A new acquisition to the CDV collection – another Civil War soldier (definitely Union this time!) complete with sword, cap, and patriotic studio backdrop. The sword, his youth, and the overall style of his uniform suggest to me junior grade officer. Some non-commissioned officers did carry swords, particularly in the cavalry and artillery, but they would have had rank insignia on their sleeves.
This is the first soldier portrait from the period that I have which has a patriotic battle-themed background (notice the cannon to his right just above the table, along with the field tents and flag). This was a popular thing to do during the Civil War for soldiers. Many itinerant photographers had backdrops painted to depict scenes of camp life in front of which they would pose the soldiers. These backdrops served as positive propaganda back home, as it gave the soldiers’ loved ones a sense of normalcy to the life of their son/brother/husband/father. This one was done in a proper studio in Washington DC, just a few doors down the street from Matthew Brady’s parlor. I would guess based on the rather healthy looking condition of the young man that this was taken before he first marched into the field, and probably early in the war.
On a separate but not entirely unrelated note – if you observe carefully, you can see the foot of the posing stand peeking out from behind his legs. I’ve been seeing a lot of comments on Facebook lately about how some at best tragically uninformed and at worst scandalously unscrupulous people out there on Ebay and other online venues have been describing ANY photo of this period where the posing stand is visible as a post-mortem. I want to debunk this myth as strenuously and vigorously as possible. Posing stands were NOT meant to keep corpses in the upright position while they were being photographed. For that matter, most genuine post-mortems I’ve seen have shown the deceased in a prone position if an adult, sometimes sitting up or being held by a parent if a child, but even then children were not uncommonly posed in their coffins.
I would say that this young man is very definitely, obviously alive and well at the time of the taking of this photograph, wouldn’t you agree?
The latest acquisition in my collection – an unnamed Corporal in the US Army, photographed by Alexander Gardner.
If you look carefully you can see the service stripe on his sleeve. This designates three years of service, so in all likelihood this was taken in 1864, as Gardner was working for Mathew Brady until late 1862, and opened his own Washington DC studio in 1863. Soldiers with the three year service stripe would have been quite rare before 1864 due to the politics of enlistment in the first years of the war and the relatively small size of the army prior to 1861. I’m not sure how long after the War ended he continued to use the “Photographer to the Army of the Potomac” logo, but it most likely ceased within a year or two after the war, as the civilian population quickly tired of reminders of the irrepressible bloody conflict.
I just discovered one reason why Gardner studio imprint CDVs are so much less common than Brady studio imprint CDVs – Gardner ceased photographing in 1871 and opened an insurance firm, whereas Brady continued working as a photographer until his death three decades after the war.
Here is a CDV of a Union solider from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, my hometown. I found it on an excursion up to Gettysburg this weekend. Judging from his overall appearance of health and cleanliness, this was probably taken at the beginning of the war when he enlisted. When I saw the image in the display case, I felt a need to acquire it just because it was from Chambersburg. After doing a little collecting, I’m getting the impression that there was only one, or perhaps two photo studios in Chambersburg for most of the 19th century, as this H. Bishop seems to be the most frequent studio back mark by far. I’m starting a records search to try and identify the young man, as there weren’t THAT many sergeants in the units from the Chambersburg area. I’m thinking a trip to the Kittochtinny Historical Society offices is in order when the weather is warmer and they’re back to full hours (I think they close up for the most part in the wintertime as their archives are in the Old Jail and are not heated). The Old Jail, by the way, is well worth a visit if you’re ever passing through Chambersburg – the main part of the jail is a Georgian structure dating to at least 1818, and was in use as a prison at least into the 1960s, when one of my father’s partners in his medical practice would take calls to see patients being held there.
This is an E&HT Anthony reprint of a Mathew Brady CDV of “Fightin” Joe Hooker, appointed by Lincoln to lead the Union armies after Burnside’s disaster at Fredericksburg. Hooker didn’t last long after, meeting his tactical doom at Chancellorsville. This is not a rare version of the image, but rather an 1860s equivalent of a celebrity collector card – people would assemble albums featuring the politicians, generals, stars of the stage, and other celebrity types (Barnums’ Circus freaks, writers, poets, and so on). Unlike today where people, mostly teenagers, collect pictures of their favorite stars, in the 19th century it was not uncommon to find these cartes mixed in with the family album, and collected by the senior members of the family, not just star-struck children.