Over the weekend I was on a Civil War history tour with the inimitable Ed Bearss. Another tour participant was a fellow civil war image collector and a re-enactor who talks about Civil War medicine. He also works for the Civil War Medical Museum in Frederick, Maryland. We were discussing images in our collections and he too has a copy of this CDV, and even without my prompting, described it as Clara Barton and John J. Elwell. I’m still going to take some time to go down to the Library of Congress to try and verify the image in their collection. But it’s good to know that I’m NOT alone in my interpretation of who these sitters are.
The young couple in the previous post are Clara Barton and John J. Elwell, the young man she was linked to romantically.
While there is no evidence that they were ever sexually intimate, some time after the war, General Elwell wrote to her that he loved her “all the law allows (and a little more perhaps)”. What exactly that meant remains the realm of speculation, as it is certainly cryptic by intent; General Elwell was a married man. Given that he was married at the time of his association with Clara Barton, this photograph becomes an act of bravery and defiance (or brazenness depending on your take of Victorian social mores), although perhaps it could have been passed off as innocent as Ms. Barton and General Elwell both served together in South Carolina at the assault on Fort Wagner, he with the Quartermaster’s Corps, she as a civilian nurse. Certainly at the time she was already famous, and he would have been so as well by the time the photo was taken in 1865, so it may have been at Mathew Brady’s urging that they posed together or it may have been of their own choosing.
Here is an image of General Elwell:
and Clara Barton:
And my photo for comparison:
Here is a link to the DC photographers’ map. I’ve got some more photographers written down somewhere that I’ll be adding to the map soon. I found addresses on a CDV for Alexander Gardner’s studio, but oddly enough there were A: two addresses not adjacent but still proximate to each other, and B: neither one was the address I thought it was. There is still the remains of a wet-plate era portrait studio that you can see from the alley behind the National Council of Negro Women’s headquarters in the 800 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. Even though it’s not a portrait studio, I’m including Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office on the map as a point of interest because it, like so many of these studios, was presumed lost for decades but only recently re-discovered, and is chronologically and geographically contemporaneous with the studios I’m tracking. At some point I’m sure either the patrons or the staff of her bureau availed themselves of the photographic archives of the studios in the neighborhood to help in finding missing soldiers after the war.
Also interesting – Alexander Gardner began his career in Washington working as Mathew Brady’s studio manager. At some point they had a falling out and Gardner opened his own studio. I didn’t realize it was literally next door to Brady’s.
I can also now definitively place Schroeder & Rakeman’s studio in Northwest DC, having found another photographer making reference to the “Market” at Pennsylvania Avenue, which is where the Navy Memorial is currently located.