tv Black Civil War Soldiers in Photographs CSPAN February 27, 2021 7:00pm-7:43pm EST
their families. she collected for her book the black civil war soldier a visual history of conflict and citizenship. the book shows how african-americans use photography to document for history their role in the war and to project stories of courage family and citizenship to counteract prevailing stereotypes the national archives hosted this this talk and provided the video. greetings from the national archives. i'm david ferriero archivist of the united states and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today's virtual book talk with deborah willis author of the black civil war soldier. the civil war was the first large and prolonged conflict to extensively be recorded in photographs. this visual record gives us a sense of immediacy that we don't have with paintings and prints from the revolutionary war are other earlier conflicts. we can identify individual faces and we can imagine ourselves on the actual battlefields in the aftermath of the fighting.
thousands of those images are now in the national archives but photos of black soldiers are rare. in her book the black civil war soldier deborah willis shows us the faces of a number of black soldiers who took up arms to fight for their freedom. using photographs and the written record she examines not only the individual stories of the soldiers, but also the importance of african-american communities during and after the war. deborah willis is university professor and chair of the department of photography and imaging at the tisch school of the arts at new york university and has an affiliated appointment with the college of arts and sciences department of social and cultural analysis and africanus studies. well, this is the author of envisioning emancipation and michelle obama. both of which received naacp image awards as well as posing beauty now, let's hear from deborah willis. thank you for joining us today. thank you.
welcome and good afternoon everyone. i'm excited to be here and i thank the national archives for this invitation and to share my work and inviting me. it's really exciting to consider the work a place where i that a lot of work in terms of research at the national archives focusing on my topic my my topic also it's about memory and rediscovery as well as investigating the legacy of african-american soldiers as well as women and who were teachers and nurses and to think about how photography letters and diaries. form this experience. i'm going to start off with sharing my screen. and and which will include a and focusing on. on my research and beginning
here with the first image. it's the cover of the book. it's an image that celebrates but also documents the experience of image making this is one of the photographs that it's part of the collection that really tells the story of the experience of what it meant to be photographed. and then how do we preserve that photograph through the experience of the casing of the image and the sense of bravery when we read the photograph of this soldier who's holding his gone to his chest. one of the first people who inspired me to even to think about this project and to encourage the project is the research that i've found on frederick douglass his words. so was it was a civil war that
inspired douglas to write and speak on photography like many americans. he believed that photographs and pictures greatly contributed to the succession and a war over slavery during the civil war douglas wrote a number of lectures. he also had created this sense of man the sense of commitment to the war and he wrote once you the black man get upon his person the breath letter us. let him get an eagle on his button and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket and there's no power on earth or under earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the united states. finding that quote and i use it often just in terms of in the aspect of the visuality of the experience of being photographed harry may weems is a contemporary artist who is central to my research. so i look she as we think about the missing history of images
carrie may weems. creates this self-portraits and an antebellum dress style with with a quilt and she says i looked and looked to see what's so terrified you she's looking at the history of images of black people that were made that denigrated and and imagine black bodies as subhuman and she created this this piece and response to jt zealy and louis agassiz research on black bodies. also, i just recently discovered this image of a plantation scene is it's it's entitled antebellum tableau by collective by the name of sean nolan and it's a it's a fascinating story as we as i try to place the land place the personal experience place the memory of of the enslavement and also of the civil war here. we see a landowner who's in
standing in the front. we see a post the fascinating aspect of this image also is the women the black figures in the image. we see a young woman that's straight in the back. she has a bandit in her hand and another young girl who was actively posing as if she's sweeping the land the experience of this and we think about dress in these images and the importance of land and and family stories. this finding these images and meeting when i was researching this the story i was looking to for ways to tell how photography mediated with the silencing of this history by going into public and private collections just to find another narrative and this is a portrait of richard etheridge. it's hand-tinted as you can see. it's a cart to the z and he writes a letter to his former
captain oren hedrick. i have the honor to ten here with my regards for the future of your will welfare trusting that in the days to come that we all get a chance to say hello, and thank you. again. this is an important moment because this is the exchange meeting a man who was born into slavery who fought in the war and he was enlisted in the 36 us how it infantry in 1863. and he worked and he fought in petersburg new market heights and and had a relationship that was healthy with with the captain. it also one of the why i'm excited about the talk here at the national archives is that i researched the national archives through the pension records. trying to find stories about black soldiers and and their families and their experiences. this is a portion of henry brewster that's in the archives.
