Who Is This Benton Barracks Soldier?

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One of the most recognizable African-American soldiers of the Civil War, this young soldier has represented the nearly-200,000 USCTs who served in the Union armies. Standing in front of the famous “Benton Barracks backdrop,” he has also been the face of former Trans-Mississippi slaves who risked their lives to fight for freedom. Around 8,000 of them were from Missouri. Unfortunately, he has remained anonymous to historians for over 150 years. Continue reading “Who Is This Benton Barracks Soldier?”

A Rare Sight of Union Troops Drilling in Missouri

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St. Louis photographer Robert Benecke took this image sometime during the Civil War, its location documented as Missouri. Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Every day I am amazed by the number of primary sources that I have never stumbled upon before, especially with Missouri Civil War-related sources. To be fair, though, I have only been digging around for this kind of material since I started working at the Missouri Civil War Museum in 2011. Nonetheless, I am familiar with the many archives and repositories that contain photographs from the war in Missouri.

Recently, I came across this fascinating image from the J. Paul Getty Museum, showing Union troops in formation across from a row of A-framed tents. This is a rare image from the Trans-Mississippi, where you typically do not see much photography of scenes like this compared to the Eastern Theater. In far background, you can see a crowd of civilians watching the troops in clean uniforms, making me think this could be early war. Also in the background is a large building. Could this possibly be Benton Barracks, the Arsenal, or Jefferson Barracks? What do you think? Continue reading “A Rare Sight of Union Troops Drilling in Missouri”

A Wounded Missourian Photographed by Surgeon Reed B. Bontecou

For over two years, renowned Union volunteer surgeon Reed Brockway Bontecou photographed hundreds of wounded soldiers – both Federal and Confederate – while serving as the chief surgeon of the U.S. General Hospital “Harewood” in Washington, DC. With the unprecedented number of wounded and sick, as well as the variety of grotesque combat injuries, Bontecou began photographing soldiers and recording their information. A pioneer of medical photography, he archived these case studies at the Army Medical Museum (now, the National Museum of Health and Medicine), making him the single largest contributor of medical photography to the museum.

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Sgt. Joseph Young’s portrait by Reed Bontecou at Harewood Hospital in Washington, DC. Courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Though Bontecou himself is fascinating, it is the soldier is what I am most intrigued by. Their blank faces reveal their suffering and pain, but it is most important that their are identified.  Each of the portraits depict the soldier either before or after their operations, showing off their wounds, injuries, or infections. It is up to the historian to dig apart their stories. Continue reading “A Wounded Missourian Photographed by Surgeon Reed B. Bontecou”

Missourians at the Grand Review

One of my favorite series of photographs from the Civil War era were the ones taken of the Western Armies by Mathew Brady at the Grand Review of the Armies on May 24, 1865 in Washington, DC. Marching down Pennsylvania Avenue with the U.S. Capitol dome and over 200,000 visitors watching over, these men marched proudly with their worn uniforms after campaigning for over a year with minimal rest – Atlanta to Savannah and through the Carolinas.

The day before the Western Armies marched through Washington, the 90,000 men of the Army of the Potomac took their turn to display their prowess, discipline, and uniformity. They represented the pristine look of a martial victor that just defeated Lee’s Army that previous month. For the roughly 65,000 Westerners, looks were secondary. Sherman even said to Meade: “I’m afraid my poor tatterdemalion corps will make a poor appearance tomorrow, when contrasted with yours.” Armed with slouch hats, worn shoes (some even barefoot), animals, slaves, and unpolished brass, the men of Sherman’s army were dirty, but proud. Continue reading “Missourians at the Grand Review”