Black Civil War Portraiture in Context

  1. Eri­na Duganne

Pub­lished April 5, 2012(*)

For those who had been or would be sep­a­rat­ed from their loved ones dur­ing the Civ­il War, pho­tog­ra­phy offered a rel­a­tive­ly quick and inex­pen­sive way to remem­ber these indi­vid­u­als as well as to keep them phys­i­cal­ly close.(1) Yet, in spite of the per­son­al mean­ings many of these images held at the time that they were made, today both the sub­jects and mak­ers of a large num­ber of nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry pho­to­graph­ic por­traits of Civ­il War sol­diers remain uniden­ti­fied. There are a vari­ety of rea­sons for this cir­cum­stance, includ­ing the terms under which the images were ini­tial­ly made—unsigned pho­tographs were the norm—as well as sold, usu­al­ly gen­er­a­tions lat­er in an estate sale or by an antiques deal­er, and then acquired, often by an unre­lat­ed col­lec­tor who has no way of recon­nect­ing the images to their orig­i­nal con­texts. For his­to­ri­ans, this anonymi­ty is espe­cial­ly chal­leng­ing, since it makes deter­min­ing the exact nature of the cul­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal con­texts in which these pho­tographs flour­ished prob­lem­at­ic. This dif­fi­cul­ty is espe­cial­ly true of nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry pho­to­graph­ic por­traits of black sol­diers. Not only are these pho­tographs rare—most Civ­il War pho­tographs depict African Amer­i­cans as either civil­ians attached to the mil­i­tary or as “con­tra­band” and refugees—but the seem­ing­ly pri­vate mean­ings of these images are addi­tion­al­ly cir­cum­scribed by the fact that it was not until the pas­sage of the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion on Jan­u­ary 1, 1863, that black men could even law­ful­ly enlist in the Union army. What, then, is the rela­tion­ship of these pho­to­graph­ic por­traits to ideas of black free­dom and equal­i­ty and, by exten­sion, man­hood and cit­i­zen­ship? Did these images in fact func­tion as sites of per­son­al expres­sion and auton­o­my or might they have equal­ly served to restrict this sov­er­eign­ty, albeit sym­bol­i­cal­ly? Try­ing to uncov­er the kinds of mean­ings that pho­to­graph­ic por­traits of black Civ­il War sol­diers had at the time of their mak­ing as well as illu­mi­nat­ing some of the chal­lenges that such a recov­ery pos­es for his­to­ri­ans today is the sub­ject of this essay.

An ambrotype in the Mir­ror of Race col­lec­tion is like many nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry pho­to­graph­ic por­traits from the Civ­il War peri­od in that, with the excep­tion of what the image depicts—a Union infantry man—and when it was taken—between 1863 and 1865—no oth­er infor­ma­tion about it exists (Fig. 1).

Fig­ure 1: Union sol­dier armed with mus­ket, bay­o­net, and pis­tol, ambrotype, c. 1863–65. Mak­er unknown. Col­lec­tion Greg French, Mir­ror of Race.

Still, care­ful look­ing and metic­u­lous research can lead at least to a par­tial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. For exam­ple, items of cloth­ing, such as insignia on hats and belt buck­les, can often be used to iden­ti­fy a reg­i­ment, while a dis­tinc­tive cur­tain or floor pat­tern, such as is found in the uniden­ti­fied Mir­ror of Race ambrotype, can be used to ascer­tain a photographer’s stu­dio.(2) In the archive at the State Library of Mass­a­chu­setts, for instance, resides a group of pho­tographs col­lect­ed by Col. Alfred Sted­man Hartwell, who was ini­tial­ly com­mis­sioned as lieu­tenant colonel of the Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ment of the Mass­a­chu­setts Vol­un­teer Infantry. In four pho­tographs from this col­lec­tion, the subjects—like the Union infantry­man in the uniden­ti­fied Mir­ror of Race ambrotype—are posed next to a sim­i­lar pat­terned cur­tain and stand on anal­o­gous dec­o­ra­tive floor tiles.(3) More­over, in one of these pho­tographs, a carte-de-vis­ite, the sub­ject is iden­ti­fied in peri­od pen on the ver­so as Sgt. Andrew Jack­son Smith of the Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ment (Fig. 2).

Fig­ure 2: Sergeant Andrew Jack­son Smith, carte-de-vis­ite. Mak­er unknown. Colonel Alfred S. Hartwell Papers (Ms. Coll. 1), Spe­cial Col­lec­tions Depart­ment, State Library of Mass­a­chu­setts.

