Tag Archives: Civil War

Donning a Daycap for a Tintype Portrait

This woman, born perhaps in the first decade of the nineteenth century, likely lived to witness the Civil War. As inexpensive tintype photographs gained popularity, so did ornate albums where families could collect photographs of loved ones and famous folk alike.1 This tintype, measuring 1.5 x 2 inches, is closest in size to what was considered a sixteenth plate. The embossed paper sleeve in which it was placed brings the size to that of a carte de visite, allowing the tintype to be slipped easily into a slot in an album.2 Paper sleeves such as these were common in the 1860s; while this example doesn’t have a patriotic design that would directly suggest a date during the Civil War, it nevertheless seems probable that it is of that same era.

The woman’s dress has full sleeves, a high collar with possible tatted detail, and a row of fabric-covered buttons down the bodice. Her hair has a center part and is covered by a frilly, old-fashioned daycap with long ribbons that, left untied, frame her face.3 Although her mouth is turned downward, her expression seems kind as she gazes directly at the camera with large, light-colored eyes, her head tilted gently to the side.

Scanned Image 33

Unidentified woman wearing a daycap, possibly Mount Pleasant, Henry, Iowa, ca. 1860-1865; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

I can’t imagine that the woman is younger than fifty years of age; depending on how strenuous her experiences in life may have been, she could also be significantly older but in comparatively good health. She has pleasant features, and, though slim, she doesn’t appear terribly frail. However, her age is apparent as her face and neck are lined and her eyes are deeply set. Daycaps, such as the one she wears, were popular with conservative, older women during this decade.4

This unidentified photograph comes from an album linked to the family of Civil War veteran Jesse M. Smith of Mount Pleasant, Henry, Iowa.5 If I were to attempt to identify the woman in a related family tree, I would look for a woman born circa 1800-1810, perhaps a grandmother or aunt who may have been close to the family. Although paper sleeves made it easier to label tintypes with the names of loved ones – as did photograph albums – perhaps this woman’s identity was so well known to the family that they saw no reason to record her name.

Continue reading

Military Monday: “Although he was on his Dieing Bed”

Compiled service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Illinois Inf.; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Color edited for clarity.

Compiled service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Illinois Inf.; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Image color edited for clarity.

As spring turned to summer in the year 1862, John Fenton of Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry lay dying in a hospital bed in Lebanon, Laclede County, Missouri. He had enlisted the previous autumn, eager to do his part for the Union, but in April, following the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, he was hospitalized with typhoid pneumonia.1

At the time of his enlistment, John, a native of Bole, Nottinghamshire, England, was a widower with four children at home in Pana, Christian County, Illinois.2 After his death on 7 June 1862, A. W. Bingham, a hospital steward, penned a sympathetic but hurried letter to John’s eldest daughter, Sarah Alice Fenton, informing her of her father’s passing:3

“Lebanon, MO
June 7th 1862

Miss Fenton

You will be of course Serprised in Receiving a letter from one that never beheld your face or eaven had the honor of knowing your nam but through one that is or has been Dear to you your Father, he was admitted in this Hospital on the 22d day of April Sinse then he has been leaberin under Tyford Pneumonia which at last terminated in his death, which was at 7 Oclock this evening June the 7th he was a long time dieing and told me he wished me to write to you and all for him to put your confidence in christ and he hoped to meet you in the world to come he talked of and would of liked very much to see you but when god comes there is no alternative but to resign our will so he done so and diese in piece, you must not take it hard for we as soldiers have no limited time for our lives and when we enlist in our Countrys call we make up our mind to meet death when god thinks proper to call us away, your Father requests me to tell you also to collect what money was due him and put it to as good use as you thought people he wished you to see to the small children and bring them up in his fear and love of God which no doubt you will and he felt satisfyed you would do so, remembering he was your Father although he was on his dieing bed.

Continue reading

Economical Fashions and the Civil War

Scanned Image 25

Unidentified photograph of a young woman, Mount Pleasant, Iowa, ca. 1863-1865; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

This lovely carte de visite offers several indications as to its date, from both the name of the photographer, and the unique style of dress. Unfortunately, although the photograph comes from an album linked to the family of Jesse M. Smith of Mount Pleasant, Henry County, Iowa, it remains unidentified.1

If your ancestors lived in Henry County, Iowa, in the early 1860s, take note – could this young woman, born circa 1850, be in your family tree?

