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The Montage

Patriotic-themed carte de visite montages generate little interest among today’s collectors. Such composites featuring portraits of generals, admirals and wartime political leaders are dismissed as “fillers” used to round out photo albums during the war period.

Nothing could be further from the truth. These images enjoyed widespread popularity across the North and South during the Civil War.

EARLY MONTAGE: Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott is pictured with prominent generals prior to his retirement in October 1861. Uncredited, the quality of the print suggests this is a pirated version of an original perhaps published by photographer Charles D. Fredricks in New York City.
EARLY MONTAGE: Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott is pictured with prominent generals prior to his retirement in October 1861. Uncredited, the quality of the print suggests this is a pirated version of an original perhaps published by photographer Charles D. Fredricks in New York City.

Civil War montages form a distinct genre of the carte de visite. They were artistic creations constructed by pasting cartes de visite and hand-lettered labels to thick cardboard. The mounts and labels might be trimmed with decorative edges, producing the equivalent of a 19th century poster. This poster was then photographed and mass produced as cartes de visite, and sold to Americans excited to possess a likeness of their military and political heroes.

It is fair to surmise that most households owned albums filled with cartes of soldiers, family members, friends and important personages. The latter group might include the president, governors, national and state political figures, and general officers in the U.S. Army and Navy. The juxtaposition of high-profile statesmen and officers with citizen soldiers afforded ordinary Americans a glimpse of influential men in the same context as their fathers, husbands and sons.

These people—the first collectors, in a sense —assembled albums of home front and battlefield images that could serve as an important means to emotionally unite a soldier and his family. For a soldier, the image allowed him to form a lasting bond with his messmates, especially when they were killed, wounded or transferred.

Montages showing navy admirals and army corps and division level commanding generals were of interest to seamen, officers and soldiers who rarely if ever glimpsed these commanders on ship decks or battlefields. Many of these men may have purchased montage album cards to send home to illustrate their written accounts of battles and campaigns led by these featured commanders. They could also be used as appeals to patriotism, as evidenced by the montage here titled “Our Peace Commissioners.”

“These people—the first collectors, in a sense—assembled albums of home front and battlefield images that could serve as an important means to emotionally unite a soldier and his family.”

The media also fueled the desire to own montages. Expansive newspaper coverage of the war created an intense interest in military and political leaders.

Edward and Henry T. Anthony of New York City published perhaps the finest montages. The prominent brothers used original photographic plates provided by the Mathew B. Brady studio and other photographers across the country. Montages based on these plates were of high quality, and held a broad appeal in various regions of the United States.

Some examples of late war montages included drawings made from original photographs. This was particularly true in the South.

Other photographers pirated montages. Such images were typically low-quality copy photographs.

The large number of surviving montage cartes available on collectors’ market today reflects their popularity during the war. Overlooked and undervalued, they deserve a second look.

Representative images here illustrate the varieties of popular themes and leaders. All are credited to the Anthony brothers unless noted.