A sec­ond carte-de-vis­ite, whose sub­ject is not wear­ing a uni­form and is iden­ti­fied in peri­od pen on the ver­so mere­ly as “Joe,” is also giv­en a location—“Headquarters, Camp Meigs, Readville, Mass” (Fig. 3). These peri­od inscrip­tions, while not iden­ti­fy­ing the sub­ject or mak­er of the uniden­ti­fied Mir­ror of Race ambrotype, nonethe­less pro­vide per­ti­nent clues to its his­to­ry.

Figure 3. Ambrotype of Joe Figure 3. Back of ambrotype
Fig­ure 3. Sol­dier photograph—Joe, carte-de-vis­ite. Mak­er unknown. Colonel Alfred S. Hartwell Papers (Ms. Coll. 1), Spe­cial Col­lec­tions Depart­ment, State Library of Mass­a­chu­setts.

In addi­tion to these images housed at the State Library of Mass­a­chu­setts, a col­lec­tion of pho­tographs locat­ed at the Mass­a­chu­setts His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety also includes a num­ber of cartes-de-vis­ite with the same cur­tain and floor pat­tern as found in the uniden­ti­fied Mir­ror of Race ambrotype. Col­lect­ed by Capt. Luis F. Emilio, a com­man­der of Com­pa­ny E, from the more well known Fifty-Fourth Reg­i­ment of the Mass­a­chu­setts Vol­un­teer Infantry, this sec­ond group of images is dif­fer­ent from the col­lec­tion of Colonel Hartwell in that its sub­jects are not exclu­sive­ly black. In one carte-de-vis­ite, Capt. Orrin E. Smith of the Fifty-Fourth Reg­i­ment has also been posed next to the same pat­terned cur­tain and he stands on dec­o­ra­tive floor tiles sim­i­lar to the ones shown with oth­er black sub­jects in both Colonel Hartwell’s col­lec­tion and the Mir­ror of Race ambrotype (Fig. 4).(4)

Fig­ure 4. Cap­tain Orrin E. Smith, carte-de-vis­ite. Mak­er unknown. Cour­tesy of the Mass­a­chu­setts His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety.

From the sim­i­lar­i­ties between these images, sev­er­al con­clu­sions can be made. First, giv­en that these pho­tographs depict sol­diers from both the Fifty-Fourth and Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ments, it is like­ly that the cur­tain and floor tiles were props from a photographer’s stu­dio set up at Camp Meigs, which was locat­ed some ten miles out­side Boston and was where both the Fifty-Fourth and the Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ments trained pri­or to being mus­tered into ser­vice.(5)

Sec­ond, giv­en that the same stu­dio props can be found in images made from a vari­ety of pho­to­graph­ic processes—cartes-de-visite, tin­types, and at least one ambrotype—it is pos­si­ble that a sin­gle pho­tog­ra­ph­er or even mul­ti­ple pho­tog­ra­phers may have used the stu­dio, depend­ing on the needs of the client. That leaves the ques­tion of why the sub­ject of the uniden­ti­fied Mir­ror of Race ambrotype would have cho­sen to have his like­ness made with a process that was typ­i­cal­ly more expen­sive than a tin­type and did not have the repro­ducibil­i­ty of a carte-de-vis­ite. Try­ing to answer this ques­tion requires look­ing beyond the object itself to the larg­er social and his­tor­i­cal con­text in which it was pro­duced and cir­cu­lat­ed.

Even though mil­i­tary reg­i­ments of black Amer­i­can men had been formed pri­or to the time that this uniden­ti­fied ambrotype was made, as men­tioned already, it was not until the pas­sage of the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion on Jan­u­ary 1, 1863, that black men could law­ful­ly enlist in the Union army. For many black Amer­i­can men, this oppor­tu­ni­ty rep­re­sent­ed a cru­cial step in what his­to­ri­an David Blight terms “the quest for the irrev­o­ca­ble recog­ni­tion of man­hood and cit­i­zen­ship.”(6) In oth­er words, for black Amer­i­can men, mil­i­tary ser­vice in the Union army allowed them for the first time to assert not only a sense of self-worth and equal­i­ty as men but, more impor­tant­ly, their rights and priv­i­leges as US cit­i­zens. As Fred­er­ick Dou­glass duly rec­og­nized: “Once let the black man get upon his per­son the brass let­ter U.S.; let him get an eagle on his but­ton, and a mus­ket on his shoul­der, and bul­lets in his pock­et, and there is no pow­er on the earth or under the sun which can deny that he has earned the rights of cit­i­zen­ship in the Unit­ed States.”(7) It would seem then, even with­out knowl­edge of the actu­al iden­ti­ty of the sub­ject or the mak­er of the Mir­ror of Race ambrotype, that this image ful­filled a sense of free­dom and equal­i­ty for its black sub­ject. More­over, giv­en that the sub­ject chose to have his like­ness repro­duced in an ornate­ly framed quar­ter-plate ambrotype, it would also seem that the ideals of free­dom and equal­i­ty that it represented—at a moment when many black Amer­i­can men legal­ly entered the war for the first time—were not only per­son­al but pre­cious.

