By Michael Huston
Twenty years after John Morton joined the 19th Iowa Infantry, he contacted his comrades in Company C and asked them to send him their likenesses. Many responded, and Morton artfully arranged them on a large board. The resulting composite is a unique memorial to a band of brothers who endured the rigors of camp and campaign during the Civil War.
Decades passed, and the old soldiers faded away. So did the composite. How it resurfaced more than a century later, and the story of its origin, is revealed here.
In February 2021, I made the winning eBay bid on a carte de visite of William C. Porter, who served in Company C of the 19th Iowa Infantry. Porter’s portrait interested me because he served in the same company as my wife’s great-great-great-grandfather, Pvt. Marshall Wilkin.
When the image arrived, I noted the typewritten number 60, name, and year pasted to the top of the mount, and glue marks on the back. It occurred to me that this image was most likely attached to a larger collection at some point in time.
I sent a message to the eBay seller to obtain any information about the provenance of the image. Much to my surprise, the seller replied that the Porter carte was part of a large photo collage of Company C. I also learned that the seller had loose cartes de visite from that composite and planned to sell them individually. Even more shocking was the revelation that the seller had the original framed composite.
I instinctively knew that the composite had to be saved and come home to Washington County, Iowa, where Company C had formed in the summer of 1862—and where I live today with my family.
After further discussion and negotiation, the seller agreed to sell me the composite and the loose cartes de visite. It is intact, except one carte of Cpl. James H. Young, which had been sold to the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park weeks before I purchased the Porter image.
The composite and its assembly
Corporal John W. Morton, also known as JW, created this composite. In 1882, he called upon his former Company C comrades to submit their pictures for use in a photocollage to be reprinted and shared. Morton contacted the 80 surviving members of his company by mail and word of mouth, and over the next year received photographs from 73 of them—more than 90 percent. He completed the project in 1884.
The collection includes 77 post-war albumen photographs, each numbered to a key of names. The images of rank-and-file soldiers and non-commissioned officers are cut into ovals artfully arranged around six rectangular albumens of senior officers.
The most prominent officer resides at the center top: an autographed albumen of major general and Medal of Honor recipient Francis J. Herron. A captain in the 1st Iowa Infantry early in the war, he went on to serve as lieutenant colonel of the 9th Iowa Infantry, and then general in command of two divisions of the Army of the Frontier. The 19th served in one of Herron’s divisions at the December 1862 Battle of Prairie Grove, a Union victory that forced Confederate forces to leave western Arkansas.
Below Herron is the colonel of the 19th, Benjamin Crabb. His subordinates, Lt. Col. Daniel Kent, Lt. Col. John Bruce, and two captains that commanded Company C, Thaddeus H. Stanton (1862) and John S. Gray (1863-1865), surround him.
The oval and rectangular albumens are mounted to thick paper backing measuring 33.5 by 23 inches. The paper is ornamented with remarkably preserved patriotic sketches in graphite. Also in graphite are two prominent dates: 1862 marks the organization of the regiment, and 1883, when most of the portraits were received. In 1884, Morton arranged to have photocopies made of the composite, and offered them for sale.
Groupings inside the composite
Morton titled the original composite, “Survivors of Company C, 19th Iowa Infantry, 21 Years After the War,” but later changed it to “20 years” on the original. This change caused a conflict with the 1883 date.
Of note is a camp scene with tents and a stand of muskets at lower left, and opposite a farm. The two views contextualize the service these citizen-soldiers, who left their tools, crops and homes behind to defend the ideals of their nation. Eighty-one of the original 100 men of Company C listed their occupation as farmer at the time of their enlistment.
Morton added 33 wartime cartes de visite and a halftone picture around the border of the composite after photocopies were produced. The halftone, of Lt. Col. Bruce, sits second from the bottom left corner. A caption below his likeness states he served as a federal judge “till his death last winter.” Bruce died Oct. 1, 1901, which dates the print to 1902.
In August 2021, I took the composite to Barron Preservation Services in Central Iowa for a professional evaluation. Conservator Sonya Barron unframed the composite and cleaned and re-attached the original images. Barron discovered that the framer used newspapers from 1896 as backing material.
Here are the stories behind a few of the images.
The chronicler of Company C
John Wesley Morton was the glue that held the men of Company C together during the post-war period. He committed his life to making sure that others knew about the service of his brothers-in-arms. As one of the last survivors of the company, he wrote many of the obituaries for those he bonded with through war; many of these are deeply personal and contained remembrances of service together and hard times shared.
Morton had a long connection to Iowa. A native of Lancaster County, Pa., he came to Washington County at age 13 with his family in April 1856—a month after the Know Nothing party nominated former Chief Executive Millard Fillmore for President, and a month before the sacking of Lawrence, Kan., by pro-slavery forces.
Six years later, after war fractured the country, Morton, now 20, enlisted in the 19th with fellow farmers and other neighbors. They saw their first action at Prairie Grove, Ark., and went on to fight at Vicksburg, Stirling’s Plantation, La., and Spanish Fort, Ala. The regiment suffered heavily during its service, including a significant number of men who endured long stints as prisoners of war at Camp Ford in Texas.
