By Richard Leisenring Jr.
Two significant developments changed dramatically the way Americans consumed information on the eve of the Civil War.
The first event came about with the introduction of the carte de visite photographic format, a paper alternative to tintypes and ambrotypes. The other involved the rapid growth of a news media. By 1860, more than 4,000 newspapers allowed unprecedented access and timely delivery of information.
The combination created a highly effective venue for touching society to support a cause. As the carte de visite could be inexpensively massed produced, the cardboard mount to which the print was attached became a convenient place to print a storyline that promoted a cause. Meanwhile, newspapers reported on the causes, which filled columns and boosted circulation.
Three major groups—charities, abolitionists and disabled veterans—embraced this venue to advance and fund campaigns. Many thousands of photographs were produced, and were promoted and sold to a curious public at charity events or on street corners to passers-by. The cost ranged from a fixed price to a generous donation. Newspapers fueled interest with human interest and other stories.
The representative photographs here were designed, in part, to play on the emotions of the public and entice monetary giving. They also served as a reminder to society of the debt it owed for the cost of the changes it demanded. For future generations, these images provide insight into how our ancestors viewed their society and influenced the modern world.
Regional and National Charities
The Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon
Union army volunteers who travelled from the New England states to Washington, D.C., usually passed through Philadelphia. When they did, local grocer Barzilai Brown gave out food and drink as they marched by his store. Thanks to Brown’s generosity, and that of others, the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon was established on May 27, 1861.
During its four years of operation, The U.V.R.S. housed 40,000 men in transit, served more than a million meals to about 800,000 men, and treated about 20,000 wounded and 15,000 sick soldiers at its hospital. It also distributed other necessities.
The entire operation was run by volunteers and paid for with donations and fundraisers without any government aid. The source of the funds was donations and a series of annual fairs. Cartes de visite of the Saloon bolstered souvenir sales, and were also given as a thank you to charitable donors.
At least two known views of the Saloon exist, created by Philadelphia photographer Henry C. Philips of Philadelphia.
The U.V.R.S. closed its doors on Aug. 28, 1865.
Emancipated Slaves and Louisiana Freedmen
The National Freedman’s and American Missionary Associations conceived of one of the most aggressive charitable campaigns of 1863. At its core were the sales of cartes de visite for relief of former slaves. Eight such souls from New Orleans, including five children—four light-skinned and one dark—with three adults, went on a fundraising tour to several major cities in the North. Abolitionist-soldier George H. Hanks guided the tour. He had started his military service in the 12th Connecticut Infantry, and became colonel of the 18th Infantry, Corps d’Afrique, a regiment raised in New Orleans.
The goal was to raise money to educate freedmen, and to underscore that slavery knew no racial boundaries, and that its cruelty affected everyone.
Organizers had hoped that people would react more generously if it were implied that whites, represented by the light-skinned children, were also enslaved in the south. During the campaign, a full-page illustration entitled “Emancipated Slaves White and Colored.” appeared in the Jan. 30, 1864, issue of Harper’s Weekly. Biographies of each child were included.
Though funds were raised from admission fees and donations, much of the financial support came through sales of their photographs. According to the Harper’s Weekly article, the cartes de visite were available for 25 cents each, and the proceeds would expressly “go to the support of the schools in Louisiana.”
Photographer Charles Paxon of New York City issued a series of 10 cartes de visite in a variety of individual and group poses. The images had titles such as “Slave Children from New Orleans” and “Emancipated Slaves from New Orleans.” Other photographers also published images of the slaves, including James E. McClees of Washington and M.H. Kimball and Whitney & Paradise of New York City.
The U.S. Sanitary Commission Fairs
In June 1861, the federal government approved the U.S. Sanitary Commission as a charitable organization. Created to provide aid, support and comfort to soldiers, it eventually operated over 30 soldiers’ homes, hospitals and rest houses for sick, disabled and traveling soldiers during the course of the war.
Fundraising efforts included about 35 Sanitary Fairs held across the Northern states. These elaborate events raised more than $25 million (equivalent to $675 million today). Each fair featured a series of themed exhibits designed to generate public interest. Displays focused on art, technology, ethnic, military and political topics. Monies were collected through admission fees, donated items, food and souvenirs. The latter category included cartes de visite—one of the most popular items sold. The images featured military and civilian celebrities, fairgrounds, booths, exhibits and the people who worked them. Though the exact number produced and sold is not known, sales likely ranged in the thousands.
Fair revenues enabled Commission volunteers to work with veterans after the war to secure bounties, back pay and pensions. The Commission disbanded in 1878.
