Saturday, July 08, 2017

Can you unlock secrets to Antietam's 'Amos Humiston' story?

A close-up of the face of the young woman in the CDV below.
CDV of an unknown woman with a tie to the Battle of Antietam.
 (Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.
 "Woman" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1827 - 1934.)
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The young woman in the plaid dress, hands folded in her lap, elbow resting on a small table and hair pushed back in a popular Civil War-era style, stares intently at the cameraman. Except for her hauntingly sad eyes, the image itself is unremarkable -- hundreds of  thousands of carte-de-visites like it were produced during the Civil War. What makes this CDV remarkable -- and mysterious -- is what we find on the reverse (see photo below):

 CDV of a Union officer found in the Ezra Carman Papers
with the image of the young woman in this post. 

(Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library. 
"Soldier" New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1827 - 1934.)
"Copied from an ambrotype found in the grave of an Unknown soldier, on the Battle Field of Antietam."

At an unknown date after Antietam, fought Sept. 17, 1862, in the farm fields and woodlots near the village of Sharpsburg, Md., the ambrotype was copied and turned into a CDV by Bascom William Tell Phreaner, who ran a photography business in Hagerstown, Md., from 1864-1907. In addition to shooting images of the Antietam battlefield, Phreaner was a portrait photographer.

That one line on back of the Phreaner CDV prompts scores of questions, among them:

Who is the young woman?

What is the "unknown" soldier's name? Was the woman his wife or sweetheart?

Was the ambrotype found in the grave of a Confederate or Union soldier?

Where on the battlefield was the image found?

When was the photograph found? Many remains of Union soldiers who died at Antietam were moved to the national cemetery in 1867; others were removed and buried in hometown cemeteries. In the years immediately after the Civil War, remains of Southern soldiers were removed from the field and often re-buried in the Confederate section of Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown or Elmwood Cemetery in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Was the copy of the image part of a publicity effort to discover the identity of the woman and the soldier? If so, did stories about it appear in publications in Maryland, or was a national effort made to discover the identity of the soldier and the sad-eyed, young woman? What was published about this image, if anything? A search of  Maryland newspapers of the era available on newspapers.com provided no clues.

A close-up of the officer in the CDV above.
This tale, of course, could be the Amos Humiston story of Antietam. One of the enduring stories of Gettysburg is the discovery on the battlefield in July 1863 of an ambrotype of three children with the body of a Union soldier. He had no identification. That soldier, 154th New York Sergeant Humiston, was finally identified by his widow, who learned of his death after reading a detailed description of the image in a publication.

Adding another twist to our photo mystery, the image of the woman was found with a CDV of a Union soldier in the Ezra A. Carman Papers in the New York Public Library by preeminent Antietam historian Tom Clemens. Is the officer part of this story? Could his identification lead to solving the mystery? Perhaps the badge (see enlargement below) could be a clue to his identity.

Could this badge on the officer's chest be a clue to unlocking 
our mystery? This is a cropped enlargement 
of the photograph above.
(Carman, a Union veteran who served at Antietam, collected reminisces and much more from veterans of both sides to create the ultimate account of the battle and the Maryland Campaign. He served on the Antietam Battlefield Board from 1894-98. In a terrific effort, Clemens edited Carman's papers, provided context and had published a three-volume series on the Maryland Campaign. You can purchase those books on amazon,com here, here and here.)

This post is sprinkled with clues. Our hope is Civil War brain power around the world can lead to identification of the soldier and woman. Photographs in this post may be downloaded at the New York Public Library site here, here and here. And, by all means, please share this post on social media.

My deep-dive into this story has officially begun. Let's solve a Civil War mini-mystery.

The reverse of the carte-de-visite of the young woman with the sad eyes.
 (Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "
Woman" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1827 - 1934.)

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

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