Thursday, November 21, 2013

A picture is worth . . .

Like many of my friends who have an interest in New Hampshire's role in the Civil War, I keep an eye on eBay. When this search is successful, it usually provides a fleeting look at a face or a letter or a document.

It's a shame so much such material useful to historians remains on the collector market, but this is America. I witnessed the flip side as I was researching Our War. Several people who lent me family letters from their Civil War ancestors later gave these personal collections to public archives. Others may do the same as time goes by.

Anyway, below is a beautiful soldier ambrotype that showed up on eBay recently. It is of a young private in the 14th New Hampshire Volunteers. He served in Company F, whose members came mainly from Winchester, Chesterfield, Richmond and Milan, N.H.. This regiment mustered in the late summer of 1862 for three years' service, and from the crispness of the private's uniform, I'd guess the picture was made then.

Members of the 14th initially served as prison guards in Washington, D.C., but two years into their service, they fought bravely and lost heavily at the third battle of Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley.

Even though the man pictured is not named, the ambrotype sold on eBay for a whopping $565.36. Perhaps the buyer (and other bidders) knew he was, but even with the subject unidentified the picture has two features that collectors prize. One is condition. It's gorgeous, the frame apparently undamaged, the picture unusually bright and clear. Collectors also like weapons in a portrait, and this man is grasping his rifle with fixed bayonet. (I'm no expert, but it looks like a Springfield rifle to me.)

There are also intangibles here: the resolve in the private's face and the clear identification of his company, regiment and state. But I'm sure the new owner would love to know Private John Doe's name.

Can anyone help?

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