The dozen years between 1848 and 1860 marked a period of ever-increasing turmoil in the United States. It is wedged between the peace treaty that ended the Mexican War, signed in 1848 in the village of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and the 1860 secession crisis that ignited a rebellion.
During these tenuous times, increasing federal protection of slavery clashed with bloody violence in Kansas, and other hotspots. The agrarian South and factory farming of cotton fed the textile mills of the rapidly industrializing North and flourishing global markets. A new political party rose in the polarized political climate. Four presidents—Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan—strained to hold the country together. Meanwhile, a massive influx of immigrants poured into the New World from the Old, and fanned out across the states. Rail and telegraph lines connected the far corners of the country, and fueled a torrent of mass media in the form of books, magazines and newspapers. The daguerreotype, which had dominated photography since it exploded on the world scene in 1839, began to lose its monopoly, as cheaper ambrotypes and melainotypes eroded its popularity.
Welcome to the 1850s.
For the soldiers who served in the military, the period proved similarly complex. Clashes between divergent cultures of Native Americans and white settlers led to troop deployments at garrison frontier posts in support of the homesteaders. These soldiers, far from home and facing hardships, were confronted with difficult decisions in the face of the relentless pace of western expansion. Meanwhile, detachments of soldiers surveyed the homeland from coast to coast, documenting its natural gifts and sending recommendations for its future to the nation’s capital.
Here we glance upon the likenesses of a representative group of these soldiers. Their stories and uniform descriptions are crafted from primary resources, including books, official reports and military records, and surveys of the Schultz Collection that appeared in the 2002-2003 Daguerreian Annual and the January-February 2007 issue of MI.
Recent West Point GraduatesThis trio of second lieutenants in broad bowties, opposite, posed for this circa 1854 quarter-plate daguerreotype in the New York City studio of pioneer photographers Charles R. and Henry W.M. Meade. The officer standing with a badge of ribbons pinned to his uniform coat wears a ring that matches West Point class bands of this period. If the identification of the ring is correct, the three young officers may have just arrived in the city to celebrate their graduation from the academy.
A Bond Formed in TexasA minor drama played out on the Texas frontier on Jan. 23, 1860, at Fort Inge, about 100 miles west of San Antonio. There, the post surgeon found one of his patients unfit for duty and recommended a yearlong leave from the army.
The doctor, Robert Little Brodie of South Carolina, had studied medicine at Charleston College and Bellevue Hospital in New York City, before he joined the army in May 1854. He is pictured here about this time in the full dress of an assistant surgeon, according to the 1851 uniform regulations. His pompon-topped cap, or shako, a term that originated from the csákó, or headgear worn by Hungarian hussars in the 18th century, bears a symbolic eagle and the staff officer insignia of a wreath with the letters “U.S.” at the center. He carries a Model 1840 sword for surgeons and paymasters.
The patient, 2nd Lt. William Babcock Hazen of Vermont, had suffered a nasty wound in a running fight along the Llano River against Comanche warriors. A bullet tore through his left hand and ripped into his chest, where it remained. Army brass approved Brodie’s recommendation, and Hazen left for Vermont and recuperated.
A year later, the Civil War began. Brodie followed his native Palmetto State into the Confederacy. Assigned to duty at Manassas Junction in Virginia, Brodie played a lead role during the First Battle of Manassas, when he filled in for Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s medical director, who had fallen ill. Brodie proved an able surgeon and administrator, and went on to serve as medical director and inspector in departments across the South—much of the time on the staff of Beauregard. Notable assignments included service during the Battle of Shiloh, and in his home city of Charleston.
Hazen remained loyal to the Union. He rose to become a major general and trusted subordinate to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. Hazen commanded one of Sherman’s divisions during the Battles of Atlanta, the March to the Sea and the Carolinas Campaign.
During the last-named operation, Hazen paid his respects to Brodie. In early 1865, Hazen entered Columbia, S.C., when a significant part of the city was looted and burned.
