to look like a miniature book, but now the front cover has gone AWOL.

If anyone can help identify him more specifically, your assistance would be GREATLY appreciated. The last name would most likely be Berger (or a spelling variation on the same) or Riley. Davies is also possible, but less likely as I think the Davies branch didn’t immigrate to the US until the 1870s, but that could be wrong.

It COULD be George W. Reilly of Company E, but according to the records I found, he entered service in 1865, as a substitute for someone else who was drafted, so the early uniform date would not make sense.

It could also be James D. Davis or George Davis, who were Corporals in Company C, but the spelling of the name is wrong for the time period.

Another possibility is James P. Davis of Company K. Again, the spelling is wrong, but the location is a fit – Company K was organized in Schuykill County, which is where the Davies branch of the family lived. Two other Davises, Robert and Isaac, are listed as privates in Company K, but both were killed in action. So I’m a bit confused as to who he might have been. He’s got some kind of rank insignia on his sleeve, but it is only one stripe, and Union corporals had two stripes. In the modern Marine Corps, lance corporals get a single stripe, but this is not a Marine uniform. So herein lies a giant mystery.

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