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History Revealed, One Photo at a Time

Two individuals that I’ve met in recent months make important contributions to the visual record of early American military portrait photography in this issue. Both are unique to this publication in that they are neither collectors nor dedicated students of the war. Yet, each has an interest in history and a sense that the photographs in their possession are noteworthy.

Details from the VMI daguerreotype, left, and a carte de visite of Adm. David Farragut.
Details from the VMI daguerreotype, left, and a carte de visite of Adm. David Farragut.

I met Chuck Winans earlier this year after the publication of the spring issue. Inspired by the cover story, which featured newly uncovered tintypes of Jefferson and Varina Davis, Chuck emailed me about his great-great grandfather, William H. Philip. A sculptor from Brooklyn, N.Y., Philip had modeled busts of several wartime political and military figures, including Adm. David G. Farragut. Chuck had a collection of documents related to the Farragut bust, and among these papers were two cartes de visite of the admiral. We met in person at the April 2016 Chicago Civil War Show & Sale in Wheaton, Ill. I scanned the portraits and other papers amid the hustle and bustle of the event. You can see the images and read about our research adventures beginning in  “Authentic Farragut.” 

About this time, I received a call from Maryland antiques dealer Glenn Hilburn, who had learned about MI through a friend. I listened as Glenn related the story of how he came to own a daguerreotype of five cadets who attended the Virginia Military Institute. Based on the strength of Glenn’s story and his determination to learn more about the photograph, I drove to his home to scan it and a number of related genealogical documents. The result of our investigations starts in Rats, Crossed Arms and a Mourning Ribbon.”

These experiences reinforce my belief that many more historically significant images await discovery in attics, basements and elsewhere in homes across the country. When you pause to consider that interest in these portraits is a relatively recent phenomenon that dates to the 1960s, it is perhaps fitting that these images have only now come to light. I’m excited for more such individuals to step forward and share their discoveries and stories in MI.

Ronald S. Coddington
Editor & Publisher

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