“I could never bring myself to aid in the destruction of private property, and always did all I could to prevent it,” Hazen stated after the war. “I called one day at a large, handsome house, and found a beautiful and refined lady in charge of it. She proved to be a relative of Dr. Brodie, of Charleston, formerly of the army, a very dear friend of mine, who had tended me in Texas, before the war, during a long sickness from wounds received in Indian warfare. Her house was such a home as only a cultivated woman can make. She expected to be told at any moment that it was on fire, but never lost her perfect composure, though the effort at self-control showed itself in a slight quivering of the lip. No like episode of the war impressed me so much.”
Hazen ordered a guard to protect the residence until the army had passed. But he later learned that stragglers had torched the place.
Hazen became the army’s Chief Signal Officer after the war. He died in 1887 from diabetes at age 56. Brodie received his parole in April 1865, and returned to Charleston, where he went into private practice and lived until age 84, dying in 1913.
Respect for Old Rough and Ready?This second lieutenant sports non-standard white trousers instead of regulation sky blue pants. His matching white vest was also not prescribed by military law. A mourning ribbon tied around his arm paid tribute to a deceased fellow officer or family member. It may have been a sign of respect for the late President and Commander-in-Chief Zachary Taylor, who died in the summer of 1850 after 16 months in office. Taylor, a career soldier, had made a name for himself during the recent war with Mexico.
White-Gloved StafferOne of this first lieutenant’s shoulder straps plainly crosses the spine of the epaulette. Far less visible are the distinctly marked uniform buttons that mark him as a staff officer. His white gloves are regulation—the handkerchief tucked into his coat is not.
Arrows at Pitt RiverOn June 10, 1857, in Northern California, Lt. George Crook and his party of mounted scouts picked their way along the ridge of a steep river bluff, when they spied an Indian camp along the water’s edge below. The Indians saw them and quickly scattered. Crook and his men dismounted and moved quickly to get into shooting range. Crook discovered a scant trail and scrambled down until he saw a warrior swimming the river with his bow, arrows and a wolf robe held overhead. “I aimed at the edge of the water. At the crack of the rifle he sank, and the robe and weapons floated down the stream,” Crook later recalled. “I at once commenced reloading my old muzzle loader, when the guide at the top of the bluffs yelled, ‘Look out for the arrows!’ I looked up, and saw the air apparently full of them. Almost simultaneously one hit me in the right hip. When I jerked it out the head remained in my leg, where it remains still.”
His comrades assisted Crook back to camp. By the time they returned, his groin had turned green—believed to have been caused by rattlesnake poison.
The fight was part of the Second Pitt River Expedition. And, it was one of the earliest actions in a long military career that began after Crook’s graduation from West Point in 1852.
A few years later, he began his Civil War service as colonel of the 36th Infantry in his home state of Ohio. Crook participated in operations in western Virginia and Maryland. By late 1862, he had advanced to brigadier general, and soon commanded cavalry on the division level. At the war’s end, he led the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac as a major general.
Crook continued in the army after the war and spent the majority of his remaining career in the West, protecting settlers and subjugating Indian tribes. Case in point: In 1872 in Arizona, Crook sent an ultimatum to the chiefs to return to their reservations or “be wiped from the face of the earth,” reported Appletons’ Cyclopædia.
Crook died in 1890 of a heart attack at age 61. A fellow officer remembered Crook as a gentle, modest and shy man who had an aversion to orders. He preferred to lead by example. In this way, he shared the hardships of the men he commanded and thus won their affection and admiration.
A fellow general, Oliver O. Howard, compared Crook to the overall commander of Union forces during the Civil War. “He and General Grant were much alike in certain habits of mind. There was a Spartan heroism ever present, ever influencing their words, and their actions.”
Collar BrassThe display of regimental numbers on collars traces to the 1854 Pattern coat and is evidenced by these portraits.
The infantry corporal, right, served in the 10th U.S. Infantry, which formed at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., in April 1855. During the years between its establishment and the Civil War, the 10th participated in operations against Mormons in Utah Territory, known as the Utah War, and the subjugation of the Navajo people.
The private, left, served in the 4th U.S. Artillery. Established in 1821, the regiment fought as light artillery and infantry during the Mexican War. His brass shoulder scales were worn by enlisted men and non-commissioned officers beginning in 1854.
