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Military Images

Maelstrom in The Wilderness

Without question, Union losses during the Battle of the Wilderness in the spring of 1864 were on a massive scale. The volunteers of Vermont suffered heavy casualties as the Army of the Potomac ground its way towards eventual victory over the Army of Northern Virginia. Here, we look at Vermont’s story through the portraits and stories of those who became casualties in the brutal fight. Learn more about this story and others with our finding aid.

Philanthropic Photos

The Civil War was a time of many firsts, and one of them is the explosion in sales of photographs for charitable purposes. From massive fairs in major cities to raise money for the leading philanthropic organization of the day to individual soldiers maimed by amputation and unable to work, we take a look at different uses. Learn more about this story and others with our finding aid.

Red Blankets & Blue Blouses

Rhode Island’s first responders after the bombardment of Fort Sumter wore a unique uniform that featured distinctive blue pullover blouses, gray trousers and black hats. Also conspicuous was a scarlet bedroll. Trimmed in black and designed to be slung across the back, they doubled as a poncho—an idea from Ambrose E. Burnside, the colonel and commander of the 1st Rhode Island Detached Militia.

Blue, Gray and Khaki

Two years in the making, this unusual survey of 22 portraits of doughboys, Union veterans and Confederate veterans. Included in the group are two Civil War veterans still in uniform during World War I: William West Grant, who served in Brig. Gen. James H. Clanton’s Artillery Battery (Alabama) and Walter H. Thomas Jr. of the 29th Maine Infantry. Other identified soldiers are also included.

The Future of Photo Sleuthing

Military Images magazine, in collaboration with the Crowd Intelligence Lab at Virginia Tech and the National Science Foundation, presents civilwarphotosleuth.com. CWPS is a new digital tool that will use facial recognition and community to identify Civil War soldiers and sailors.

We want you to participate in this project, which is currently in development.

Go to civilwarphotosleuth.com to learn more and to join our email list to be among the first users to test our Civil War Photo Sleuth software.

“He Turned the Tide of Battle at First Manassas”

In the supreme moment of crisis for Southern arms at the First Battle of Manassas, Arthur Campbell Cummings was a central figure. A graduate of Virginia Military Institute’s Class of 1844 with a stellar record in the Mexican War, he had organized the 33rd Virginia Infantry in June 1861.

Weeks later at Manassas, the 33rd occupied the extreme left of Gen. Thomas J. Jackson’s brigade. According to Sgt. Maj. Randolph Barton of the 33rd, Cummings and his second-in-command reconnoitered the ground about 100 yards ahead, peered over the crest of a hill and discovered the enemy in force. Both commanders walked quickly back to their line. Cummings stated, “Boys, they are coming, now wait until they get close before you fire.”

Meanwhile, routed South Carolina troops streamed through Jackson’s rock-solid lines and prompted the comment that gave Jackson his nom de guerre. “Stonewall” ordered his men not to fire until the federals had advanced to within 30 paces.

Back in the 33rd, Cummings and his boys soon saw a color bearer appear on the crest, followed by the rest of the blue battle line. Several Virginians raised their muskets and fired. Then, Barton recalled, “The shrill cry of Colonel Cummings was heard, ‘Charge!’ And away the regiment went, firing as they ran, into the ranks of the enemy.”

The rest of Jackson’s Brigade soon followed and before long the enemy was in full retreat. Barton credited Cummings. “He turned the tide of battle at First Manassas,” and added, “I should think to Colonel Cummings the circumstance would be of extraordinary interest, and that he would time and again reflect how little he thought, when he braced himself to give the order to his regiment, that he was making a long page in history.”

Cummings left the 33rd and the army the following year and returned to his family in Washington County, where he became as a captain in the Abingdon Home Guards. After the war, he served a stint in the Virginia legislature. Cummings died in 1905. His wife, Elizabeth, and a son predeceased him.

Quarter-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer. Dave Batalo Collection.

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A Lost Story

Though the particulars of the story behind this photograph are currently lost to history, the soldier surrounded by his comrades was undoubtedly the central figure. Resting his hands on the barrel of a Model 1855 musket, he sports a small pistol tucked into his belt. It appears to be a Colt Model 1849, which is more commonly seen it early war images. He also carries a knapsack that could have state issue or private purchase, such as a Short’s patent, as indicated by the buckle on the cross strap. The soldiers around him wear standard four-button sack coats, fatigue blouses, sky blue trousers and caps common to infantrymen. Two men don private purchase caps, and three wear leggings.

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Women on the Home Front: Their Essential Roles During the Civil War

Author Juanita Leisch Jensen states, “We have grown accustomed to seeing photographs of soldiers in military publications. Therefore, the presence of females may seem incongruous. It is not.” She adds, “The war presented women with opportunities to support the soldiers and military organizations. Just as the presence of females in these photographs is obvious to us today, their wartime efforts were obvious to soldiers fighting in the Civil War.”

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The American Zouave: Mania and Mystique

“During the Civil War, Union and Confederate troops both adopted exotic dress in the transgressive guise of the Zouave uniform,” observes historian Timothy Marr. He goes on to explore the cultural phenomenon that excited and energized Americans before and during the war.

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Gettysburg’s Honored Dead, Haunted Survivors

They fell in the thousands during three brutal days of carnage in a crossroads community in southeast Pennsylvania. The ground hallowed by their blood—Little Round Top and Culp’s Hill and The Wheatfield—are forever part of our American memory. A small yet significant group of the men who were killed, wounded or captured are remembered here in portraits and personal stories. Introduced by Harold Holzer.

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