By Michael Huston
When I was 10 years old, my grandfather showed me a binder with genealogy information and a portrait photograph of a Civil War soldier. The stern look on the man’s face, his martial pose, and romance of the image sucked me in.
I was officially hooked on the Civil War.
The soldier was identified as my great-great-great grandfather Elias Jackson, who served in Company F of the 11th Iowa Infantry.
A few years ago, in 2019, I became involved in living history and began to study uniforms to make my impression as authentic as possible. What I learned led me to question the identity of the photograph of Elias, even though postwar images of him seemed similar. In the portrait, Elias sports a mounted service jacket, a French Lefaucheux pin-fire revolver, and cavalry belt and saber. The uniform and equipment does not match an infantryman’s gear.
The signs pointed to it not being my ancestor. So who was he? I had to know. I researched 11th Iowa infantry images, and the backdrops, and hit dead ends at every turn.
This journey set me on a quest to locate an image of a different ancestor, Jonas Ray, who was a cavalryman. He served in Company G of the 9th Iowa Cavalry. I took some tips from a few family members who directed me to a cousin in Virginia who had information to share. I learned that the cousin had discovered a portrait of Jonas hanging behind the counter of the Gaslight Bar in Tama, Iowa, in 1971. I also learned that his discharge paper was inside the frame, but by the time my cousin acquired it the document had gone missing. Another dead end.
A text message from my great-great uncle on July 21, 2022, changed everything. He sent me a picture of Jonas’ discharge. He had discovered the paper in a desk drawer while he was preparing to move to an apartment. The lost had been found, and less than a week later a large package from my cousin in Virginia arrived that contained the framed portrait of Jonas. After more than 50 years the discharge and portrait were reunited!
My story of discovery inspired me to start the Iowa Civil War Images Facebook Group. I want to help others make similar discoveries. I also want to ensure that the stories of these brave soldiers are not forgotten. The closest connections we have to the past are through our ancestors and those men and women whose footsteps we walk in today.
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