Civil War Portraits

During the American Civil War, photography was coming into it’s own as an art form and widespread practice. For the first time, photographers ventured out into the battle field, sending home poignant images of the horrors of war. Soldiers lined up to have their portraits taken and requested the same from beloved and missed family members at home. As you read through the letters, at several points William specifically requests that pictures of Sarah and very specifically his daughter Melissa, be taken and sent to him.

There were several basic processes for photography during the civil war. These were daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, iron tintypes and cartes de visite (or card photographs) and stereographs. Tintypes were enormously popular during the Civil War because they were inexpensive, quickly produced, durable and could easily be mailed without fear of damage. During the civil war, it became common for soldiers who were about to leave to pose in uniform so their loved ones had a photo before they left. Itinerant photographers also visited the encampments, setting up temporary studios near the army camps to take portraits of the soldiers to be sent home.

Tintype photos are made by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel and used as the support for the photographic emulsion. There were two different processes that could be used, wet and dry. In the wet process, a collodion emulsion with silver halide had to be formed on the plate just before it was exposed in the camera while still wet. Chemical treatment then reduced infused crystals to microscopic particles of metallic silver in proportion to the intensity and duration of their exposure to light, resulting in a visible image. The dry process was similar but used a gelatin emulsion which could be applied to the plate long before use and exposed in the camera dry. With both processes, an underexposed negative would be produced where densest areas appeared gray whereas the darkest areas of the subject would be transparent. Once set against the dark lacquer backing of the metal plate, these transparent areas would appear black.

Many soldiers felt it important to document their lives and existence through portraits just prior to and during the war.  Thus enters an interesting conflict with this portrait of James Grigg.

The photo is clearly labeled as being of James Grigg and the website we obtained it from identified him as being from the Indiana 10th.  However James was not an officer, but the man in the portrait is wearing an officer’s uniform, thus lending some doubt as to if this was our James. Some extensive discussion among family members and the Indiana State Library, followed by a process of elimination for all other James Grigg we can find in Civil War archives for the State of Indiana, basically identifies the man in the portrait as my own ancestor. So why then the officer’s jacket? The best answer we have is that the jacket had been loaned to James to wear for his portrait.

Having your portrait taken during this time was considered a formal occasion.  Most portraits of this period featured individuals in their “Sunday best” and if a subject did not have appropriate clothing, the photographer may have kept a stock of suitable items for their patrons to borrow for their sitting. In the end, these portraits would become valuable and important keepsakes for friends and family to remember their beloved soldier in his absence and possible death. On the soldier’s end, portraits from home helped them keep a connection to their sorely missed loved ones and serve as a reminder of their purpose.

For us, these portraits that endure gives us a glimpse into the determined, sometimes eager and brazen, individuals who fought in the most divisive wars in US history. It puts a face to the conflict like no other. For more information on Civil War Portraits, Yale University has an online exhibition here.

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Morgan’s Raid

On July 8, Confederate John Hunt Morgan crossed over the Ohio River in to the state of Indiana near Maupuck using two stolen steamboats. There he and a troupe of about 1800 men proceeded to conduct raids on the local communities such as Corydon Vernon, Dupont, New Pekin, Salem, and Versailles. Governor Morton put out a call for every able bodied man to take up arms as a home defense. The resulting Home Guard comprised of enthusiastic but poorly trained men who fought valiantly, but in the end failed to entirely stop Morgan’s progress. The result was weeks of looting, damage and civilian causalities Ripley County, Indiana. One formal battle was fought at Corydon between Morgan’s men and some 400 assembled volunteers. The volunteers managed to delay the Confederate’s advance but in the end were captured and paroled. Morgan’s main targets appeared to be rail depots, bridges, and sources of food, funds and fresh horses for his men. Reports of the time indicated he demanded ransoms and taxes from the locals to not burn mills and businesses. One amusing antidote indicated that Morgan’s men burned the storehouse in DuPont, Indiana and stole some 2,000 hams. Unable to keep them due to flies, they discarded them in route to Salem, leaving a trail of hams for the pursuing Calvary to follow.

Eventually, a large Calvary force under the command of General Edward Henry Hobson, chased Morgan from Indiana with support from the some 65,000 home guard men and Union U-boats on the Ohio River. Morgan and his men left Indiana at Harrison on July 13 and entered Ohio.

There appear to be three distinct goals with these raids. The first was to draw the northern armies away from the confederate lines in support of the civilian populations in Indiana. The second was to disrupt supply lines, as evidenced in Morgan’s focus on depots and bridges. The third appeared to be to drum up further enthusiasm with the local Coppperheads. Morgan, being a flamboyant, handsome, and dashing figure was thought to inspire others to follow in defiance of the Union.

However, Morgan failed to meet any of these goals.

Despite the reign of destruction and terror, Morgan failed to disrupt any communication or supply lines. Locals quickly repaired any damage to the depots he hit, causing mostly inconvenience. He did not occupy any major Indiana city, and regular Federal troops sent in to stop him were insufficient release pressure off Confederate the lines in Kentucky. Finally, Morgan failed to inspire a Copperhead uprising and instead his raids had the opposite effect on the morale and attitudes of the locals. Instead of flocking to him as recruits or inspiring a lasting fear, the locals instead became angry, outraged, and determined to stop him.
In total, Morgan spent three weeks in Indiana and Ohio.

While this is not directly related to the Indiana 10th, the raiders appeared to have passed through Darlington and the incident is referred to in several of the upcoming letters.

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The Copperhead Movement

In up coming letters, you will start to hear William discuss the local “Copperheads”  The Copperheads or “Peace Democrats” were northern sympathizers to the confederates.  They were defined by being anti-war, pro-slavery, and very vocal about their stance.  Historians note that many Copperheads focused on political activities such as organizing anti-war political rallies, opposing pro-war and abolitionist candidates, and fighting against the draft.  Some Copperheads attempted to talk Union soldiers into deserting.  There were also indications that some Copperheads had been planning to assist with the escape of Confederate prisoners and sometimes served as paid informants to Confederate agents.  A series of trials in 1864 accused prominent Copperheads of treason.

The majority of Copperheads were in the southern Midwest in southern Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana which is likely why they feature so frequently in letters between William and his family in Darlington, Indiana.  Demographically, members of the Copperhead movement consisted of former Southerners who had moved north of the Ohio River, the poor, and merchants whose businesses were suffering due to loss of business down south.  The group also consisted of many German and Irish Catholics from mill town and mining communities.

There remains a fair amount of debate among historians on the effect of the Copperhead movement on the war as well as the extent of their loyalty to the Union and the depth of their racist views. 

 

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