Yet, as the war pro­gressed and the need to affirm the role of black men with­in the body politic, at least in the North, grew as well, these pri­vate ideals took on a much more pub­lic per­sona. In Harper’s Week­ly, for instance, sev­en months after the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion took effect, the edi­tors pub­lished wood engrav­ings based on two now wide­ly cir­cu­lat­ed cartes-de-vis­ite of Pvt. Hub­bard Pry­or before and after hav­ing enlist­ed with the Forty-Fourth US Col­ored Troops (Figs. 5 and 6).(8)

Fig­ures 5 and 6: Hub­bard Pry­or, before and after enlist­ment in the Forty-Fourth US Col­ored Troops, April 7, 1864. (The date Octo­ber 10, 1864, in the Nation­al Archives pho­to­graph record indi­cates the sub­mis­sion date of the mil­i­tary report on black recruit­ment with which the pho­tographs were includ­ed.) Pho­to­graph by A. S. Morse, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, Depart­ment of the Cum­ber­land. Cour­tesy of the Nation­al Archives, Records of the Adju­tant General’s Office, ca. 1775–ca. 1928, ARC Iden­ti­fi­er #849127 and #849136.

Tak­en by Union pho­tog­ra­ph­er A. S. Morse on April 7, 1864, at the request of com­mand­ing offi­cer Col. Reuben D. Mussey, the first image depicts Pry­or seat­ed meek­ly, wear­ing the ragged cloth­ing of a fugi­tive, while in the sec­ond, he stands proud­ly, wear­ing a clean uni­form and hold­ing a mus­ket.(9) Includ­ed in a report by Mussey about the suc­cess­es of black recruit­ment in Ten­nessee that was sent to Maj. Charles W. Fos­ter, chief of the Bureau of the Unit­ed States Col­ored Troops, these cartes-de-vis­ite, both with­in this report and as repro­duced on the pages of Harper’s Week­ly, were intend­ed to visu­al­ly sub­stan­ti­ate for white north­ern­ers how the act of becom­ing sol­diers trans­formed blacks into men and cit­i­zens. But, at the same time these pho­tographs were used to rec­og­nize black equal­i­ty and man­hood, they also served a larg­er ide­o­log­i­cal function—namely, to lim­it the actu­al free­dom rep­re­sent­ed through them. That is because, even though Pry­or is depict­ed as an enlist­ed sol­dier, his man­hood and cit­i­zen­ship, instead of being rep­re­sent­ed on their own terms, are nec­es­sar­i­ly teth­ered to his pre­vi­ous sta­tus as a fugi­tive slave and a con­tra­band.(10) In oth­er words, his man­li­ness and place with­in the body politic is bound­ed by the sub­mis­sive terms of his slav­ery past, which serves to dif­fer­en­ti­ate him and thus deny him full access to Amer­i­can free­dom and equal­i­ty.(11) I pro­pose that the seem­ing­ly pri­vate mean­ing and auton­o­my that I pre­vi­ous­ly aligned with the Mir­ror of Race ambrotype is equal­ly cir­cum­scribed.

To help sup­port this propo­si­tion, I turn now to anoth­er pho­to­graph in the Mir­ror of Race col­lec­tion: a carte de vis­ite of James Mon­roe Trot­ter (Fig. 7).

Fig­ure 7: John A. Whip­ple, James M. Trot­ter, carte-de-vis­ite, c. 1864. Col­lec­tion Greg French, Mir­ror of Race.

Unlike the uniden­ti­fied ambrotype, more fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion about this image is known. For instance, besides the name of its black subject—James M. Trotter—which is inscribed in peri­od pen on both the album page and the reverse of the image, two stamps appear on the reverse of the image, which serve to iden­ti­fy the photographer—John A. Whipple—and also to date the image to the peri­od of August 1864 to August 1866. From this infor­ma­tion, it is pos­si­ble to piece togeth­er with greater accu­ra­cy the con­di­tions under which Trot­ter came to have his like­ness made and the terms under which it was cir­cu­lat­ed as a carte-de-vis­ite.

