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Always a Collector

If you have walked the aisles of any of the major Civil War shows over the years, chances are you’ve passed Mike Werner and his wife, Yvonne. Werner, a fourth generation farmer from Iowa, raises corn and soybeans. He is also a dedicated student of history. “I have been interested in the Civil War since grade school,” he recalls.

His passion for the past took on a new and more tangible dimension in 1988, when he purchased a tintype at a local flea market. Like many collectors, Werner remembers the details of that first acquisition. “It was a sixth-plate of an unarmed Connecticut soldier in a very nice military case.”

That same year, he attended his first Civil War show. Yvonne joined him, and they have loved the hobby ever since. Werner became more serious about collecting 10 years ago, but is now at something of a crossroads. “Part of me wants to become a dealer and part of me wants to just be a collector.”

Whatever he decides however, he will always be a collector.

“Ambrotypes and outdoor hard images are my favorites,” he notes. His collection includes a variety of formats and subjects, of which representative examples are shown here.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.
Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

The large tent open at both ends may be a valuable clue to the identity of the men posed here. Several cots and a few men can be seen under the sloping canvas walls; perhaps patients under the watchful eye of the surgeon with the broad-brimmed straw hat seated front and center. The coatless man wearing a vest with two rows of buttons may be the assistant surgeon. The private on the left and the sergeant on the right support the theory that this is a hospital scene. Both men hold tin cups, which may indicate a roll in ministering to the sick. The man standing behind the surgeon appears to hold a roll or rolls of bandages.

Quarter-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.
Quarter-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.

This soldier is a study of the prototypical Confederate infantryman. He is wearing a six-button shell jacket with epaulettes and matching trousers cut from coarse material. The leather cartridge box and sling appear russet rather than blackened. The canteen is a drum style, rather than oblate spheroid. The waist belt does not appear to have a brass plate. Visual evidence suggests the weapons he holds are a U.S. Model 1816 flintlock musket converted to percussion, and a Model 1858 Remington or Whitney revolver.

Sixth-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.

Sixth-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.

The face of this mother of two children expresses a palpable anxiety. Her emotional state is enhanced by the open space left for her missing husband. Perhaps he was off on camp or campaign, or had become a casualty of combat or disease. Though the fate of the man is unknown, his allegiance and that of his family is made abundantly clear by the first Confederate national flag draped behind them. Hundreds of thousands of Southern families such as this one provided for themselves during the war years, while they waited for their soldier to come home. Many would wait in vain.

Sixth-plate ruby ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.
Sixth-plate ruby ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.

The brandishing of big knives often appears in portraits of Southern soldiers. Less common is this bewhiskered Northerner who grasps a spear point knife, as if he means to use it. Adding to the effect is a Manhattan Navy revolver thrust into his belt. His uniform is standard issue, as is his cap with the company letter A attached to the front.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

The composition of this portrait seems to tell a story of two cavalrymen who have paused while on reconnaissance. The trooper in the foreground, uniformed and accoutered in regulation federal style, raises his revolver as if to suggest that danger lies ahead. His mount is outfitted with a full set of Model 1859 McClellan saddle and equipment. The dismounted trooper behind him readies his saber and stares off camera at some distant threat. The lack of carbines and associated slings indicate that these men posed in the relative safety of camp.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.
Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

A cavalryman pulls gently on the reigns of his mount as he looks into the camera lens in this equestrian portrait. The surrounding imagery, including a tree stump, pile of logs, barrel and distant fields, suggest horse and rider posed along the fringe of a semi-permanent campsite.

Sixth-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.
Sixth-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.

The intense gaze on the face of this trooper suggests he has been worn down to bone and sinew from many long days and weary miles in the saddle. Armed with a pair of Colt Navy pistols and a Model 1840 “Wrist-breaker” saber, his cap, jacket and mounted trousers are all regulation issue.

Quarter-plate ruby ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.
Quarter-plate ruby ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.

Two volunteers from New Hampshire are dressed in full regulation uniforms, complete with state issue infantry caps labeled with the letters NHV. Several details are noteworthy. The long arms appear to be Model 1842 Austrian or Belgian manufactured Pondir muskets. The bayonets slipped over the barrels are not locked, and they appear positioned to compensate for the reversal effects of hard-plate photography. The tarred linen haversack slung across the shoulder of the bowtie-wearing soldier on the left is stenciled with the same letters that appear on his cap (see detail, left).

Sixth-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

Sixth-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

This clean-shaven youth served in the 8th Missouri Infantry, a hard-fighting regiment that distinguished itself in the Trans-Mississippi and Western theaters. Raised in St. Louis as the American Zouaves, the 8th participated in numerous engagements, including the Battle of Shiloh and the Siege of Vicksburg.

He wears a red-trimmed Zouave jacket over a wool shirt, and a slouch hat complete with a Pattern 1858 infantry horn, hat cord and tassels and ostrich plume. The uniform was unusual in that extant examples, including this portrait, lack the customary vest under the jacket, creating a casual appearance. A small revolver, likely an 1849 Colt Pocket, is tucked into his waist belt.

Sixth-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.

Sixth-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.