The slim young woman in the photograph, perhaps fifteen years of age, wears her dark hair with a center part, likely pulled back into a snood. With one hand on the back of an ornate chair, the other holds a straw hat. She is outfitted in a style distinctive to the Civil War era. Her full-sleeved Garibaldi shirtwaist is of plain muslin, accented by a wide Swiss belt. It is tucked into a skirt fashioned from an old dress, something seen often at this time when there was a need to be economical.2

Scanned Image 25 back

Stamped on the back of the photograph is the identification, “Leisenring Bros., Photographers, Mount Pleasant, Iowa.” Although the Leisenring family operated a studio in Mount Pleasant for many years, the Leisenring brothers managed it together for only a short period of time, from 1863-1867. The name was changed to reflect this joint ownership.3

After putting these clues together, this carte de visite can be dated to a narrow time frame of approximately 1863-1865. Perhaps a local soldier carried a copy with him throughout the war, or maybe the young woman simply wished to have her photograph taken in a new outfit that she had likely sewn herself. Regardless, it provides a unique study of the ways in which the economy may have impacted the fashion choices of southeastern Iowans during the Civil War.

For more unidentified photographs from this album, click here and here.

Continue reading

Military Monday: A Civil War Compiled Service Record

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I thought I would share the Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) of my one and only direct ancestor who served in the Civil War, namely John Fenton of Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry.1

John Fenton, of Bole, Nottinghamshire, England,2 came to America with his wife and children before 1850.3 They settled first in Summit County, Ohio,4 and later lived in Montgomery County, Illinois. By the time the Civil War rolled around, John was a widower with four children between the ages of nine and eighteen: Sarah Alice, Harriet, John, and George W. Fenton.5

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On 14 September 1861, John enlisted as a Private in Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry in Pana, Christian, Illinois, for a term of three years. He was now forty-six years old – no longer a young man, he would have been nearly fifty before his term of service was complete. John stood at 5 feet 9 inches tall, and had a dark complexion, black hair, and hazel eyes.6

As of 1860, John had made his living as a farm laborer, boarding with three of his children in the household of another family.7 One of his daughters boarded with a family in the next county.8 Perhaps, being that John was apparently a horseman, a three-year stint in the cavalry seemed to be as good of an option as any in terms of bringing in steady pay. John’s daughters were old enough to look after their younger brothers, and perhaps – hopefully – there were friends or relatives willing to take them in while he served. The pension file submitted by his minor son, decades later, may answer some of these lingering questions.9

John’s service was relatively short lived. Soon after his enlistment, the Regiment made its way to Missouri; John spent time on prisoners’ guard in Rolla, and may have seen action at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas. In late April of 1862, John left the site of Pea Ridge with the train of wounded, arriving in the hospital in Lebanon, Laclede, Missouri. After a lingering illness, it was there that he died of typhoid fever on 7 July 1862 at the age of forty-seven.10 Although John was initially buried at Lebanon, his grave was likely unmarked and his body may since have been exhumed and reburied the National Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri.11

How can you obtain your ancestor’s Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR)? I acquired John Fenton’s CMSR in person at the National Archives in 2011, when I still lived near Washington, D.C. It was a definitely an experience to be able to view and photograph the original document at my leisure; although the National Archives can seem intimidating, I was able to place my request without any problems and there were plenty of staff members and volunteers willing to point me in the right direction as needed. If you don’t find yourself there anytime soon, and if the CMSR that you seek isn’t available online or on microfilm at a local branch of the National Archives, you can still request a copy for a fee, using information located in indexes online. The online ordering system is easy to use – just be prepared to wait for your record to arrive in the mail!