James Trot­ter was born in 1842, in Grand Gulf, Mis­sis­sip­pi, to a slave named Leti­tia and her own­er, Richard S. Trot­ter.(12) Around 1854, Richard Trot­ter sent Leti­tia and her chil­dren to the free city of Cincin­nati, Ohio, where, after attend­ing sev­er­al schools in the area, the young James Trot­ter worked as a hotel and a river­boat cab­in bell­boy as well as a teacher. In 1863, after being recruit­ed by John Mer­cer Langston, Trot­ter moved to Mass­a­chu­setts, where he enlist­ed on June 11, 1863. With­in less than two weeks, he was mus­tered into Com­pa­ny K of the Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ment of the Mass­a­chu­setts Vol­un­teer Infantry as a first sergeant. On Novem­ber 19, 1863, he was pro­mot­ed to sergeant major and, on April 10, 1864, he was pro­mot­ed to the rank of sec­ond lieu­tenant, which was quite unusu­al for African Amer­i­cans serv­ing in the Union army. In the carte-de-vis­ite in the Mir­ror of Race col­lec­tion, Trot­ter wears the uni­form and officer’s shoul­der straps of a sec­ond lieu­tenant, which makes the rar­i­ty of this image even greater and most like­ly con­tributed to its ini­tial col­lec­tion and place­ment in the per­son­al album of the French noble­man the Count Agénor de Gas­parin. In 1865, the count com­piled a per­son­al album with over 201 images of impor­tant Civ­il War fig­ures, which includ­ed, in addi­tion to that of Trot­ter, depic­tions of such indi­vid­u­als as Abra­ham Lin­coln, Andrew John­son, Ulysses S. Grant, George A. Custer, and Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, among oth­ers.(13) The pres­ence of Trotter’s carte-de-vis­ite in this album sug­gests that as a sec­ond lieu­tenant in the Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ment of the Mass­a­chu­setts Vol­un­teer Infantry, Trot­ter had acquired a cer­tain celebri­ty sta­tus, at least among Civ­il War sol­diers. This fame is fur­ther sub­stan­ti­at­ed by the inscrip­tion in peri­od pen of Trotter’s name on both the ver­so of the album page and on the rec­to of the carte-de-vis­ite, which serves to attest not only to his like­ness but, more impor­tant­ly, to his dis­tinc­tion and the rar­i­ty of his hav­ing served as a black com­mis­sioned offi­cer in the Union army.(14)

From this infor­ma­tion, it would seem then that like the uniden­ti­fied ambrotype in the Mir­ror of Race col­lec­tion, this carte-de-vis­ite of James Trot­ter also func­tioned as a site of per­son­al expres­sion and auton­o­my for its black sub­ject. The author­i­ty of this read­ing, how­ev­er, becomes com­pli­cat­ed once one begins to sit­u­ate this pho­to­graph with­in the larg­er social and his­tor­i­cal con­text in which it was pro­duced and cir­cu­lat­ed. As already not­ed, with the pas­sage of the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion, black Amer­i­can men could active­ly as well as legal­ly be recruit­ed into the Union army. Nonethe­less, there remained a reluc­tance by the army to com­mis­sion any of its enlist­ed black sol­diers and a great deal of trep­i­da­tion among its white offi­cers when qual­i­fied black enlist­ed sol­diers were con­sid­ered for pro­mo­tion to offi­cer.(15) Trot­ter expe­ri­enced this fear first­hand. Even though he had been pro­mot­ed to the rank of sec­ond lieu­tenant on April 10, 1864, because of ongo­ing con­tract dis­agree­ments between com­mis­sioned black sol­diers and the US government—which had large­ly been brought about by white back­lash over the appoint­ment of black officers—he was not mus­tered to this rank until a lit­tle over a year lat­er, on July 1, 1865, less than two months before the Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ment was itself mus­tered out on August 29, 1865. For black Union sol­diers this bureau­crat­ic delay only fur­ther attest­ed to ongo­ing racial dis­crim­i­na­tion that exist­ed with­in the Union army, which, while advanc­ing claims to inclu­sion and equal­i­ty, nonethe­less con­tin­ued to pro­vide inequal­i­ty in pay and an unfair share of non­com­bat labor duty to its enlist­ed black sol­diers.