A Marine is attired in the single-breasted, seven button undress coat with plain cuffs typically worn on campaign. The cap on the table next to him was copied from the French chasseur pattern kepi, and it has the stamped brass enlisted man’s hunting horn insignia with old English M in the loop.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

Pictured in regulation uniforms and equipment from cap to dusty boots, these Union troopers stand with the comfortable poise of veterans who have spent serious time in the saddle. Both are armed with Model 1842 Austrian Type 11 carbines, also known as the “Kammer-Karabiner,” Remington pistols and Model 1840 “wrist-breaker” sabers. The wood plank floor and the simple canvas backdrop surrounding them suggest a makeshift camp studio.

Sixth-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.

Sixth-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.

A frock-coated federal grasps the barrel of a Savage Navy Model .36 caliber revolver with its distinctive large trigger guard, containing two triggers. The bottom-cocking ring “trigger” rotates the six-chamber cylinder and cocks the hammer. The top trigger fires the revolver. The government purchased a relatively small number (12,000) of the revolvers, which were manufactured in Middletown, Conn. Most found their way into the Northern armies, with a majority issued to cavalry units in the western theater. Cavalry regiments issued the Savage include the 5th Kansas, 7th Missouri and 1st and 2nd Wisconsin. Some of these unique revolvers made their way South.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.
Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

An infantry private rests his gauntleted hand on the shoulder of the first sergeant seated beside him in this early war portrait. Though the gesture may be a simple expression of comradeship, it might also underscore that his sergeant was a man who could be counted on in good times and bad.

The first sergeant wears a standard issue cap, enlisted man’s frock coat and trousers, and tall boots. He cradles a Model 1840 non-commissioned officer’s sword and carries a Colt Navy revolver in his belt. His pard sports a private-purchase McDowell cap, and has a Massachusetts Arms produced Adams revolver tucked into his waist belt.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

This portrait of four casually dressed federals provides a study of individualism among the ranks. Clad in a variety of shirts, suspenders and headgear, three of their number pose with cigars.

The soldier on the far left wears what appears an issue grey wool shirt, and striped suspenders with patent buckles. His star insignia could be a 12th or 20th Corps badge, or simply an expression of patriotism. The other privates wear shirts with various levels of finish and ornamentation. The second man from the left has pockets in the front of his cotton or linen shirt. The third soldier has contrasting colors on the placket, cuffs and shoulder yoke on a shirt (possibly wool), as well as very fancy embroidered suspenders. The fourth man wears a white linen or cotton shirt, and a watch fob anchored by the waist button of his trousers. A civilian slouch hat covers his head, unlike his three associates who wear standard issue caps.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

A thickly bearded private dressed in standard uniform coat and beehive-style slouch hat sat for this undated portrait. Though his identity is not known, chances are he was one of about 180,000 men who served in the ranks of the U.S. Colored Troops. If he survived the war, he may have gone on to become a Buffalo Soldier.

Sixth-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

Sixth-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

A hint of a smile is evident on the face of this Union drummer boy with an elaborate neck strap and full-size bass drum. The large shield patch with the Roman numeral indicates his membership in the 10th Legion, a combined force of infantry, cavalry and artillery proposed by New York Representative Charles Van Wyck of the Empire State’s 10th Congressional District.

The red-tinting on the patch, cap and trim of his state-issued semi-chasseur jacket suggests that he served as a musician in the artillery section, which became the 7th and 8th New York Independent Batteries. It is also possible that the red trim indicated his membership as a musician in the infantry section, which mustered into federal service as the 56th New York.

Sixth-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

Sixth-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

A Union corporal poses with his Model 1844 Saxon rifle musket, a .71 caliber weapon that featured a distinctive rear sight with 3 sighting holes. Produced in the Belgian city of Liège, the Saxon was one of many recycled European weapons procured by federal purchasing agents early in the war, and distributed to needy troops. Also worthy of note is the shoulder sling to which is attached his cartridge box. It appears more narrow, and the breastplate smaller, than the standards.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

A determined cavalryman holds a U.S. Model 1840 cavalry saber, also known as the “wrist-breaker” due to its heavy weight. Tucked into his belt is a Model 1858 Remington revolver. The boots worn by the soldier, fit with an extra piece of leather in a complimentary color, were not standard issue.

Half-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.
Half-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer.

The reason for this gathering of soldiers and civilians is currently lost in time. But a close examination suggests a regiment in the field visited by a delegation from home. Mounted on horseback in the center is the senior officer dressed in a frock coat with two rows of evenly spaced buttons, indicating his rank as a major, lieutenant colonel or colonel. At least half a dozen line officers and another half dozen enlisted men, both mounted and on foot, strike a variety of poses. This includes the officer on the far left, who wears gauntlets and grasps his horse’s bridle. Grouped women, children and several men in top hats appear on the right side of the image. Outbuildings and tents are visible in the background.

Quarter-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.
Quarter-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer.

A fastidiously dressed corporal stands at attention with a Model 1842 musket in one hand and a .36 caliber Manhattan Navy revolver stuck in his belt. His uniform appears without creases, his gauntlets clean, and boots freshly shined. He has gone to some trouble to arrange his accouterments to compensate for the reversal effects of hard-plate photography. The presence of a soldier in the background, standing with hands in pockets near a building, suggests that the concept of photo bombing is new only in name.

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