SOURCES
1 Compiled service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Illinois Inf.; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
2 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
3 1850 U.S. census, Summit County, Ohio, population schedule, Stow, p. 931 (penned), dwelling 33, family 52, John Fenton; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm M432, roll 732.
4 1850 U.S. census, Summit Co., Oh., pop. sch., Stow, p. 931 (penned), dwell. 33, fam. 52, John Fenton.
5 1860 U.S. census, Montgomery County, Illinois, population schedule, Audubon Post Office, p. 319 (penned), dwelling 2284, family 2287, John Fenton; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm M653, roll 214.
6 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
7 1860 U.S. census, Montgomery Co., Ill., pop. sch., Audubon P.O., p. 319 (penned), dwell. 2284, fam. 2287, John Fenton.
8 1860 U.S. census, Christian County, Illinois, population schedule, Pana, p. 319 (penned), dwelling 574, family 5114, Harriet Fenton; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm M653, roll 161.
9 “U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2013); John Fenton (Co. M, 3rd Ill. Inf.) index card; imaged from General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, T288 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives [n.d.]), roll 150.
10 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
11 “Union Soldiers Buried at Lebanon, Missouri 1862-1865,” Judy’s Stuff (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~judysstuff/burials/Lebanon.htm : accessed 11 November 2013).

Identifying Photographs of the Civil War Era

Antique photographs can come with unique distinctions that suggest that they were made during the Civil War era. Neither of these photographs has been identified, but both come from a photograph album, purchased at an antique shop, with ties to the family of Jesse M. and Elizabeth Jane (Baker) Smith of Mount Pleasant, Henry County, Iowa.1 Both provide excellent examples of the ways in which Civil War era photographs might be marked or otherwise adorned.

Unidentified tintype of woman and child, ca. 1865; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Unidentified tintype of woman and child, ca. 1865; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

The first image in the album, which features a woman and, presumably, her young daughter, is set inside an embossed white paper mat with a patriotic pattern of stars. An embossed notation on the side of this mat states that it was patented 7 March 1865, suggesting that the tintype was made shortly thereafter.2 The woman has crimped her hair at the temples in a manner that was popular in the latter half of the decade,3 and the young girl, perhaps six years old, wears her hair long and loosely curled. While the mother is corseted and in a fine gown supported by a hoop skirt, the daughter is dressed in a much looser – and more comfortable – style, though she also wears jewelry as well as what appears to be flowers or decorative combs in her hair.

The name “Laura” is handwritten in pencil near the top of the mat. Unfortunately, the only Laura that I could find directly related to the couple associated with this album was not born until 1867.4 Perhaps there was another Laura in the extended family, or perhaps it was labeled as such simply because it came from “Laura’s side of the family,” as opposed to, for example, the family of her spouse. Regardless, the relationship between the mother and daughter pictured here, dressed in their best during a tumultuous period in American history, can still be appreciated today.

Tax revenue stamp of unidentified photograph of couple, 1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Tax revenue stamp of unidentified photograph of couple, 1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Unidentified photograph of couple, 1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Unidentified photograph of couple, 1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Another photograph with a distinct Civil War flavor comes with a helpful clue.  The couple in the photograph above appears impeccably dressed. The bearded man wears a typically roomy sack-cut coat,5 accented with a dark plaid vest, and the woman, whose hair is held back with combs in a style that was common at the time,6 wears a solid-colored gown with elegant puffed sleeves and buttons adorning the bodice. Affixed to the back of this carte de visite is an orange two-cent stamp. This stamp, which features George Washington, was a tax revenue stamp. It is canceled with the photographer’s initials, along with the date: 1866. As it turns out, this photograph was taxed near the tail end of the period during which photographs were subject to a tax; the period of taxation lasted only from 1 September 1864 to 1 August 1866.7

This photograph has tack holes in each of its four corners, suggesting that it was put on display at one time, tacked up perhaps on the wall of a home or on a writing desk. Evidently, in the years before it made its way into an album and was subsequently forgotten, this photograph was important enough to someone that he or she wished to look upon it every day. Today, we are left to wonder what became of the couple pictured within, and why they chose to have their photograph taken on this day in 1866, not long after the conclusion of the Civil War.

What signs of the Civil War era have you spotted in a photograph?



SOURCES
1 Jesse M. and Elizabeth Jane (Baker) Smith Album, ca. 1860-1920; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.
2 “What Do You Know About Tintypes?,” Ohio Historical Society Collections Blog, 5 August 2011 (http://ohiohistory.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/what-do-you-know-about-tintypes/ : accessed 13 September 2013).
3 Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press), 206.
4 1870 U.S. census, Henry County, Iowa, population schedule, Center, p. 14, dwelling 109, family 109, Laura B. Smith; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 395.
5 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 209.
6 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 206.
7 Maureen A. Taylor, Family Photo Detective (Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2013), 54-55.