It is my con­tention that this con­tra­dic­tion with­in black mil­i­tary expe­ri­ence dur­ing the Civ­il War is also allud­ed to, albeit sym­bol­i­cal­ly, in the carte-de-vis­ite of James Trot­ter. Despite the hon­or of hav­ing his like­ness col­lect­ed as part of the album of Count Gas­parin, who was well-known as an abo­li­tion­ist sym­pa­thiz­er, in the peri­od pen inscrip­tion on the album page, Trot­ter is list­ed as a sergeant, even though he wears the uni­form and officer’s shoul­der straps of a sec­ond lieu­tenant, his actu­al rank when the carte-de-vis­ite was most like­ly made (at the time that the Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ment was mus­tered out).(16) In short, although the lieu­tenant uni­form that Trot­ter wears in this carte-de-vis­ite would have con­nect­ed him to oth­er white offi­cers of sim­i­lar rank and thus visu­al­ly sub­stan­ti­at­ed his posi­tion and priv­i­lege as a black offi­cer in the Union army, I pro­pose that the inscrip­tion of sergeant under his like­ness sym­bol­i­cal­ly kept this pow­er in check. From this slip­page in Trotter’s mil­i­tary rank inscribed on the album page, then, a more com­plex and mul­ti­fac­eted depic­tion of black mil­i­tary expe­ri­ence in the Union army begins to emerge and to sug­gest that, despite the argu­ment of Massachusetts’s gov­er­nor, John A. Andrews, that enlist­ing black men would give them “a chance to vin­di­cate their man­hood, and to strike a telling blow for their own race, and the free­dom of all their pos­ter­i­ty,”(17) per­va­sive racism con­tin­ued to exist with­in the Union army.

Racism against black Civ­il War sol­diers did not end with the war. Sgt. Andrew Jack­son Smith, for instance, who was pho­tographed next to a pat­terned cur­tain and dec­o­ra­tive floor tiles sim­i­lar to those in the uniden­ti­fied Mir­ror of Race ambrotype (see Fig. 2), was mus­tered into the Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ment after being a fugi­tive slave. Like Trot­ter and oth­er black non­com­mis­sioned sol­diers, as a cor­po­ral in the Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ment, he faced inequities in pay and had to endure an unfair share of non­com­bat labor duty. Nev­er­the­less, Smith con­tin­u­al­ly exhib­it­ed a great amount of courage and loy­al­ty, espe­cial­ly in the noto­ri­ous bat­tle of Hon­ey Hill, in which the Union army attacked a well-defend­ed Con­fed­er­ate for­ti­fi­ca­tion called Hon­ey Hill in South Car­oli­na on Novem­ber 30, 1864, in hopes of cut­ting off the rail­road link­ing Charleston, South Car­oli­na, with Savan­nah, Geor­gia. The bat­tle end­ed up being a par­tic­u­lar­ly bloody one for the Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ment. In less than five min­utes, over one hun­dred men were killed, includ­ing the revered col­or-bear­er. When Smith saw him get hit, he is pur­port­ed to have picked up the Amer­i­can flag, along with the fall­en reg­i­men­tal ban­ner from the mor­tal­ly wound­ed col­or-bear­er, and car­ried them through­out the rest of the bat­tle. This hero­ic act earned Smith, who two months after the bat­tle was pro­mot­ed to sergeant, a nom­i­na­tion for the high­est dis­tinc­tion in the US mil­i­tary, the cov­et­ed Medal of Hon­or.(18)

In 1916, Smith’s for­mer reg­i­men­tal sur­geon, Dr. Bur­ton Wilder, rec­om­mend­ed Smith for the medal; how­ev­er, although two white Civ­il War vet­er­ans were hon­ored that year, Smith’s nom­i­na­tion was denied by Woodrow Wilson’s War Depart­ment with the claim that no offi­cial record of Smith’s feat at Hon­ey Hill could be found. Yet, accord­ing to Robert Beck­man, a high-school his­to­ry teacher from Dun­lap, Illi­nois, who, along with Illi­nois State Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor Sharon Mac­Don­ald, lat­er found Smith’s ser­vice records in the Nation­al Archives, it is “very rea­son­able” to attribute racial dis­crim­i­na­tion to this deci­sion since, as he fur­ther explains, “There was ram­pant racism in the coun­try, and Woodrow Wil­son was a South­ern­er. They made a one-day search of the records—a cou­ple of hours, really—and claimed they couldn’t find any­thing.”(19) More­over, as Chica­go Tri­bune reporter Michael Kil­ian points out in an arti­cle about Smith, “Of 1,196 Medals of Hon­or award­ed in the Civ­il War, only 16 went to black sol­diers, though near­ly 300,000 served and many took part in hard fight­ing.”(20) To rec­ti­fy these past racial injus­tices, 137 years after the bat­tle at Hon­ey Hill and 69 years after his death, Smith’s hero­ic actions were final­ly acknowl­edged, thanks large­ly to the tire­less effort of Sen. Dick Durbin and for­mer Rep. Thomas Ewing, both of Illi­nois, who, along with the help of Robert Beck­man and Sharon Mac­Don­ald, pushed leg­is­la­tion through Con­gress so that in 2001, Smith was posthu­mous­ly award­ed, via his nine­ty-three-year-old daugh­ter, the Medal of Hon­or by Pres. Bill Clin­ton at a cer­e­mo­ny at the White House.(21)