The Children of the Battlefield and the National Orphans Homestead
One of the best known charitable cartes de visite to come out of the Civil War was this portrait of the Humiston children—Frank, Frederick and Alice. The original photo, an ambrotype, was found on the body of an unknown soldier killed on the first day of the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Extensively copied in the carte de visite format to help identify the man, the image became the center of two campaigns to raise money between 1863 and 1878.
The first campaign began with the identification of Sgt. Amos Humiston of the 154th New York Infantry. Cartes de visite of the now identified children were sold to raise funds for the support of the orphaned children and their widow. A second campaign launched a year after the first sold images helped fund an orphanage in Gettysburg for soldier’s children, which became known as the National Orphans Homestead.
An image of Sgt. Humiston was obtained from his widow and mass-produced for both campaigns.
Sales of the images continued until around 1878, when the orphanage closed. About this time, Homestead itself produced three different cartes de visite for an unknown purpose. At least nine photographers produced the cartes de visite during this 15-year period.
The White Slave and a Union Nurse
Born to a white father and his slave in 1858, Fannie Ayres, like her two older sisters, Viana and Sallie, was light skinned and could easily have passed for a white child. Their father set his slaves free upon his death in 1859, and left the children with their white grandmother in Virginia.
When the war broke out, the threat of returning to slavery loomed on their horizon. Further complicating matters, the grandmother fell ill. Shortly before her death in August 1862, she instructed the freedmen that remained to flee north with the girls. By year’s end, the girls met Catherine S. Lawrence, an Army nurse in Alexandria, Va. Having no means of support, the eldest sister, Viana, convinced Lawrence to adopt Fannie as her own.
In the spring of 1863, Lawrence took Fannie to Brooklyn for a baptism by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, a noted abolitionist and sister of Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe. The ceremony took place on May 10. Beecher christened her Fannie Virginia Casseopia Lawrence.
In a speech that followed the baptism, Beecher referred to Fannie as a “White Slave.” The press picked up the speech, and Fannie became an instant celebrity. She and Lawrence toured the North, and sold this and other cartes de visite to support them. There are 21 variations known produced by photographers John Renowden and George Van Dorn of Brooklyn, N.Y., the Kellogg Brothers and Richard S. De Lamater of Hartford, Conn., and James Wallace Black of Boston, Mass.
The Lawrence/Ayres family story did not end happily. Fannie married young and had a child, and then was abandoned by her husband. Her death date is not known. Her sisters died of consumption before they turned 21. Lawrence died destitute in 1904.
Wisconsin Veteran C.E. Hine and Old Abe
New York-born Collins E. Hine resided in Brodhead, Wis., when he enlisted in Company G of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry in August 1861. About this time, a bald eagle christened Old Abe joined the regiment as its mascot.
There is no evidence that Hine and Old Abe had any interactions during the early part of their service. They did have however, a shared experience during the Battle of Corinth, Miss., on Oct. 2, 1862. During the initial attacks, Hine received a severe wound to his right arm. A musket ball passed through one of Old Abe’s wings, resulting in the loss of several feathers.
Old Abe returned to duty and served honorably through the regiment’s enlistment. He went on to become nationally known and appeared at numerous events across the country. He died in 1881.
Hine suffered an amputation that ended his service in December 1862. He returned to Wisconsin and later settled in Nebraska. At some point, he sold cartes de visite of Old Abe to help make ends meet. Hine outlived the famed war eagle by three years, dying in 1884.
Alfred Stratton and His Family
The military service of Pvt. Alfred A. Stratton came to a tragic end on June 18, 1864, at the front lines at Petersburg, Va. During an attack on Confederate earthworks, an artillery shell smashed both arms of the rookie soldier. Stratton had enlisted 10 months earlier in the 147th New York Infantry as a substitute for a man who had been drafted.
A surgeon amputated Stratton’s mangled arms above the elbows. Transported to Central Park Hospital in New York City, he underwent additional surgery and received a discharge in October 1864 with a pair of prosthetic arms and a pension of $25 a month.
Homeless, Stratton moved into the New England Soldiers’ Relief Association home in New York City that December. Here, he posed for his first carte de visite, which he sold to supplement his meager pension. The carte de visite was labeled on back with his name, regiment, the nature of his disability, and his location at the Association home.
Stratton posed 12 times between 1864-1869, with a total of 20 known variations. Sales of the mass produced images supported him, wife Julia Johnson, whom he married in 1865, and two children that followed. During these years, his stumps never completely healed.