After Morton mustered out in July 1865, he returned to Washington County, married Emma Rodgers in 1874, and started a family. Active in the Methodist Church, the Masons, and civil affairs as county recorder, he is best remembered for preserving the memories of his Washington County veterans. Some of his writings were used in the preparation of this story. His largest surviving work is this composite.
Morton lived until age 84, dying in 1926.
“The Fighting Chaplain”
Though the carte de visite pasted by Morton to the bottom right-hand corner is not keyed to the composite, the older man with gray-streaked beard played an important role in Company C. Chaplain John Drozier Sands, a Congregationalist minister, received praise in the History of the Nineteenth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry: “His kind manners, his good example and influence, and not least his noble behavior in the attack and siege of Spanish Fort, all entitle him to the high place he holds in our affections. He shared the danger of the very front and advance, and his manly bearing in action, and his womanly tenderness to the wounded extort praise from the most unwilling, how much then it would gain our love.”
An English-born soldier who had once served in the British Army, the Crown dispatched him and other troops to colonial Canada to suppress the rebellion there in 1837-1838. His army experience profoundly impacted his life, prompting him to leave the military and attend Yale’s School of Theology. After graduating, he went on to prominence as a prairie preacher in Iowa.
In March 1864, he joined the 19th as chaplain and tended to the spiritual needs of his soldier boys. He supported them in combat, too. According to one writer, “Chaplain Sands was always found on the firing line with musket in hand and his watchword was always, ‘Come on boys.’”
After the war, church congregants affectionately referred to Sands as “The Fighting Chaplain.” By the time of his death in 1909, at age 94, he had established 47 churches.
The regimental historian
James Irvine Dungan survived harrowing experiences during the war and went on to become one of Company C’s most distinguished public figures. Three portraits in the composite represent him.
A Pennsylvanian by birth, he attended college in Iowa, and when the war came he cast his lot with Company C.
About a year after his enlistment, in September 1863, Dungan fell into enemy hands at the Battle of Stirling’s Plantation. Outnumbered nearly three to one, he and 211 other Union soldiers surrendered and endured an arduous march to Camp Ford in Tyler, Texas.
Dungan and others escaped, but were recaptured by bushwhackers and hauled off to a county jail in Washington, Ark. He and his fellow inmates broke out of the prison by using a pocketknife to cut through a log supporting an iron bar that secured the cell. Dungan was caught and returned to Camp Ford. He gained his release in July 1864, and is pictured in the composite barefoot and dressed in torn and soiled clothes.
A New Orleans newspaper report of the arrival of the Camp Ford prisoners confirms Dungan’s condition in the portrait: “Decency forbids us to describe the utter nudity of these men, officers and soldiers. Many of them had not rags to be ragged with, and as their bare feet pressed the sharp stones, the blood marked their tracks. Animated skeletons marching through the streets of New Orleans.”
Dungan survived the ordeal and mustered out as a sergeant in July 1865. Two months later he authored the regimental history while events remained fresh in his mind. They include the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, which, he noted, struck he and others “dumb with grief. When the heart is cleft to the core, there is no speech or language.” In one of the cartes de visite pasted along the right side of the composite, Dungan wears mourning crepe on his sleeve, likely for the fallen Commander-in-Chief.
Dungan entered politics not as a Republican, but as a stalwart Democrat. He served in the Ohio State Senate from 1877-1879, and later in the 52nd U.S. Congress from 1891 to 1893. He died in 1931 at age 87.
It is a privilege to be the caretaker of this unique piece of local history. I take the Military Images motto of Showcase, Interpret, Preserve very seriously. I appreciate the opportunity to share the composite with the collecting and historical communities and to research the men pictured. With the conservation now complete, this composite is now archivally digitized and the original stored in a protective case so the stories of these men can continue to be shared for another 138 years—and beyond.
Through sheer luck and determination, I am positioned to preserve the composite as a memorial to each veteran so that future generations can better appreciate their service. As collectors and historians, we know that putting faces and stories together brings us closer to the soldiers and their sacrifices. I hope the stories and faces of these men can do just that.
I am thankful to John W. Morton, who dedicated his life to preserving the memory of his comrades. I am honored to continue his work.
References: Anderson, Donald M., Grandfather & Company C 19th Regiment Washington, Iowa 1862-5; Anderson, Donald M., Horatio Escapes; Dungan, James I., History of the Nineteenth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry; Washington County Press, Iowa, Dec. 13, 1905, Aug. 15, 1912, Dec. 10, 1914, Aug. 16, 1916, July 31, 1918; Washington Democrat, Iowa, Feb. 13, 1884, Jan. 1, 1918; Washington Evening Journal, Iowa, June 16, 1982; Washington Gazette, Iowa, April 20, 1894; Winfield Beacon, Iowa, Sept. 2, 1909; The Daily Times, Davenport, Iowa, May 15, 1926.
Michael Huston is a farmer and field agronomist for Pioneer Seeds by day, and by night an amateur historian and genealogist who collects images of Iowa soldiers with an emphasis on his home county of Washington, Iowa. He is proud to be the descendant of five federal soldiers: three Iowans, one Kansan and one Pennsylvanian. He is new to collecting, and appreciative of the guidance provided by veteran collectors Stan Hutson, Mark Warren, and Roger Davis.
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