It is pre­cise­ly the com­plex­i­ty of this his­tor­i­cal con­text that can­not be for­got­ten when try­ing to deter­mine the mean­ing of the uniden­ti­fied Mir­ror of Race ambrotype, whose subject—as a black non­com­mis­sioned sol­dier in the Fifty-Fourth or Fifty-Fifth Regiment—would have like­ly faced the same kind of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion that Trot­ter and Smith expe­ri­enced both dur­ing and after the Civ­il War. Though the pri­vate func­tion of this ambrotype may encour­age one to read it as an uncom­pli­cat­ed depic­tion of black free­dom and equal­i­ty, I would argue that its mean­ing, espe­cial­ly as it devel­oped over time, is cir­cum­scribed by exact­ly what is not visu­al­ized in the pho­to­graph, name­ly the racism that black Union sol­diers also expe­ri­enced as part of their involve­ment in the Amer­i­can Civ­il War.

Eri­na Duganne is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of art his­to­ry in the School of Art and Design at Texas State Uni­ver­si­ty, San Mar­cos. She is the author of The Self in Black and White: Race and Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty in Post­war Amer­i­can Pho­tog­ra­phy (Lebanon, New Hamp­shire: Dart­mouth Col­lege Press, 2010).


(1) For more infor­ma­tion about the kinds of uses of pho­tog­ra­phy dur­ing the Civ­il War peri­od, see Davis, Kei­th F., “‘A Ter­ri­ble Dis­tinct­ness’: Pho­tog­ra­phy of the Civ­il War Era,” in Pho­tog­ra­phy in Nine­teenth-Cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca, ed. Sandweiss, Martha A. (New York: Abrams, Inc. in con­junc­tion with the Amon Carter Muse­um, Fort Worth, Texas, 1991), 130–179.

(2) For a dis­cus­sion of the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Civ­il War pho­tographs based on these attrib­ut­es, see the Lil­jen­quist Fam­i­ly Col­lec­tion of Civ­il War Pho­tographs in the Library of Con­gress.

(3) For more about these images, see the Hartwell Col­lec­tion in the Mass­a­chu­setts State Library.

(4) These cartes-de-vis­ite of the Fifty-Fourth Reg­i­ment are also repro­duced in Emilio, Luis F., A Brave Black Reg­i­ment: His­to­ry of the Fifty-Fourth Reg­i­ment of Mass­a­chu­setts Vol­un­teer Infantry, 1863–1865 (Boston: Boston Book Company,1894; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1969) and at least one of them resides in the Fifty-Fourth Mass­a­chu­setts Vol­un­teer Infantry Reg­i­ment carte-de-vis­ite album in the Mass­a­chu­setts His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety.

(5) All three of the black units raised by the Com­mon­wealth of Mass­a­chu­setts received their train­ing at Camp Meigs. They includ­ed the Fifty-Fourth Reg­i­ment Infantry, the Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ment Infantry, and the Fifth Reg­i­ment Cav­al­ry. The Fifty-Fourth Reg­i­ment was the sixth black reg­i­ment to be autho­rized by the War Depart­ment. The Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ment was formed from the excess of recruits respond­ing to the call for the Fifty-Fourth Reg­i­ment. For more infor­ma­tion about Camp Meigs, see Emilio, A Brave Black Reg­i­ment; Stokinger, W. A., Schroed­er, A. K., and Swan­son, Capt. A. A., Civ­il War Camps at Readville (Boston: Reser­va­tions and His­toric Sites, 1990); Trudeau, Noah Andre ed., Voic­es of the 55th: Let­ters from the 55th Mass­a­chu­setts Vol­un­teers, 1861–1865 (Day­ton: Morn­ing­side, 1996); and Record of the Ser­vice of the Fifty-fifty Reg­i­ment of Mass­a­chu­setts Vol­un­teer Infantry (Cam­bridge: Press of John Wil­son and Son, 1868; reprint, Freeport: Books for Library Press, 1971).

