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- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
Thanks to everyone who participated in analysis and speculation regarding the photo prints of these two images, quarter-plate ambrotypes in my collection. As described before, when I saw them and the accompanying half-plate pictured at bottom, I simply HAD to have them due to my interest in the UNUSUAL, seldom indulged in. What attracted me first were the apparant five-button sack/frock coats with the numbers "13" worn on the collars; long arms of distinctly foriegn origin; cartridge boxes worn Rebel-style on waist belts; the odd haversack on the man at the right; and boots worn instead of brogans. As a reenactor struggling with issues of "authenticity" in the 1980's I recognized these were all no-nos for Federals, yet here they were!
Adjustments they had made for the camera were amusing, too: company letters "E" flipped so as to appear "right"; the man on the right has also reversed his collar "13". ( For some reason they neglected to move their cap pouches and cartridge boxes. ) They were in a double case along with the very regulation officer, though his forage cap is of huge proportions:
I felt that it might be possible to identify these men, or at least their unit, so had the ambrotypes copied professionally ( the black-and-white prints in the previous post ) and submitted them to Mike McAffee, curator of uniforms at the West Point Museum and a recognized expert on Civil War uniforms. I recieved the following kind reply:
"The two soldiers would seem to have belonged to the 13th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, ca. 1861. The 9th through the 16th Regiments of Wisconsin Infantry were given five button sack coats with standing collars, edged sky-blue. Also, the 13th was initially issued 'Dresden Rifles'; actually, the rifles were Liege-Manufactured M.1857 Saxon rifle Muskets, but as 27,000 of these arms were purchased in Dresden, this accounts for them being called 'Dresden rifles'."
Armed with this information, I began my search to identify the men and learn about the 13th Wisconsin, but a quick look in Dyer's Compendium quickly disabused me of any notions of grandeur! When I submitted the images and story to D. Mark Katz' short-lived Incidents of the War magazine I titled it They Also Served. What a difference a number makes! The 12th Wisconsin was a proud member of the Iron Brigade - the 13th was a do-nothing unit that spent the ENTIRE war guarding railroads , railroad bridiges, steamboats, and landings in middle Tennessee and northern Alabama. They must have had considerable political clout behind them, too, because in the late winter of 1864 they were briefly assigned to Sherman's army for the upcoming Atlanta Campaign, but after about a month regained their plum assignment.
In late '64 Hood threatened them in their position at Decatur, Ala., but sidestepped towards his doom at Franklin-Nashville. A single company had the misfortune to be captured in its entirety by Confederate cavalry while garrisoning a railroad blockhouse; scarcely something to brag about! The only interesting thing I found they had done was as part of the relief expedition to Ft. Donelson when it was attacked by Forrest and Wheeler, but of course by the time they arrived the Confederates were gone. Their luck finally ran out once the war was over, though: those who had reenlisted at the beginning of 1864 were assigned to Reconstruction garrison duty in the pesthole of Indianola, Texas, where swamp fevers did what Rebel bullets seldom had the opportunity to: "...many died here who had gone through the whole war without being sick." The final total for the entire period of War and Reconstruction: 5 men killed or mortally wounded; 188 died from disease. They returned to New Orleans and then Madison, Wisc. where they were discharged Dec. 26, 1865.
Despite this uninspiring service record, it would still likely be possible to identify these individuals, should one care to. Accompanying the quarter-plates was this fine half-plate showing the SAME men as civillians, either before or after the war. I believe the two older seated men to be brothers and the younger men their sons; the seated one is likely the officer in the other photo. Once I attempted to find and search a roster online, but with my slow dial-up internet connection soon gave up. I think it likely that all 3 soldiers will have the same last name so that it should be obvious in a roster.
I hope you enjoyed this!