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The Gift of a Portrait From a Teenaged Daughter to a Soldier-Father

Less than a week before Christmas 1863, Martha Naomi Wilcox inscribed a photograph to her father away at war. The careful, halting cursive script belied her 14 years. Martha’s father, 43-year-old farmer John F. Wilcox, had joined the ranks of Company A of the 116th New York Infantry more than a year earlier.

The 116th participated in major operations against Port Hudson, La., in 1863 and Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in 1864. The rigors of camp and campaign sidelined Wilcox with a back injury and smallpox, and these disabilities contributed to his early departure from the army with a medical discharge in July 1864. Described as a physical wreck due to wartime exposure, he died in 1890 at age 81.

Carte de visite by A.S. Rhodes of Gouverneur, N.Y. Randy Beck Collection.
Carte de visite by A.S. Rhodes of Gouverneur, N.Y. Randy Beck Collection.

Wilcox outlived his daughter by a decade. Martha succumbed to the effects of consumption in 1880 at age 31. Her husband, John J. Shear, survived her.

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