A Measure of Peace in St. LouisFor Maj. Benjamin Walker, the years following the Mexican War might best be described as a period of relative calm during his military service.
Born during the last year of Gen. George Washington’s presidency, Walker had his first taste of battle on May 14, 1814—his 17th birthday—when he participated in the repulse of the formidable British fleet that had attempted to enter Otter Creek and destroy an American shipyard during the War of 1812.
A few years later, he entered the U.S. Military Academy and graduated seventh in the Class of 1819. He spent much of the next quarter century on duty in far-flung military posts in the wilds of Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas and Missouri. His varied duties included ordnance and commissary, before he landed in the Paymaster’s department in 1839. During the Mexican War, Walker served as Chief Paymaster to Brig. Gen. Stephen W. Kearny’s command.
Walker wound up at Jefferson Barracks outside St. Louis after his service in Mexico. During the 1850s, as military and political tensions moved the country to the precipice of war, Walker spent his final years in relative peace, and died in 1858 at age 61. He received a burial with full military honors in the Barracks cemetery.
An Infantry Officer in Full DressThis mustached second lieutenant with neatly combed hair, cravat and collar is perhaps ready for the ballroom or a wedding party, rather than the battlefield. He wears a full dress uniform according to 1851 regulations, complete with the 1851 Pattern waist belt plate and a Model 1850 Foot Officer’s sword.
By the SwordOn a January day in 1850 at Litchfield, Conn., a throng of citizens gathered for a presentation ceremony to honor a hometown hero, Brevet Maj. Henry Walton Wessells. The state legislature had appropriated funds to purchase a magnificent jeweled sword in recognition of the West Pointer’s distinguished services with the 2nd U.S. Infantry during the recent war with Mexico. One act of heroism stood out: During the 1847 Battle of Contreras, a wounded Wessells seized the regimental flag after the color sergeant had been killed and led his men against the enemy.
Wessells could not be present to receive the gift from a grateful state, as he was on duty in California. His aged father accepted the sword with much emotion, and promised to care for it until his son’s return.
There was little time to pass the sword, for Wessels spent the next decade along the Pacific Coast and on the northwestern frontier. He posed for this portrait about 1854 while between assignments.
Wessells might have spent the rest of his career in the West. The Civil War, however, changed his fortunes. He accepted the colonelcy of the 8th Kansas Infantry in 1861, and commanded his regiment in Missouri. In 1862, he received his brigadier’s star and moved back East for the remainder of the conflict. He suffered his second career combat wound during the Peninsula Campaign, and then served in southeast Virginia and the North Carolina coast. At the latter, he surrendered the 1,600-man garrison of Plymouth to an overwhelming rebel force in April 1864 and spent several months as a prisoner of war. This included a stint in Charleston, S.C., where he and other Union officers were intentionally placed in the line of federal fire in a tit-for-tat battle between Union and Confederate commanders.
After the war, Wessells rejoined the regular army with the 18th U.S. Infantry, and commanded several western posts. They included Fort Phil Kearney in Dakota Territory. Wessells commanded the fort in 1867 following the removal of Col. Henry B. Carrington for his complicity in the December 1866 Fetterman Massacre, a fight in which Native American warriors wiped out a company of 81 troopers led by Capt. William J. Fetterman.
Wessells remained in uniform until 1871, when he ended his 42 years of service as a lieutenant colonel. He returned to Connecticut, and died in 1889.
Fighter and FaithfulAn officer places his arm around the waist of the lady at his side, and she responds by squeezing his hand. His 1851 regulation dress uniform and the narrow braid on his epaulettes indicate he ranked as a second or first lieutenant. The presence of a mustache is a luxury limited by the military to mounted officers. The young woman’s necklace speaks to the power of her faith.
No Epaulettes, No PomponThe 1851 regulations for the uniform and dress of the Army states that “The pompon will be worn by all officers whenever the epaulettes are worn,” and “The epaulettes may be dispensed with when not on duty, and on certain duties off parade.” This clean-shaven second lieutenant of infantry, wearing shoulder straps and no pompon on his cap, followed the rules.