it's probably about 1870 where his wife in 1905 susan brewster said her only photograph of her husband requesting its return and we see it still in the archives that the photograph is there in the department of interior and in the archives when she sent the letter she's asking for the return because and this it's the only image that henry was a blacksmith in a lake and a laborer and a tailor. he fought in the war he was injured and she wrote and she had a number of affidavits proving her marriage to two brewster, but also citing that he lost his sight in his eye and his and his right eye and he had kidney problems after he left the army. she was get his pension. so there are a number of letters in the pension records where black women are trying to survive after their husband's
death. unfortunately, she'd never received his pension, but her letter remains in her affidavits remain legible in terms of telling this story and visualizing that experience. we see it through this photograph of henry brewster who's posing in the studio. another figure that's central to the women in the war in the washer women the washer women are essential to this story as we think about the experience of men who fought who also we were thinking about sanitary situations and in the war where most of the men many of the men who died they died be because of the experience not only of the bullet wounds but because of unsanitary conditions and the experience of watching women who also washed the clothes of the men. and the soldiers and they created tried to create a safe space and sanitary space for the
soldiers here as a woman who's unidentified and her it's in the smithsonian's collection, and she's posed with an american flag pinter her chest with the us breast button and we see the photographer in. a relationships as we think about the importance of how the photographers hand is is necessary in creating the importance of the image. images that are hand tinted really give life to an image and it tells a story a one man who's unidentified here standing in front of a painted backdrop. so we see the importance of art in making in history making and we see the importance of artists tell it as as a narrative of telling a story of bravery when we see the american flag that is hand tinted. we also see the battle battlefields. we see the battlegrounds we see the instruments of war and the photographer.
imagines as the photographer sees himself as posing ready for war ready to fight for freedom not only for himself but for others and a photographer and a family member and also another image of a family of a soldier with his family seated with his children and knowing that this image is essential way of created a narrative of the importance of family. women wrote letters to their husbands and it's really as i as i tell the story i think about the experience of women who wrote to abraham lincoln about equal pay not only the the wives and and mothers but soldiers as well as they fought they understood their theirs their presence. they're in their importance and so in terms of these portraits they were central in circulating
the humanity of these subjects. so here this is in a private collection of and of a collector greg french and we see these two posed images one. of course, it's lovely as it's gold highlights on the ten type and so again as the artist the photographer is using ways to enhance the story enhance the humanity of the portraits so letters such as this letter that i found it's really important to think she starts off in 1863 and she writes my dear husband. i received your last letter tell and then ending up i say tell isaac that his mother and others got clothing that they sent so there's an exchange of community when we see this letter from martha farewell my dear husband from your wife asking him to write soon to experience these moments of gratitude about the
war but also worried about the experience of their children and other people in the community that they left. this is a image of the 127th ohio regiment and later called the fifth us colored truth in ohio and as they're about to go to war we see a group of people standing on the street faring bearing witness through the experience of these soldiers. and in terms of the war and the importance importance of history and barbara and i when we created and worked on the book. envision a emancipation we wanted to think about self emancipated people women who and men who are also known as curious as runaway and this is a quote runaway ad from louis
manicult plantation and his papers and this is where he highlights these dollar reward for a woman by the name of dolly and we see that he says ran away from the yard corner of jackson and broad in augusta, georgia on the date of seven april 1863, the woman dolly who's likeness is seen here. she's 30 years of age like complexion hesitate some what spoken to when swope when spoken and with a fine set of teeth, but rather good looking and not healthy. so his his letter you know implicates her hair good looks that she's free that she's she ran away. she was enticed off as they said here by a white man and as research has subsequent research has shared that it could have been a union soldier. it could have been her her lover.
