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Reference Items
Meade / Grant & Staff Albumen Photos

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These Matthew Brady albumens are mounted back-to-back on opposing sides of the same 10½” x 14” mount. The images came from the family of Major General George G. Meade in December, 2002. These images were taken during the Battle of Cold Harbor.

The first photograph of Meade measures 6” x 8” with the inked caption "Maj. Gen. Geo. G. Meade. / Comd’g Army of the Potomac. / June 1864.”

The second photograph of General Grant with his Staff measures 4” x 7½” with the inked captioned "Lieut. Gen’l. U. S. Grant and staff. / June 1864.” The image is keyed #1 through #13 in ink giving the names of Grant’s staff as follows: 1. Lt. Col. F.T. Dent (Grant’s brother-in-law), 2. Maj. Gen. J.A. Rawlins, 3. blank (Lt. Col. W.L. Duff), 4. Lt. Col. A. Badeau, 5. Lt. Gen. Grant, 6. blank (Capt. Peter T. Hudson, Grant’s nephew), 7 Lt. Col. T.S. Bowers, 8. Brig. Gen. J.G. Barnard, 9. blank, 10. Capt. E.S. Parker, 11. 1st Lieut. W. McK. Dunn Jr., 12 Lt. Col. O.E. Babcock, 13. blank (Fred. R. Munther, officer in the Prussian Army). Information in parenthesis added by author.

Taken together, the photos tell an interesting story as the solitary Meade who while ostensibly commander of the Army of the Potomac remains outside the inner circle of Grant, who actually held the reins of command.

Member - John Beckendorf
Item #: CIV-239

Albumen Print – General A.T.A. Torbert & Staff

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A detailed albumen print measuring 7.25” x 6” on a slightly larger cream colored mount stamped "Brady/Washington”; verso with two blue-green 3¢ revenue stamps. One of two photographs of Torbert & Staff listed as #9807 and #9808 in Brady’s catalog of "General Grant’s Late Campaign, June 1864”. This view #9808 is labeled "No 2” and identifies two of the officers.

A similar photograph was owned by Major Robert C. Wallace of the 5th Michigan Cavalry.
According to Major Wallace's notes, the officers are identified as follows (generally from left to right):

Captain Morton Hale (Commissary of Subsistence) - top left, wearing slouch hat
Captain John J. Coppinger - front row, wearing forage cap, sword between legs.
1st Lieutenant John Wiggins (Signal Officer) - top step, facing to left of picture, sword between legs
Captain David Gordon - bottom step, both elbows on knees
Captain Rudolph Ellis - Officer of the Day, reclining, wearing sash
Surgeon William Rulison - top step, holding flag
Brigadier General Alfred Torbert - bottom step, wearing gauntlet, left hand on knee with sword vertical
Captain Amasa E. Dana - left hand and sword on left knee, wears goatee
Unidentified officer - back row, sword against left shoulder, jaunty tilt to slouch hat
Captain Marcus Reno - bottom step, wears forage cap, faces directly to left of photo
1st Lieutenant Howard Goldsmith - reclining on right elbow, legs crossed
1st Lieutenant Robert C. Wallace - top right, wearing jacket with velvet collar, seated on top column
Captain Theodore Bean - bottom right, wearing light colored hat

This photograph was most likely taken at White House Landing, Virginia during July of 1864 following Sheridan’s Trevillian Station raid. Wallace’s military records show that he was Acting ADC of General Torbert’s 1st Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac as of July 11, 1864. The division moved out the first of August for operations in the Shenandoah Valley and was in constant motion that month. The presence of Surgeon Rulison in the image further establishes the month it was taken as he was killed August 29, 1864 at Smithfield, Virginia. It is likely that 1st Lieutenant Wallace is wearing the 9 button frock coat displayed in "Reference Items – Identified Items” section of our website.

Member - John Beckendorf
Item #: CIV-238


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The perfection of the ambrotype process by Frederick Scott Archer around 1850 brought genuine improvement beyond the earlier daguerreotypes. For the first time, photographers were able to really perfect their art, capturing the subtleties of light and tone in their images, and at reduced cost. With ambrotypes, a glass plate was coated with a light sensitive emulsion, and while still wet, exposed through the camera. Exposure times were now faster, but still ranged from five to sixty seconds.  As the image was a negative, ambrotypes achieve a positive appearance due to a black backing housed behind the emulsion coated glass plate.

