A trio of Confederate officers, likely from the same company or regiment, strike a Napoleonic pose for the photographer. Armed with infantry swords and wearing Pattern 1851 waist belt plates, the lack of braiding on their sleeves suggests that this is an early war portrait.
James Conley, a lieutenant in Company F of the 29th North Carolina Infantry, cradles his saber in this poignant portrait. According to Greg Mast, author of State Troops and Volunteers: A Photographic Record of North Carolina’s Civil War Soldiers, Conley sits in a chair with a finial that is visible in other images by photographer Esley Hunt of Raleigh, N.C. Mast adds that Conley, who wears the shoulder straps of a first lieutenant, may have been ignorant of proper insignia because he never advanced above the rank of second lieutenant. He remained at this rank until he was defeated for reelection when Company F reorganized in May 1862. Conley then enlisted in Thomas’s Legion as a private in Company F of the infantry regiment. He advanced to sergeant and served in this capacity at the Battle of Piedmont, Va., on June 5, 1864. Maj. Gen. David Hunter’s Union forces defeated Confederates commanded by Brig. Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones. Six members of the Legion were killed or suffered mortal wounds, including Conley.
This portrait of Miss E. Tenyson of Keswick Station, Va., became a trophy of war for a Union artilleryman. According to a description inscribed on the back of the mount, “This Picture, Snider got in an empty house, while on the left, near Reams Station He found it in a closet on the 2nd story. So he wishes you to except of it as a relic, from the seat of war.” William Snider, a member of the U.S. artillery, signed the note. A heavy crease obscures his battery letter and regiment number.
The hat plate marked with the letters SHG indicates that this soldier served in the Stephens Home Guard, which became Company D of the 15th Georgia Infantry. He is ready for campaigning with a tin drum canteen suspended from a very substantial shoulder strap, and a large knife with wooden grip attached to his belt. The regiment, organized in Athens, Ga., in 1861, served the bulk of the war with the Army of Northern Virginia. During the Battle of Gettysburg, the 15th went in with about 330-335 men and suffered 171 casualties.
A Confederate lieutenant in dress uniform, complete with a Model 1850 Foot Officer’s sword, sits with cap in hand. The portrait traces its origins to the vicinity of Chester, Va., a town located south of Richmond in Chesterfield County.
The uniform and drum that belong to this soldier suggest he is may be a Louisiana Confederate. The portrait was taken outside Alexandria, Va., at the Rendezvous of Distribution, a Union hospital camp established in February 1863. It had replaced Camp Convalescent, infamously known as Camp Misery for its poor living conditions. The remains of a U.S. revenue stamp on the back of the mount dates the photograph between Sept. 1, 1864, and Aug. 1, 1866, during which time the federal government levied taxes on photographs and other items to pay for the war.
A father and son stand at attention with sabers drawn in this portrait taken soon after they joined the Confederate army. Capt. David Tennessee Neff, left, a native of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, had moved to Tennessee and settled in Johnson County in 1836. He and his wife, Lydia, raised three boys. Their youngest, born in 1843, was named James Knox Polk Neff in honor of the incumbent U.S. President. In the autumn of 1862, the younger Neff mustered into Company H of the 1st Tennessee Cavalry as a second lieutenant. He is shown here wearing a cap with the gold-tinted letter H.
Meanwhile, his 53-year-old father became captain of Company G of Thomas’s Legion, an organization recruited from eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The captain and his company transferred to the 1st Tennessee Cavalry in late 1862.
Capt. Neff was captured at Somerset, Ky., on March 30, 1863, and imprisoned with other captured Confederate officers at Fort Delaware, Del. He survived his captivity and the war, and lived until 1887. His son, 2nd Lt. Neff, did not fare as well. Two men described as Lincolnites murdered him on April 21, 1865, according to his family. Neff’s death occurred less than two weeks after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
A federal infantryman grasps a rarely seen weapon of Prussian origin. Known as the Oldenberg, its most distinguishing characteristic is a hole in the center-slung hammer, not visible at this angle, which allows for the soldier to peer through it and line up his shot with the front sight. The single hole in the hammer has prompted modern collectors to refer to the Oldenberg as the Cyclops. No records exist that indicate this gun type was issued to troops on either side of the conflict. But the presence of the bayonet and sling, and the self-assured way that the soldier holds it, suggests that the gun was his weapon, and not a prop. This is believed the only period image of a Civil War soldier armed with an Oldenberg.
Two troopers draw their Model 1860 sabers to prove their battle readiness. They served in Company I of the 8th New York Cavalry, also known as the Rochester Regiment. The 8th participated in most of the major engagements with the Army of the Potomac, including Gettysburg, where it suffered 40 casualties on the first day of the battle. The men wear their saber belts upside down to correct the effect of the reversed image. The older cavalryman has an impaired eye; perhaps a birth defect or the result of a wound or accidental injury.
Sgt. Jacob Langdell, a farmer in New Boston, N.H., enlisted in the 16th New Hampshire Infantry in 1862. The regiment spent its nine-month enlistment in Mississippi and Louisiana.“I am contented for I know that the same Providence watches over me here that does you at the north,” he stated in a letter to his mother in early 1863. Langdell survived the war and returned to New Boston, where he married and began a family. He died in 1894 at age 56.
John J. Denny of the 14th Tennessee Infantry suffered a wound and fell into enemy hands at the Second Battle of Manassas, Va., on Aug. 27, 1862. Born and raised in Montgomery County, Tenn., he enlisted in Company K of the regiment in May 1861. Paroled and exchanged about six weeks after his capture, he returned to the 14th in time for the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863. Sketchy reports note that he was killed in action. The lack of his name on any post 1863 documents suggests that he did indeed die on the Virginia battlefield. In this portrait, he holds his musket and wears a socket bayonet in its scabbard, cap pouch, tin drum canteen and black-enameled haversack.