so there are different stories and there's here a photograph of louis. in south carolina. portrait of susie king taylor is thinking about the aspect of susie king taylor and her diary and her book. she had a she understood that soldiers desire to communicate with their loved ones and to write letters and she says i taught a great many of the comrades in company e to read and write when they were off duty nearly all were anxious to learn and also her husband also work with her on that. this is a fantastic image of in the scene in beaufort south carolina with a regiment as is entitled of composed of of quote in skate. escape slaves in formation. we see the land we see the importance of this image and the rarity of space. but the comportment of the pose of the of the men and uniform it
says a lot about the the next step where they were prepared to move forward then and i'm going to walk through some images here that that rarely we rarely see but we see in private collections and the importance of photography and how the picture gallery was a central place for the soldiers to enter safe place to create a sense of identity and to create an image of soldiers who were on a mission to create a story about the fight for freedom. this is a group of soldiers and the import hudson, louisiana, and this is the provost marshall office in fort hudson outside. we see the range of people we see soldiers we the men and women who are standing outside
in terms of dress. we see that some are known as it's called contrabands as they were seen as they're entering into a space of freedom and moving out of slavery. and and these are images where we begin to see a narrative again of masculinity that countered the negative images that were presented of black people of black men that had the demeaning images of circulated of black figures. so we see a sense of nation building and citizenship with these images. we their images in the collection in the book of abraham lincoln with some of the generals that we know in history to an image here of nicholas biddle who is and from pennsylvania and pottsville, pennsylvania who in 1861 is known as the first wounded.
man in the great american rebellion 1861 april 18th, and he was wounded in baltimore when there were a group of men company militia volunteer militia from pennsylvania. they marched through the city of baltimore or on their way to defend the capital in washington dc. it's an important moment for to see this image because biddle who was injured he was called names and and rocks were thrown and he was hit on the head by one of the rocks and was bleeding and we can see after the war. he visited photographer studio in his uniform with the handkerchief that he used to wipe the blood off of his face and so here again, we see the aspect of creating identity creating a biography through the experience of being photographed
and remembering as i mentioned earlier that memory personal and public is central to creating these images. we have sailors. we also have journalists and in the book when i'm when i begin the research i wanted to to have firsthand accounts of soldiers as well as their letters but also journalists who wrote about the experience of witnessing the war and this is a by william h johnson prior to black people entering the war he was able to write about the experience and he was a car's war correspondence to the kind and palm during the first year of the civil war and he wrote a number of amazing articles that visualize the the union's experience and the sense of bravery that meant they all that meant to most of them he'd also
talked about the loss and what happened through this experience. another figure alexander heritage newton and his image here. this is in the collection of the vineke library, but he newton also wrote about his experience in the war be and then is as well as his enslaved experience as well as helping people through the underground railroad so that in my family i learned what slavery was first-hand. i felt it's a cursed in my bones and i long for an opportunity and the power to play the role of moses. to on behalf of my people. so in terms of that and just the poetics of his language and writing helps guide even the pose of his image as we see and he's on the left and we see that
experience he also and writes about the experience of the colored orphans asylum in 1861 as we all know that during the time this was burned down and in new york and this battle about black people part of the black tooth that whites were joining the war fighting the war and blacks needed to be a part of this experience and wanted to be a part part of this experience and there was a soldier by the name of james gooding who was prince who was part of who lived in the orphanage in 1846. and so he joined the 54th mass. he wrote also a letter about and books about the experience and he also wrote the experience that he had 48 letters in the new bedford mercury about the war from 1863 to 1864 images
here is titled contraband. and here we see the 13th, mass we see women. we see a woman who's pregnant. we see a young woman the pregnant woman who has her arm. wrapped around possibly her mother or an older woman the older woman who removes her bonnet from her head to be photographed and the range of people in this image from children to older people to nurses to men wearing suits and jackets. and so we begin to see the formation of the experience of people who were seeking their freedom. this is an african-american hospital workers, including the nurses in nashville, tennessee. and and this famous well-documented image gordon who was you know titled the scourge back and it was used by the
