An enlisted man in the 46th Georgia Infantry sat for this portrait in the studio of celebrated Charleston, S.C., photographer George S. Cook. The image was likely made between September and December 1862, during which period the 46th was stationed in Charleston. On Dec. 10, the Georgians paraded through the city dressed in new uniforms and equipment supplied by the Quartermaster Department of South Carolina. The clothing and accouterments worn by this soldier are similar to others from the Palmetto State. He holds a Pattern 1858 Enfield rifle-musket with a tompion inserted into the end of the barrel to keep it free of rain and other corrosive elements. The soldier has reversed the metal letters and numbers on his cap to compensate for the photographic technology of the time.
The focal point of this composition, an object held by a civilian on bended knee, is crucial to decoding the mysterious event depicted in this unusual image.
The man grasps what appears a glass cylinder that resembles a type of bottle used to hold the highly volatile incendiary substance known as Greek fire. The actions of the soldiers support the notion that whatever the gent holds is dangerous. The first sergeant, left, leans aggressively forward and firmly grips the man’s wrist, turning it to expose the device. The tip of the saber in his other hand rests against the man’s heart. (The ambrotype reversed the image and so it appears that the blade touches the left side of his chest.) The other soldier, a sergeant, steadies the head of another civilian, and threatens to strike a fatal blow with his saber. The head of a subdued third man rests meekly against the first sergeant’s leg.
The overall effect of the reenactment suggests that the sergeants have prevented a dastardly act in the nick of time. One possible explanation is that this scene relates to the failed Confederate plot to burn New York City in 1864—the most ambitious plan of the Southern loyalists who worked in secret to destabilize the Union during the waning months of the war.
A Southern infantryman brandishes his weapon, which may be a Model 1822 musket. He wears a militia version of the Pattern 1858 dress hat with an ostrich feather plume and eagle hat plate on the side brim. Though is state of origin is not known, those familiar with Confederate images suggest that he may have served in a regiment from Alabama or Arkansas.
A photograph case contains a pair of images that speak to separation of family by war. One portrait pictures two Yankee infantrymen, a private and a sergeant, who stand with their Enfield rifle muskets with bayonets affixed. The other portrait features a young woman and child. The exact relationships among the individuals have been lost to time.
Union enlisted men relax with their mess equipage on the dirt floor of a field studio. Four of the soldiers wear the crossed hatchet insignia of the Pioneer Corps on their right coat sleeves. They and their other two comrades pose with tin cups, coffee pots, tin plates, utensils and a stoppered canteen with what may be a filter, as well as a variety of food. Also visible are two stands of long arms with fixed bayonets, cartridge box straps and slings. In the right foreground, a cordage-wrapped pole stands with an expanded top.
The names of the men are not known. A clue to their identity is the photographer’s back mark, “Butler, Bonsall & Co., Army Photographers, General Rousseau’s Division.”
Maj. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau served as a division commander in the Army of the Cumberland from November 1862 until the end of the war. Another hint is the album in which the image was found. The collection included a carte de visite of Brevet Brig. Gen. James Bintliff, who served in the 22nd and 38th Wisconsin Infantry regiments. The 38th was attached to the Army of Potomac and the 22nd, while attached to the Army of Cumberland, does not appear to have been part of Rousseau’s Division.
The back of the mount does not bear the tax stamp affixed to all cartes de visite produced after August 1864. It is likely that this portrait was created prior to this date, and after November 1862, when Rousseau assumed command of the division that bore his name.
A Union cavalryman with saber drawn sits astride his mount amid a campsite littered with boxes, wheels and other items associated with an army on the move. In the background, two covered wagons travel along the edge of a field in which a group of horses and riders are gathered.
The loyalty of this soldier, wearing a hat with tightly turned up brim and a feather plume is not known. The prominent letter E is normally seen on caps and hats worn by federals. The 5-point star, however, is connected most often to troops from Texas, Mississippi and other Confederate states. His coat adds to the mystery. It is a militia-style frock pattern associated with the early war period, but the blue-tinted cuff patches might suggest a date just after the end of the war.