His caught a break in 1869, when, having moved to Washington, Stratton found employment as a watchman at the U.S. Treasury Department. The job was made possible under the auspices of the Veterans’ Preference Act of 1865. His new position enabled him to support his family with dignity. But the good times did not last long. He died in 1874, reportedly of consumption connected to his war service. He was 29.
Bernard Toby and His “Hurdy-Gurdy” Tours
Dutch-born sailor and Crimean War veteran Bernard Toby likely never imagined that he would end up on tour with a “hurdy-gurdy,” or hand organ, to support his family. But his love of the sea and patriotism for his adopted country brought him to a wartime accident that forever changed his life.
In 1856, Toby and his wife arrived in America and settled in New Jersey, where they started a family. After the bombardment of Fort Sumter in 1861, Toby resigned his position on a merchant ship and enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
On Jan. 16, 1865, Toby’s seafaring career came to an end. After the Battle of Fort Fisher, N.C., the powder magazine accidently exploded while he was detailed with a landing party inside the surrendered fort. The blast killed or wounded more than 200 soldiers, sailors and prisoners, including Toby, who lost both arms just below the elbows in the tragedy.
Unable to work, Toby purchased a hand organ in early 1866 to supplement his pension. He toured 11 states over the next four years, staging concerts with his oldest son. Receipts from concert tickets and cartes de visite provided much-needed money to support his family.
The first known carte de visite of Toby with his son with the organ was produced in September 1866 in Syracuse, N.Y., by the studio or Bonta & Curtiss. Soon after, Toby had the honor of meeting with President Andrew Johnson, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Adm. David Farragut. Toby reportedly gave the President one of the cartes de visite. Fetter’s Photographic Gallery in Logansport, Ind., produced a second image in May 1867. The printed circumstances about the explosion that cost Toby his arms are found on the back of the mount of this portrait.
As there are no accounts of Toby on tour after May 1869, it appears that he settled down with the rest of the family. His whereabouts and date of death are unknown.
David Wintress and the Poetic Handbill
David Henry Wintress of the 139th New York Infantry participated in his first battle on April 12, 1863, at Williamsburg, Va.
It was also his last battle.
According to a biographer, “While lying down with his regiment, awaiting a second attack of the enemy one of his comrades accidentally kicked the lock of another comrade’s musket, which caused a discharge, and the ball entered the cheek of Mr. Wintress just below the left eye, forcing he cheek-bone into the left eye, completely destroying the globe of the eye: the ball continued its course, carrying away the nasal bone, and finally escaping through the right eye cavity, destroying the sight of both eyes. He remained in an unconscious condition for three weeks, with no hope of his recovery. During this time a quantity of the brain, which protruded into the right eye cavity, was removed. He was fed twice through the left eye cavity.”
After undergoing several surgeries to remove 70 pieces of bone fragments, Wintress was discharged in July 1863 and sent home to Brooklyn, N.Y. A year later, he received his badly needed pension.
Wintress attended the New York Institute for the Blind for a little more than a year as a guest of the City of Brooklyn, He then struck out on his own. He struggled to survive, and resorted to charity in late 1866 to make ends meet. He sold poetic handbills and cartes de visite of himself in uniform wearing his Brooklyn Service Medal, an honor presented to local Union veterans.
It is not known how long he sold his likeness, and only one known pose exists. Wintress went on to lead a full life and died in 1908 at age 65.
Monkey Boy and the Lord’s Prayer
Samuel Canty could be considered a Renaissance man.
Born in 1815, in New York to Welsh parents, he left home early in life for adventure as a merchant sailor. At some point he joined the navy, and later claimed service in the Mexican War. During this time, he discovered his gifts for writing, music, gymnastics and acting.
After his service, Canty put these talents to work writing plays, acting and publishing illustrated sheet music. He became a success on stage touring as “Singor Canito, the Man Monkey” in two plays, “the Black Gorilla” and “Monkey Boy,” a combination of acting and gymnastics. His credits include no fewer than eight published plays and songs, and he also listed as the original gorilla at Barnum’s old museum. Among the actors with whom he shared a stage billing: John Wilkes Booth.
Canty was also a philanthropist, in one instance writing and staging a play in Brooklyn on Christmas Eve 1864 for the benefit of the Working Womens’ Protective Union. The organization was organized a year earlier to force employers to pay its members an agreed-upon wages, as well as provide job training and legal defense.
By 1866, Canty had fallen into poor health. Unable to make a living and terrible with finances, he looked for other ways to support his family. One effort is pictured here—an illustrated copy of the Lord’s Prayer published as a carte de visite. The card touted Canty’s service, which included a claim that he served in the army.