(6) Blight, David, Fred­er­ick Douglass’s Civ­il War: Keep­ing Faith in Jubilee (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1989), 14. For more infor­ma­tion about the rela­tion­ship between man­hood, cit­i­zen­ship, and black Union sol­diers, see Cullen, Jim, “‘I’s a Man Now’: Gen­der and African Amer­i­can Men,” in Divid­ed Hous­es: Gen­der and the Civ­il War, ed. Clin­ton, Cather­ine, and Sil­ber, Nina (New York: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1992), 76–91; and Sami­to, Chris­t­ian G., Becom­ing Amer­i­can under Fire: Irish Amer­i­cans, African Amer­i­cans, and the Pol­i­tics of Cit­i­zen­ship Dur­ing the Civ­il War Era (Itha­ca: Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2009).

(7) Dou­glass, Fred­er­ick, “Negroes and the Nation­al War Effort,” an address deliv­ered in Philadel­phia, Penn­syl­va­nia, July 6, 1863, in John W. Blassingame, ed., The Fred­er­ick Dou­glass Papers Series 1: Speech­es, Debates, and Inter­views, vol. 3 (New Haven: Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1979), 596.

(8) “A Typ­i­cal Negro,” Harper’s Week­ly, July 4, 1864, 429.

(9) The depic­tion of enslaved African Amer­i­can men “stand­ing up” as metaphors for eman­ci­pa­tion was a com­mon, though fre­quent­ly fraught, visu­al trope in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. See, for instance, Sav­age, Kirk, Stand­ing Sol­diers, Kneel­ing Slaves: Race, War, and Mon­u­ment in Nine­teenth-Cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1997).

(10) In mak­ing this argu­ment, I do not mean to down­play the ways in which ideas of man­hood and cit­i­zen­ship were equal­ly attached to the male fugi­tive slave in the ante­bel­lum peri­od. See, for exam­ple, Douglass,Frederick, Nar­ra­tive of the Life of Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, an Amer­i­can Slave, ed. Blight, David W. (1845; Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 1993). How­ev­er, despite Douglass’s attempt to link man­hood and cit­i­zen­ship to the fugi­tive slave, he also advo­cat­ed black enlist­ment in the Union army as an equal­ly com­pelling path toward secur­ing the rights of cit­i­zen­ship. See Blight, David W., “Dou­glass and the Mean­ing of the Black Sol­dier,” in Fred­er­ick Dou­glass’ Civ­il War, 148–174.

(11) Hub­bard Pryor’s expe­ri­ence fight­ing for the Union army is a case in point. Dur­ing a bat­tle in Dal­ton, Geor­gia, the Forty-Fourth Infantry was forced to sur­ren­der to Con­fed­er­ate troops, who, while free­ing the white offi­cers, robbed the black sol­diers of their clothes and shoes and put them to work rebuild­ing south­ern rail­roads and oth­er facil­i­ties. Out of fear for his life, Pry­or kept his Union ser­vice a secret until 1890, when he inquired whether at the war’s end he had been list­ed as a desert­er or a pris­on­er. List­ed as a pris­on­er, and thus eli­gi­ble for a pen­sion, he died before he could apply. For more infor­ma­tion about Pry­or and the pho­tographs tak­en of him, see Davis Jr., Robert Scott, “A Soldier’s Sto­ry: The Records of Hub­bard Pry­or, Forty-Fourth Unit­ed States Col­ored Troops,” Pro­logue (Quar­ter­ly of the Nation­al Archives and Records Admin­is­tra­tion), 31:4 (Win­ter 1999), 267–272; and Wal­lace, Mau­rice, “‘How a Man Was Made a Slave’: Con­tra­band, Chi­as­mus, and the Fail­ure of Visu­al Abo­li­tion­ism,” Eng­lish Lan­guage Notes 44, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2006), 175–180.

(12) There is some dis­crep­an­cy in the exact date of Trotter’s birth. In Record of the Ser­vice of the Fifty-fifty Reg­i­ment of Mass­a­chu­setts Vol­un­teer Infantry (Cam­bridge: Press of John Wil­son and Son, 1868; reprint, Freeport: Books for Library Press, 1971), his birth is list­ed as Feb­ru­ary 7, 1842. Robert Steven­son, on the oth­er hand, lists Trotter’s birth date as Novem­ber 8, 1842. He bases this infor­ma­tion on records in the Nation­al Archives. See Steven­son, Robert, “America’s First Black Music His­to­ri­an,” Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Musi­co­log­i­cal Soci­ety 26, no. 3 (1973), 383–404. Trot­ter died of tuber­cu­lo­sis on Feb­ru­ary 26, 1892, in Hyde Park, Mass­a­chu­setts, after sev­er­al impor­tant accom­plish­ments, includ­ing, in 1878, a trib­ute to African Amer­i­can musi­cal tal­ent enti­tled Music and Some High­ly Musi­cal Peo­ple (Boston: Lee and Shep­ard, 1880), as well as the appoint­ment by Pres. Grover Cleve­land in 1887 as US recorder of deeds, a posi­tion for­mer­ly held by Fred­er­ick Dou­glass. For more bio­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion about Trot­ter, see “Trot­ter, James Mon­roe,” Palmer, Col­in A., ed., Ency­clo­pe­dia of African Amer­i­can Cul­ture and His­to­ry: The Black Expe­ri­ence in Amer­i­ca, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Macmil­lan Ref­er­ence USA, 2006), 2205–2206.

