The patriotic navy officer, left, holds a flag that appears at first glance to be a studio prop. But the presence of a second view of the same man, pictured with fellow officers and sailors, indicates that the banner belonged to them and not the photographer. Moreover, the sailor who stands in the middle, posed with the Stars and Stripes in one hand and an ax in the other, suggests that this group was involved in a dramatic moment currently lost to history. The style of the ax may offer a clue. Carried by sailors on boarding parties, it was used to hack through enemy rigging.
The dissimilar uniforms worn by the officers add to the mystery. The buttons, stripes, collar insignia and sashes are non-standard. There are consistencies: The officers wear stars on their sleeves to denote their service on the line and carry naval swords, though the models are varied. The hatbands worn by the sailors appear to be labeled USS Tyler, a side-wheel gunboat active on western rivers during the war years.
Attempts to link the names written in ink along the bottom of the mount of the group portrait to officers who served together on the Tyler or any other vessel have been unsuccessful.