Most Civil War history pic collections focus on unpleasant photos by Mathew Brady of dead soldiers on battle fields, or endless pics of both famous and obscure military leaders. Usually standing or sitting in front of a dusty field tent. Here are a few out-of-the-ordinary pics from the period.
Such as this pic…not of a military leader, but Union drummer boy John Clem. He was 11 when this pic was taken. Drummer boys weren’t around to entertain the soldiers in camp with “music.” They usually went right to the front with their unit.
Until well into the 19th century, western armies recruited young boys to act as drummers. The drums were an important part of the battlefield communications system, with various drum rolls used to signal different commands from officers to troops. Although there were usually official age limits, these were often ignored; the youngest boys were sometimes treated as mascots by the adult soldiers. The life of a drummer boy appeared rather glamorous and as a result, boys would sometimes run away from home to enlist. Other boys may have been the sons or orphans of soldiers serving in the same unit. The image of a small child in the midst of battle was seen as deeply poignant by 19th-century artists, and idealised boy drummers were frequently depicted in paintings, sculpture and poetry. [Such as in this pic of an injured drummer boy being carried from the battlefield by an adult soldier.] [Wiki]
John Clem, born in 1851, was so brave on the battlefield he went on to become the youngest noncommissioned officer in army history, and continued in active service all the way to 1915, when he was a Brigadier General.
And then there were the women who had unusual roles in the war. Here’s Rose O’Neal Greenhow, known as “Wild Rose,” with her daughter inside the prison in Washington DC in 1861.
Wild Rose was a Confederate spy, who had lived for some time in the Washington area. Once the war started, she used her “social ties” there to get and pass along useful information to the Confederates. Captured by Allan Pinkerton (founder of the famous “Pinkerton Detective Agency”), she was in jail for a year, then released and deported to Richmond. Hailed as a hero by fellow southerners, she became a diplomat to Europe for the Confederacy.
Below is a photo of a group of “contrabands” in 1862. This was the term at the time for freed or escaped slaves. They are posing in front of Cumberland Landing, Virginia.
Most readers will remember the Picnic scene from Gone With the Wind, with Scarlett O’Hara trying to decide which of her many starry-eyed suitors to eat lunch with, before the announcement is made that the war with the North has begun.
We usually think of military camps as housing only soldiers. But as you can see in this 1861 photo taken near Washington DC, during the Civil War it wasn’t all that uncommon for wives to come along with their husbands. They might serve both their husband and others as cooks and washerwomen. And as you can also see, sometimes even the children were quartered in the camps.
I’ve seen a number of paintings and drawings before of Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address in November 1863. Such as this one.
But below is the first “candid snapshot” I’ve seen actually taken that day. Actually, it’s the only “confirmed” historical photo of Lincoln from the event. That’s a stove-pipe-hatless Lincoln near the center of the picture. (Records indicate this was likely shortly after he arrived at the event, and perhaps three hours before he actually delivered his own address.) Gives you the feel of a cell-phone Instagram photo!
Below is one of those “official portraits of military leaders” I was griping about. But this guy is worth it, not for his medals, but for his amazing facial hair. This is Union Major General Ambrose E. Burnside. Yup. This is where we get the “flipped around” word “sideburns.”
Did you know that the Civil War, in addition to ironclad battle ships and a submarine (the HL Hunley), had an aircraft carrier? What kind of aircraft, you ask?
Manned hydrogen balloons were used during the Civil war for map making and enemy reconnaissance purposes. You can see the hydrogen generators in the photo below, the two crate-like objects on the left, that are pumping hydrogen through the big tubes to the balloon on the right. .
These manned balloons were usually launched from land, as shown in this photo.
But in some cases the terrain near enemy lines was too heavily forested to allow for take-off. So the first aircraft carrier, a converted coal barge dubbed the George Washington Parke Custis, was created to allow for launching from over the waters of the Potomac River. (On the left, below.) And more barges were converted to allow for balloon ascensions on other eastern waterways.
You can read more about the Civil War Balloon Corps on Wiki.
And finally, here is an official Mathew Brady portrait of some people in front of one of those dusty military tents I mentioned at the beginning, but again I’ve included it for a special reason. The seated stogie-smoking gentleman front and center is Allan Pinkerton, the founder of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency. He was working for the Union Army, heading up the new war-time “Union Intelligence Service” (which was the forerunner of the later U.S. Secret Service.)
The slender gentleman standing behind him has caused some “historical speculation” on the Internet. For some have thought he was…no gentleman. Instead, the speculation was that “he” was really a “she”…Kate Warne, an employee of Pinkerton as the very first female detective in the US. Obviously…in undercover disguise!
Alas, after more research, it appears that he really is a he, not a she, and his name was John Babcock, another employee of Pinkerton. His very “boyish” look is obviously what led to the speculation that “he” could be a young “she” instead. But no, there are other photos available of Mr. Babcock, and his identity is pretty solidly established now.
But the mistaken identity gives me a chance to tell you about Kate Warne, who was a real person from the Civil War era–although not the person in the picture. It seems that no photos of Warne have survived the years. The only pic even attempting to show a possible likeness of her on the Web is a pencil sketch on the official Pinkerton website. But there’s no indication when it was made or what it was based on. I kind of think it is a “theoretical likeness.”
Young Kate Warne, 23 years old at the time, had been hired by Pinkerton clear back in 1856, in an unprecedented and bold move by the great Detective. As one writer put it, “She was best known for being a master of disguise, able to switch from Union soldier, to Southern debutante, to a harmless grandmother.”
Warne worked closely with Pinkerton himself much of the time, and was responsible for big breaks in a number of very high profile cases, including helping to uncover and foil an 1861 plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on his way to his inauguration. That caper allegedly included her occupying a sleeping berth right next to Lincoln’s on a train, between his berth and the train car’s door, staying awake…and armed…all night long in case assassins attempted to burst into the car. She was only 28 years old at the time! (I vote for Angelina Jolie to play her part in the movie bio…)
Warne started her career when she was a young widow with no children. It would appear that the “Agency” and Pinkerton himself became her only family. She died young in 1868, and was buried in the Pinkerton family plot in Chicago, right next to the eventual grave of Allan Pinkerton himself when he died in 1884–and the grave of his wife. You can still see Kate’s tombstone there.
You can read more about Warne’s amazing career on Wiki.