PEACE COMMISSIONERS: “Our Peace Commissioners for 1865” pictures Commander-in-Chief Lincoln and his six highest-ranking field commanders.
PEACE COMMISSIONERS: “Our Peace Commissioners for 1865” pictures Commander-in-Chief Lincoln and his six highest-ranking field commanders.
MARTYRS AND DEAD: “Union Martyrs” memorializes 17 generals who suffered death in battle. Brig. Gen. Thomas E.G. Ransom was the last of this group to die, of dysentery, on Oct. 29, 1864. A companion image pictures 14 “Confederate Dead.” 
MARTYRS AND DEAD: “Union Martyrs” memorializes 17 generals who suffered death in battle. Brig. Gen. Thomas E.G. Ransom was the last of this group to die, of dysentery, on Oct. 29, 1864. A companion image pictures 14 “Confederate Dead.” 
THE REBEL ARMIES: The Anthony brothers pictured generals Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston and other prominent Confederate generals in the same format used for their Union counterparts in “Rebel Army of Virginia” and “Rebel Army of Southwest.” Though the last-named image lacks the Anthony brothers’ back mark, the style remains consistent with their other views.
THE REBEL ARMIES: The Anthony brothers pictured generals Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston and other prominent Confederate generals in the same format used for their Union counterparts in “Rebel Army of Virginia” and “Rebel Army of Southwest.” Though the last-named image lacks the Anthony brothers’ back mark, the style remains consistent with their other views.
TEAM OF RIVALS: President Lincoln and seven of his cabinet officers dates as early as July 1864, when William Pitt Fessenden replaced Salmon Chase as Secretary of the Treasury.
TEAM OF RIVALS: President Lincoln and seven of his cabinet officers dates as early as July 1864, when William Pitt Fessenden replaced Salmon Chase as Secretary of the Treasury.
THE FALLEN PRESIDENT: Nine views of President Lincoln taken by Brady’s Gallery in Washington, D.C., pay tribute to the late leader. The centerpiece image includes a quote from his Second Inaugural Address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”
THE FALLEN PRESIDENT: Nine views of President Lincoln taken by Brady’s Gallery in Washington, D.C., pay tribute to the late leader. The centerpiece image includes a quote from his Second Inaugural Address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC: Ulysses S. Grant sits at the center of “Army of the Potomac.” Grant did not command this army directly—that honor belonged to the officer pictured above him, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. But Grant’s presence dates this montage to early 1864, when President Lincoln named him lieutenant general and overall commander of Union forces. Grant attached himself to Meade’s army. Other clues to dating this image include Grant’s rank (he is pictured wearing the two stars of a major general rather than three of a lieutenant general) and the presence of Maj. Gen. William “Baldy” Smith, who was removed as a corps commander in July 1864.
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC: Ulysses S. Grant sits at the center of “Army of the Potomac.” Grant did not command this army directly—that honor belonged to the officer pictured above him, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. But Grant’s presence dates this montage to early 1864, when President Lincoln named him lieutenant general and overall commander of Union forces. Grant attached himself to Meade’s army. Other clues to dating this image include Grant’s rank (he is pictured wearing the two stars of a major general rather than three of a lieutenant general) and the presence of Maj. Gen. William “Baldy” Smith, who was removed as a corps commander in July 1864.
NAVAL HEROES: Rear Adm. David G. Farragut sits at the center of the officers who blockaded Southern coasts and guarded the Mississippi River and other inland waterways.
NAVAL HEROES: Rear Adm. David G. Farragut sits at the center of the officers who blockaded Southern coasts and guarded the Mississippi River and other inland waterways.
CHARGE!: “Union Cavalry Leaders & Raiders,” far left, depicts a dozen generals at various dates during the war.
CHARGE!: “Union Cavalry Leaders & Raiders,” far left, depicts a dozen generals at various dates during the war.
DEPARTMENT HEADS: “Commanders of Departments,” left center, pictures the generals upon whom Grant depended to win the war. At the center sits senior Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, who Grant recalled in January 1865.
DEPARTMENT HEADS: “Commanders of Departments,” left center, pictures the generals upon whom Grant depended to win the war. At the center sits senior Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, who Grant recalled in January 1865.
SHERMAN: Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and commanders in “Army of the West,” left, a term used late in the war. The image dates prior to July 1864, when Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson suffered a fatal wound during the Atlanta Campaign.
SHERMAN: Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and commanders in “Army of the West,” left, a term used late in the war. The image dates prior to July 1864, when Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson suffered a fatal wound during the Atlanta Campaign.

Tom Glass is a retired professor of leadership at the University of Memphis. He has been a long time collector of Civil War cartes de visite and is author of Lincoln’s Senior Generals: Photographs and Biographical Sketches of the Major Generals of the Union Army (Schiffer Publishing).

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