After processing in the darkroom, the resulting negative was sandwiched against a black backing. It then appeared as a positive image, further enhanced by artistic photographers who occasionally added color tint to areas of the image. By the early 1860’s, the more durable tintypes replaced the glass plate images, and ambrotypes faded from popularity, after only a decade of use.

The first example above is a ¼ plate (4¼" X 3¼") ambrotype of two infantrymen, both wearing 9-button enlistedman’s coats. One holds a bugle with lanyard, the other stands with his musket at ease. Of particular note are the second soldier’s denim jean trousers with turned-up cuffs. Denim fabric trousers first saw use in the gold fields of California in 1850. Although available by the Civil War period, they were certainly not military issue, but could have been privately purchased by this soldier. The glass plate is held in place with a simple brass matte and kept in a leatherette case.

The second example is also a ¼ plate ambrotype, shot in horizontal format.  The subjects are likely a family, the father an infantry private, posing in his near-new uniform.  He is joined by his wife and three children, with the younger son holding his kepi.  The black backing is a piece of fine weave black fabric housed in the thermoplastic case behind the image.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: REF-206

Custer’s Photographer - William Frank Browne

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This is the only known tintype of William Frank Browne, who made the earliest known photographs of George Armstrong Custer as a Brigadier General. It was formerly in the Mark Katz collection.
Browne was born in Northfield, VT. He entered the Union Army from Berlin, VT as a private in Company C 15th Vermont Volunteers. He served until August, 1863 when he mustered out of service. Brown then shows up at the Stevensburg winter encampment of Judson Kilpatrick’s 3rd Division, with a photographer’s studio in the camp of the 5th Michigan Cavalry. In addition, to taking the albumen of Custer seen elsewhere on this website, Brown took many of the photographs in the Major Robert C. Wallace 5th Michigan collection; see the "Finding Major Wallace” articles.

Towards the end of the War, Browne became a photographer for Alexander Gardner. A collection of 120 photographs taken by Browne were published by Gardner under the title "View of Confederate Water Batteries on the James River.” Following the War he returned to Northfield where he died of consumption on 12 September 1867.

Member - John Beckendorf
Item #: CIV-203

Cartes-de-visite or CDVs

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The carte-de-visite was a small visiting-card portrait, typically measuring 4½” x 2 ½" and mounted on card stock. CDVs, as they are called, were occasionally given as gifts to friends or family, and were often signed. Some soldiers wrote brief notes on the back, or penned sentiments beneath their signatures. It was a common practice in the mid 19th century to collect CDVs of notable personalities, or family members, and place them together in albums.

CDVs were originally introduced in France in 1854, where cameras had been adapted to record a number of photographs on one plate (usually eight). Multiple images of the same photo could be produced economically, bringing photography into the affordable range of the soldier. Some CDVs were mass marketed to raise funds for various causes. Others, of notable persons, were printed for sale to interested admirers or for collector’s albums.  But most were made for the personal use of the soldier to share with comrades or to send home.

CDVs of military subjects are an excellent resource for study of war-period details of uniforms, accouterments, weaponry, and other particulars of soldier life. Many photographers placed their name and studio location as a "backmark” on the card stock. These backmarks are often helpful in tracing the travels of soldiers identified in the images.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-170


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By the middle of the 19th century, photography was becoming affordable to the average American. In its earliest forms known as ambrotypes and dagguerotypes, images were captured on glass plates. The results were fragile and lacked contrast.

In 1853, a Frenchman named Alexandre Martin introduced the tintype process by placing a sensitized collodion emulsion on a metallic sheet that resulted in a direct positive image which was both fast and inexpensive to produce. It also yielded much higher quality photographs, which were sold in various sizes, the most common of which was known as the 1/6th plate, and was 2 ¾” X 3 ¼”. The positive image was a one-of-a-kind with no duplication process involved. Innovative photographers retouched the emulsions, adding rose to the subject’s cheeks, color to their trousers or uniforms, and gilt to their buttons, buckles or headgear insignia.

Most such plates were held in a leather or thermoplastic carrying case under protective glass, fastened in place behind a brass matte. Now, the Civil War soldier could carry an image of his loved ones into the field. In turn camp photographers produced many images that the soldiers sent home to family.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-169

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