Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Faces of Civil War Vets

 Favorite Photograph Friday.

Since Memorial Day has just passed and flags are flying all over town in tribute to our country’s  military defenders, it seemed appropriate to share with you this photograph of a group of Civil War veterans assembled in Reading, Massachusetts in 1894 on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the town. 

I love this photo because of the faces—especially of the older men.  Each one is worth a portrait.  And you can see how proud they are of their uniforms and accomplishments.  Some of the younger men, like the boy who’s second from the left in the back row, clearly are too young to have fought in the Civil War.  Perhaps only the front row are the Civil War vets.

This photograph, which is a large albumen print mounted on cardboard, is approximately 8 by 10 inches in size.  On the back someone has written, “Reading 250 Anniversary, Commander Harley Prentiss and staff, 1894.”

(Every time I find an identification like that on the back of any old photograph, I breathe a little prayer of thanks and vow that I, like my mother, will always identify photos before I stash them away.  Of course I don’t, especially because most of my photos exist only in my computer.)

A little Googling got me this information:  “Harley Prentiss served in the 50th Regiment of infantry of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in the late war of the rebellion.”  

And in a listing of soldiers I found: “Sergt. Clerk Harley Prentiss. Age 18 – Reading. Enl. Aug. 11, 1862.  Mustered Sept. 19, 1862. Mustered out Aug. 24, 1863.  Subsequent service Co. E – lst Battery heavy artillery.  Died in Reading MA.”

Now I am not one of those photo collectors who specialize in the Civil War.  I know these collectors (who are mostly men)  could tell me everything about these medals and uniforms and insignia.  If someone would like to fill me in by leaving a comment below, I’d really appreciate it.

I’m guessing that the man  seated in the center  of the first row is  Harley Prentiss, with the feathers (cockade?) on his hat.  If he enlisted at age 18 in 1862, he would be 50 in this photo in 1894.

But this guy, with his dashing hat labeled “194, G.A.R.” also looks pretty important.  (I do know that G.A.R. stands for Grand Army of the Republic.)

And this man on the far right—what’s that stick he’s holding?  I notice that some of the belt buckles have stars on them and others have eagles but what’s on this buckle, I’m not sure.

I’m hoping some of you Civil War experts out there will fill me in.  But in the meantime, let’s all raise a glass to honor the men and women who have been risking their lives in defense of our country since 1776.


by Joan Gage said...

The first Civil War expert has been heard from and he is Mark W. Savolis, Head of Archives and Special Collections at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. Here's what he wrote:

"Here are some of the things that I can tell you about your image.

"The fellow in the first row center wears a GAR belt, which makes him CW vet. The other regalia and bicorn hat appears to be from some fraternal organization. The fellow on his right wears a hat with post 194 GAR insignia (Reading Mass). Above his GAR badge is a corps badge for the 19th Army corps, a CW unit. His GAR badge indicates that he is an officer in the post, but I can't tell what his rank is. The fellow on the right end of the 1st row wears a belt buckle with a fraternal symbol. I dont recognize his medals. It is possible that he is a member of the Sons of Union veterans, by the look of the hat insignia and the uniform jacket. The buckles on the men with the white helmets are militia buckles of the period or earlier. I don't recognize the batons. It is possible that this may be a band posing without instruments."

Thanks, Mark!!

John Thielmann said...

In the front row, those with a star on the buckle are GAR members. Their "logo", so to speak, included a five pointed star. The young man on the far right is a member of the "Sons of Veterans", hence the "SV" insignia on his cap and the "badge", or medal, to our left. The numerals are his camp/local group designation. The emblem on his buckle is not just an eagle. It is a complex image that incorporates an eagle (upper-center), a soldier and sailor flanking an emblem that includes a wreath and crossed sabres, and what might appear to be wings are actually flags extending from the center.