(13) The album was sold to a deal­er on Feb­ru­ary 20, 2001, at an auc­tion held by Swann Gal­leries, New York. See “The Auc­tion Block,” Mil­i­tary Images 22, no. 6 (May/June 2001), 6–8.

(14) The sin­gu­lar­i­ty of this carte-de-vis­ite, espe­cial­ly with­in African Amer­i­can his­to­ry, has only aug­ment­ed over time. This large­ly because of the accom­plish­ments that James Trot­ter would go on to achieve (see note 12 above) as well as those of his son, William Mon­roe Trot­ter, who became an impor­tant edi­tor of the inde­pen­dent news­pa­per The Guardian, as well as an out­spo­ken civ­il rights activist. For more infor­ma­tion about William Trot­ter, see Fox, Stephen B., The Guardian of Boston: William Mon­roe Trot­ter (New York: Atheneum, 1970).

(15) For more infor­ma­tion about the rela­tion­ship between black enlist­ed sol­diers and white offi­cers in the Union army, see Glatthaar, Joseph T., Forged in Bat­tle: The Civ­il War Alliance of Black Sol­diers and White Offi­cers (New York: The Free Press, 1990); Reid, Richard M., ed., Prac­tic­ing Med­i­cine in a Black Reg­i­ment: The Civ­il War Diary of Burt G. Wilder, 55th Mass­a­chu­setts (Amherst: Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Press, 2010); and Trudeau, ed., Voic­es of the 55th.

(16) On Sep­tem­ber 23, 1865, the Fifty-Fifth Reg­i­ment was for­mal­ly dis­charged in Boston, Mass­a­chu­setts, and it is most like­ly that the Boston por­traitist John Adams Whip­ple, whose pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio is stamped on the ver­so, made this carte-de-vis­ite of Trot­ter at that time. Oth­er fac­tors that cor­rob­o­rate this date include the ini­tialed three-cent tax stamp locat­ed on the ver­so of the carte-de-vis­ite, which dates the image between August 1864 and August 1866. In addi­tion, the imprint of Whipple’s name and address at 297 Wash­ing­ton Street on the ver­so also pro­vides fur­ther evi­dence, since Whip­ple moved to that loca­tion on July 1, 1965. More­over, around 1865, Whip­ple made at least three, if not more, cartes-de-vis­ite of offi­cers from the Fifty-Fifth Mass­a­chu­setts Infantry Reg­i­ment, includ­ing sur­geon Burt G. Wilder and Col. Charles B. Fox, who vis­it­ed Whipple’s stu­dio at the end of their com­mis­sions to have their cartes-de-vis­ite made. These images are part of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Offi­cers of the Fifty-Fifth Mass­a­chu­setts Infantry Reg­i­ment carte-de-vis­ite album housed at the Mass­a­chu­setts His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Pho­to Archives in Boston, Mass­a­chu­setts. For more infor­ma­tion on John Adams Whip­ple, see Pierce, Sal­ly, Whip­ple and Black: Com­mer­cial Pho­tog­ra­phers in Boston (Boston: The Boston Athenæum, 1987).

(17) Andrews, John A., quot­ed in Abbott, Richard H., Cot­ton and Cap­i­tal: Boston Busi­ness­men and Anti­slav­ery Reform, 1854–1868 (Amherst: Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Press, 1991), 119.

(18) For more infor­ma­tion about Andrew Jack­son Smith and his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the bat­tle of Hon­ey Hill, see Kil­ian, Michael, “Hon­ored at Last,” Chica­go Tri­bune, Jan­u­ary 17, 2001, and “The USCT Chron­i­cle,” Novem­ber 30, 2011.

(19) Beck­man, Robert, quot­ed in Kil­ian, “Hon­ored at Last.”

(20) Kil­ian, “Hon­ored at Last.”

(21) For details about Cor­po­ral Smith’s Medal of Hon­or, see his entry in the “Con­gres­sion­al Medal of Hon­or Soci­ety.”

(*) Updat­ed on July 5, 2013, to include addi­tion­al mate­r­i­al on Sgt. Andrew Jack­son Smith in the final three para­graphs of the essay.