Three prominent New Yorkers endorsed the statements, including Marianna Almira Hale of the Ladies’ Union Relief Committee, who was connected to the entertainment world. Her uncle was the celebrated stage actor Edward Loomis Davenport. Her father, James Webster Hale, worked as the first U.S. stage manager of the famed Siamese Twins Chang and Eng Bunker.
James Hale, on behalf of Canty, asked the New York City Board of Education to purchase the Lord’s Prayer and other cartes for distribution to students for good conduct and other purposes. No evidence exists however, that the Board acted on the proposal.
Despite the high-profile endorsements, sales of the cartes de visite did not bring in enough funds. The Canty family resorted to relying on the charity of his former associates in the theatrical profession. Canty passed away in 1875 in abject poverty. He was buried through the generosity of those who knew him.
Benjamin Franklin Work’s Battle Against Mother Nature
Benjamin Franklin Work’s greatest fight for life did not result from the encounters he had with rebels or hostile Indians, but rather with Mother Nature.
In February 1862, he joined the 12th Iowa Infantry as a private. The regiment surrendered at the Battle of Shiloh, but he escaped. He was later assigned to guard duty during the Siege of Corinth, Miss. That July, he deserted.
Work surfaced in December 1862 as a member of the 1st Minnesota Mounted Rangers. He enlisted as Benjamin Franklin, likely dropping his last name to avoid capture and prosecution as a deserter. He joined the 2nd Minnesota Cavalry a year later. Also about this time, he married Georgiana Way, a widow with three children.
On Dec. 11, 1865, while heading home on leave, a blizzard stranded the stagecoach occupied by Work and three others. The four paired up and sought help. Seven days later, friendly Indians found Work and his partner near death. Work was transported back to Fort Ridley, Minn., where he arrived on December 24. His badly frozen limbs became infected with gangrene. In early January 1866, he suffered the amputation of both forearms and lower legs. Discharged from service in April, he remained at the fort hospital until June.
Back home in Blue Earth, Minn., Work received a modest government pension. He sold cartes de visite of himself between 1866 and 1880 to raise additional funds. Each carried a fanciful version of his story using his post-desertion name. Divorced in 1895, Work married Maria Clark a year later and moved to Bangor, S.D. He died of an embolism at age 62 in 1899.
Six photographers had taken images of him in 12 known poses.
Victim of Friendly Fire at Gettysburg
On July 2, 1863, Pvt. George Washington Warner and his comrades in the 20th Connecticut Infantry arrived on the battlefield of Gettysburg. Placed along the right flank of federal forces, they constructed defensive earthworks on Culps Hill. Later, they moved to Little Round Top to support fighting there. Returning to Culps Hill that night, they discovered that rebels had occupied their earthworks.
The next morning, the Connecticut men fought five hours to win back their trenches. During this time, an errant Union artillery shells caused several casualties in the regiment. One of those felled by friendly fire was Warner.
A shell tore his right arm off and severely damaged his left. After having both limbs amputated, Warner spent the next three months in recovery. In October 1863, he was discharged and sent home to his wife and five children in Bethany, Conn.
Unable to support a family of seven on his monthly pension of $25, Warner sold cartes de visite of himself and of his family to make ends meet. In the years that followed, the family grew by three more children. His pension increased, too, reaching a respectable $100 per month in 1889.
Warner sold his images between 1864 and 1887. Twelve poses of him and family taken by three photographers are known to exist.
During the post-war years, Warner was active in the Grand Army of the Republic. He unveiled the regimental monument at Gettysburg in 1885 and two other Civil War monuments.
Warner passed away in 1923, at age 91. He outlived his wife and five of his eight children.
Nick Biddle and the First Defenders
The Washington Artillery of Pottsville, Pa., was one of the first military companies to answer President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to put down the rebellion. With the company, 65-year-old Nick Biddle, a former slave acting as a servant to its captain. Though the law prevented Biddle from joining the military because of his race, he was allowed out of respect by the unit to wear its uniform.
On April 18, 1861, the Pennsylvanians arrived in Baltimore, where they changed trains for the rest of the journey to Washington. There, a hostile mob of Southern sympathizers attacked the group with jagged pieces of brick and other improvised weapons. The sight of Biddle in uniform incensed the mobs. A brick struck Biddle in the head as he made his way on to a waiting train car. The deep scalp wound bled profusely.
Many consider his blood the first shed in hostility during the war.
Upon the arrival of the Pennsylvanians in Washington, President Abraham Lincoln personally greeted them. Noting Biddle’s cut, Lincoln asked him to have the wound treated. Biddle politely refused, preferring to remain with his company.