Tall CapAn enlisted man, possibly serving in the infantry due to the light-color welt on his collar and headgear, is conspicuous in his 1854 Pattern cap, or shako. He also wears an 1855 Pattern Chausseur coat. Less noticeable are the earrings that pierce both his lobes, the wearing of which is not mentioned in any regulations.
Exceptional Surveyor, Courageous WarriorSurveying the largely unspoiled coastlines of the Carolinas in the early 1850s, Capt. Henry Prince found a diverse geography. He traipsed by sandblasted hills on narrow strips of land, and mucked along serpentine creeks that snaked through swamps protected by a canopy of black gum, tupelo and other native trees.
These landscapes were but two of the several that the young officer from Maine had traversed since his graduation from West Point in 1835. Others included the tropical environs of Florida, where he suffered a wound during Indian operations in the late 1830s, and sweeping plains and ridges of Mexico, where he fought with the 4th U.S. Infantry during the 1846-1848 war. At one engagement, the Battle of Molino del Rey, he suffered a severe wound, which earned him the second of two wartime brevets.
The wound required a convalescence of three years. Prince returned to the army on detached duty with the U.S. Coast Survey. He’s pictured here about this time, wearing the full dress company-grade officer’s uniform, his captain’s shoulder straps just visible beneath his epaulettes. The Survey agreed with him, according to Superintendent Alexander D. Bache, who praised Prince. “The character of service which you have rendered is that which military habits and experience, and strong military bias, would naturally render most acceptable to an officer, and I have not seen among the accomplished officers of the Coast Survey one who could surpass you, and but two who could rival you, in reconnaissance.”
Prince suffered during the Civil War, falling into enemy hands during the Battle of Cedar Mountain in 1862, and later taking partial blame for the failure of Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac to engage the enemy during the indecisive Mine Run Campaign in late 1863.
Prince spent the rest of the war behind the front lines on garrison duty, and remained in the regular army after the end of hostilities. He retired in 1879 as lieutenant colonel. By this time, more than four decades of military life had taken a toll on his health. In 1892, ailing from the reopening of his Mexican War wound and diagnosed with Bright’s disease, he committed suicide with a revolver in a London, England, hotel room. He was 81.
Sergeant Mullins Takes on Four Mounted OfficersMartin Mullins leans forward with arms crossed and a look of determination. An Irish immigrant who joined the army in 1851, he started his service in the 5th U.S. Infantry as a private, and quickly rose to sergeant major. He is pictured here at the latter rank, dressed in an outdated uniform that includes an 1839 Pattern jacket and cap, and a Model 1840 non-commissioned officer’s sword.
Mullins served in numerous operations during the 1850s in Indian Territory, Texas, Florida and Utah. At the latter, he participated in the Utah War against the Mormons.
When the Civil War started, the 5th was stationed in New Mexico Territory. Mullins continued in the regiment and advanced to captain. The 5th participated in several engagements in the territory, including the battles of Valverde and Glorieta Pass in 1862.
A post-war anecdote offers insight to Mullins’ character. One day in Kansas, Mullins got into a debate with three cavalry officers and a surgeon about the relative merits of cavalry and infantry. As the story goes, “the cavalry officers declaring that one cavalryman could ride down and sabre any dozen infantry men in the army. At this Capt. Mullins dared the four to try to ride him down. The challenge was accepted, and taking an unloaded musket from one of his men, Capt. Mullins fixed the bayonet, and squared himself for the encounter.”
The four officers charged Mullins in echelon. In the fray that followed, a bayonet prick to one horse sent it galloping off with the first officer, and the second officer received the butt end of the musket and lost control of his mount. The third officer’s saber struck Mullins’ musket, and the captain responded with a bayonet lunge that drove the horse away. The fourth officer, the surgeon, advanced on Mullins, who responded with a loud yell that frightened the horse and caused the animal to rear up and down. “Here is an instance where one infantry soldier outfought four cavalrymen,” the story concluded.
Mullins’ military career ended with a whimper in 1869 after he was cashiered for public drunkenness and lewd behavior. He went on to become a clerk and realtor in Kansas and Arkansas, and died in 1901 at about age 71.