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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, July 16, 2012
Which War is It?
Posted by Maureen

Mike Empting found this photo in a box with other cabinet cards. Only two men in his family served in the military:

Unknown Soldieredit.jpg

  • his great-grandfather, who at age 35 enlisted for the Mexican American War. He was a bugler. The time frame for this war, 1846 to 1848, coincides with the daguerreotype era. The photos of this war are amazing to look at. Here's a website with several Mexican-American War images.

  • his great-grandfather's wife's brother enlisted in the Civil War in an artillery unit for two tours.

The problem with this photo is that Empting isn't sure which man is depicted. Adding to the confusion are details on the photographer. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, J.J. Fritz aka the Fritz Studio operated in Saint Cloud from 1892 to 1909. Those work dates don't align with either war.

The style of this cabinet card suggests the 1890s. At some point during that decade, someone likely had an earlier photograph copied. This was a common practice when multiple family members wanted a copy of a photo. The original photo was a carte de visite, a small card photograph popular during the Civil War.

In the 1860s, the standard studio pose often included a pedestal on which the subject could lean.

Since there weren't standard military uniforms during the Civil War, the details in this man's attire may help identify him.

Mike's not sure this man is an Empting. The woman who gave Mike the images is deceased, but at the time of the gift, she didn't know the name of the soldier.

National Public Radio recently broadcast a program about identifying a Civil War picture. You can listen to it here.  There's a bit of controversy about whether or not the photo in that story was reversed. It's possible. Reversal lens were available to correct the mirror image inherent in photo technology of the day, but not all photographers used them. 

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1860s photos | Civil War | men | Military photos
    Monday, July 16, 2012 1:21:47 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [10]
    Monday, July 16, 2012 2:04:08 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    The ornate hand guard on the sword might be able lend some dating - On PBS' History Detectives, they had an episode where a "sword" expert dating some swords, dirks, and other sharp edged weapons.

    While one can't see any manufacturing marks, the length and curve of the blade is also a clue. shows photos of swords used in the Civil War (as well as the Mexican American War) - the first on shown looks a lot like the one in your photo (Unfortunately as to dating the photo!)
    Thursday, July 19, 2012 5:10:37 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    The photo is not reversed. Swords were always worn on the left side--you reach across with your right had to grab.
    Generally only Sgts. and above wore swords. During the Civil War, this became less so as Sgts. and officers started carrying musket rifles to add to the firepower and become less of a target for snipers. I cannot make out any rank insignia on the jacket.
    Kepi hats were not in use by USA regular or territorial (state) units during the Mexican War of 1848.
    A dark colored jacket with light colored pants is not unusual for Civil War units of either side, especially in the early period.
    I have a gut feeling that this is a "posed" photo with a private carrying a sword for dramatic purposes.
    John Beaman
    Thursday, July 19, 2012 6:05:31 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    I googled "opera houses in St. Cloud" since the photo alludes to standing across the street from an opera house. I pulled up the following information:

    "Davidson Opera House, St. Cloud, MN was built in 1897 then burned to just the shell in 1913. It was then rebuilt as a theater through the WWII era. In April 2012 it became an art gallery."

    This information also leads to the period of around the 1890's, so it is just informational but not necessarily useful in solving the mystery of which war.

    Maureen Donovan
    Tuesday, August 14, 2012 9:48:17 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    You were soooooooooooooooooooo darn cute! I have been shtemerod with things to do this week and running around. I owe you a couple of emails and will do that tomorrow. I hope you have a great weekend hun! Wanted to stop by and let you know I was thinking of you! Hugs!
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 6:51:54 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    Monday, August 20, 2012 10:02:37 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    Wednesday, August 29, 2012 9:56:20 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    Monday, September 03, 2012 12:58:03 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 11:37:15 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    Thursday, September 13, 2012 10:25:50 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    Comments are closed.