Three months later, the company’s enlistment expired, and it returned to Pottsville to reorganize. This time, Biddle was left behind.
Biddle sat for this carte de visite in 1864, which was sold at the U.S. Sanitary Commission Fair in Philadelphia to aid soldiers—and also for his personal benefit.
In poor health after the war, Biddle had difficultly working and was forced to rely on charity to survive. He died penniless at age 80 in 1876. Appreciative veterans paid his funeral expenses. In 1883, a nation-wide campaign purchased a headstone for Biddle’s grave using cartes de visite of him as a premium.
On July 1, 1863, with rebels on the outskirts of Gettysburg, Pa., many locals went into hiding. But not John L. Burns. The 69-year-old War of 1812 veteran donned his blue swallowtail coat, grabbed his vintage flintlock and made himself useful.
The Adams Sentinel and General Advertiser reported what happened next: “He advanced to the hottest of the scene and blazed away with his old musket until he fell wounded in the leg, side and arm. He reached his home, and though severely wounded, it is hoped he will soon recover. Patriotism and bravery like this is worthy of record in the annals of this war.”
In fact, Burns has been left on the battlefield as Union troops fell back. That evening, Confederates found Burns and questioned him about his injuries. Skeptical of his story, they left him in misery. The next morning, Burns crawled to a nearby home where he was found and assisted back to his family.
His exploits made “The brave John Burns” an instant celebrity and national hero. Burns accompanied President Abraham Lincoln around Gettysburg during the dedication of the National Cemetery in November 1863. Burns received pensions from the federal government and the state of Pennsylvania. He also received a temporary job as a night watchman, and, from 1866 to 1868, he served as Assistant Doorkeeper of the Pennsylvania Legislature in Harrisburg.
Burns made additional income by selling his autographed carte de visite at patriotic rallies and fund raisers, and to curious tourists.
In 1868, his health began to deteriorate. He continued to tour and sell images until his mind failed. Found wandering the streets of New York City, Burns was taken back to Gettysburg, where he died of pneumonia in 1872. Burns was 78.
Eleven photographers created 20 documented cartes de visite of Burns.
Relief for a Disabled Sailor
During the Battle of Mobile Bay on Aug. 5, 1864, Rear Adm. David G. Farragut’s flagship Hartford defeated the rebel ram Tennessee. Less known, the fate of one of Farragut’s crew, coal heaver Richard D. Dunphy, who was severely wounded when a shell penetrated the vessel.
Dunphy had joined the navy less than a year earlier. He suffered the amputation of both arms below the shoulders.
Six months later, he was discharged with a $25 pension. He used some of the money to hire a personal assistant. Finding his pension inadequate, Dunphy turned to charity. In 1865, a Connecticut women’s organization stepped up and held a fundraiser with cartes de visite of him to sell. On the back was printed his story, “Relief for A Disabled Sailor.” More cartes de visite would be printed—eight additional poses by three photographers—through 1867. These images were inscribed only with his name and where he lost his arms. During this time, he also received the Medal of Honor.
In 1867, Dunphy married Catherine M. Cooper, moved to Wisconsin, and started a family He received a modest state pension in honor of his service. A second move came in 1871, to Vallejo, Calif., where the family grew to 10 children. Dunphy went to work at the Mare Island Naval Shipyards in 1887.
Dunphy passed away in 1903 at age 62.
Fate Brings Two Infantrymen Together
The date June 18, 1864, is remembered in history as the fourth and final day of the Assault on Petersburg. The series of poorly coordinated attacks by superior numbers of Union forces against well-protected Confederate defenders ended in heavy casualties for the federals—and marked the beginning of Siege of Petersburg that ended with the fall of Richmond 10 months later.
Among the men in blue on the injured list that day included two infantry corporals: George Washington Brown and Edwin Silas Kellogg. Brown, standing, served in the 157th Pennsylvania Infantry. Kellogg, a member of the 89th New York Infantry, sits next to him.
Both suffered serious wounds in the left arm that ended in amputation. They recuperated from their operations at South Street General Hospital in Philadelphia, where they struck up a friendship that continued after their discharges in 1865. At some point, they posed for this carte de visite portrait and at least two others to raise income.
Brown married and started a family that grew to include three children, all of whom died young. He lived until 1897. Kellogg married, had five children, and died in 1913.
Richard Leisenring Jr., a native of Hopkinsville, Ky., has been an avid collector of Civil War memorabilia since 1967. He has worked in the museum field and as an historical consultant for 42 years, the last 15 as curator of the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, N.Y.
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