Our cover story is a representative sampling of images of Raphael Semmes, the Confederate admiral best known for raiding U.S. commercial shipping worldwide on two vessels, the Sumter and the Alabama. As a result, the Northern press branded him a pirate, and the label stuck for much of the rest of his days. Less remembered is his temporary rank as a brigadier general at the war’s end, his two best-selling books about his Mexican and Civil War experience, and much more. Author Cliff Krainik did a wonderful job assembling this iconography. The most challenging part of the assignment for me was whittling down about 90 possible images to 45. The portrait of Semmes that resonates most with me, and our cover image, is an ambrotype of him in antebellum times. Tucked away in the collection of the History Museum in Mobile, its believed to be published for the first time.
Another Civil War figure, far less known, is featured with a collection of portraits: Benjamin Franklin Kelley of West Virginia. Author Rick Wolfe, a collector focused on West Virginia Civil War photography, has assembled a group of cartes de visite of the general and written a biography of the man who beat the Confederates at Philippi in 1861 and suffered the indignation of being captured by partisan rangers in 1865. In between these events is the story of a soldier who kept the enemy in check during the quest for Statehood. Rick suggested the title “First in War, First in Blood,” for this story, and it is accurate. I’m a big fan of Rick’s passion for West Virginia history, and the great displays he sets up at the Ohio Civil War show every year.
My feature story of John Augustine Washington III is also in this issue. The origin dates to over a year ago when I scanned an original portrait of him in the collection of Bobby McCoy. My trip down the research rabbit hole was a memorable adventure as I learned the story of his connection to George Washington and Mount Vernon, Robert E. Lee, and his death in western Virginia as he reconnoitered enemy positions in September 1861. I was also pleased to locate a wartime portrait of Union Sgt. John J. Weiler of the 17th Indiana Infantry who, with two of his men, fired the shots that killed him. I was surprised to find how polarizing a figure Washington was, which is reflected in the title, “Blessed Martyr, Vile Traitor.”
Our fourth but by no means last feature story is the story behind the portrait of Amos Humiston before he enlisted in the 154th New York Infantry and lost his life at Gettysburg. The story of his unidentified body being found with his lifeless hand clutching an ambrotype of his two sons and daughter—”The Children of the Battle-Field”—has been told many times across the generations. Two keepers of the story for this generation, Mark H. Dunkelman and Megan Kelley, have written essays about the peacetime portrait. It’s been published before, very small in black and white, and his shown here in color and larger for the first time.
We also have our regular columns, and all are worthy of note. Military Anthropologist features a bar chart of the top 20 Union states with identified portraits published in the magazine since 1879. The data s collected from our publicly available spreadsheet. Passing in Review highlights The Greatest Escape by Douglas Miller, published by Lyons Press. Kurt Luther’s Photo Sleuth traces an unusual backdrop painting of a broken cannon wheel with the name CULLY’s on it leads to South Carolina and the 33rd U.S. Colored Infantry. Antebellum Warriors showcases a wonderful daguerreotype of a Mexican War veteran in the collection of Matthew L. Oswalt M.D. John Lincoln Clem—Johnny Clem—is well known to students of the Civil War. An 1864 carte de visite portrait him with an interview printed on the back is included in Hallowed Ground. The Honored Few tells the story of Brig. Gen. Alexander Shaler and the Medal of Honor he received for gallantry at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg. In The Citizenry, we reveal the back of a carte de visite portrait of an unidentified woman, which lists of all the places the image traveled during the war—25 stops from Rhode Island to Georgia.
The columns continue! Mark Elrod takes a look at early U.S. Model 1855 Harpers Ferry Rifles carried by Charles Smedberg of the 7th New York National Guard, and brother William of the National Rifles, in Material Culture. Adam Ochs Fleischer dedicates his Behind the Backdrop column to a tintype of Pennsylvania photographer William Kunstman posed with his unique background that includes a real cannonball. Adam also shares previously unpublished images by Kunstman of the Capitol Building’s dome under construction. Two portraits of identified Confederates, one from Texas and another from Tennessee, are included in Stragglers. Scott Valentine’s latest installment of Vignette: Episodes of the Civil War tells the story of Capt. Francis R. Leeds of the 28th Connecticut Infantry. The Last Shot features a carte de visite of a sergeant of the 108th U.S. Colored Infantry holding the Stars and Stripes.
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