abolitionist and there's a man and scotland. he says that i found a large number of the 400 contrabands examined by me. as badly lacerated as a specimen represented in this enclosed photograph. so traveling through boston this person scottish scholar john francis campbell. he actually purchases as he says a pro lincoln political photograph and we see the text on the back of this image by mark by the colonel marsh john w mercer who writes the experience about this surgeon who assisted in the take in the care of gordon, so when i think about the range experience of gordon as he entered the camp and how his image circulated and historic circulated in a different ways. we see that it was in the harper's weekly as a story of a
typical negro fighting for his freedom as he entered the camp and ragged clothes showing and posing these lacerated back to wearing the uniform and so when we again see the range of experience to a confederate soldier with sergeant chandler from the 44th, mississippi to silas chandler who was his servant who freed and then the continued to stay with the sergeant when he was wounded. images of mothers and and family members and wives their role played heavily in the visualizing women and terra hunter writes while women asserted claims of citizen wife or soldier's wife. they were not readily granted either and yet they carefully chosen self-descriptions to find how they were at once vital to
and undervalued by the union. so this speaks a lot about how women played the role played in their role and and visualize in their experience and constructing their stories and their memory about using photograph as memoiralizing this experience. images of soldiers and just a rhode island cartoon seat women again in terms of teachers as we think of harry and jacobs and her school in alexandria, virginia. she is she says i must say one word about our school and she talks about the children and the importance of the scholars and the community and she was concerned about the health of her daughter. these are all significant ways of how we read images of contrabands images of men who and women who are and children who are enslaved. this is another image here of the smith plantation and beaufort, south carolina.
images of harriet tubman and significant images of the call for men and women to join the war by frederick douglass. so here as i move forward and considering our time looking at the posing of the experience of the quiet moment of going into the studio here is colonel shawl who's head of the 54 and we know before he left that he is. pose considering the next steps and he says we have gone quietly along forming the regiment as you prepares for the war and how long it takes to get to south carolina. it's a prepare for the war. this is an album in the smithsonian and we see that it's part of the gift of the garrison family the memory of george thompson garrison, and this is an album and as i mentioned
before how the soldiers also entered in studios the captains and and other servicemen created albums of the people in their camps and here this is the outside of the album. the album is bound and gold leather in terms of the gold leads clap class, but we see the power of images and they're they're compelled to tell me the stories to push forward to tell the story of from william carney with his flag in terms of his image would he use throughout his lifetime of the importance of the war and his story the narrative of history lessons as we think of portraits this portrait of charles douglas who's frederick douglass's son who after his father sent this the call to arms coloredman called to arms that this is a way of looking at his history
posing as before he enters into the war but the pose as he's prepared to fight. prepared to fight with his brother lewis douglas who has a number of letters in exchange with his fiance amelia and one he writes he posed for the photographer in boston his photograph is and howard university moreland spring garden letter collection, but he says i've been in two fights and i'm unhurt i believe we other fight tonight. he says if i survive i shall write you a long letter and then he describes the people who were wounded in from her city in upstate new york, and then he writes another my dear girl. i am away. do not fret yourself to death. oh i beg of you to do not so he's also concerned about her life her concerns and his fiance he talks also about the experience of the welfare of the
men and the can he talks about the loss of the three who died in fort wagner and these are experience that give life to the images that breathe life into the images as we the story about the history of the not only the iconic moments, but also the the southern landscape and how letter writing and slaves marriages were important in creating my story that i was fascinated with and here's a letter by earlier, she says my dear lewis. i was very glad to receive yours. i you know, i expected to hear from you. i heard that you were ill so there's and then her photograph hand tinted photograph when we began to see these experience of women. how they envision themselves charlotte fortin's journals. she has a wonderful diary of her experience when she met robert
shaw and he came to take tea with us and afterwards they stay to the shout where which was a religious meeting and he was really excited about the experience of going to a praise house to see the quotes shout as she describes and she was delighted to find that he was one of the very best and most spirited that he had had a man he had man. she says that colonel stroll looked and listened with a deepest interest and so he expects his gratitude for inviting him to the shell but as i mentioned again as we think about this is a portrait of henry stewart and his he's part of the 54th mass and he is this is a photograph in the historical. id massachusetts disease was the number one killer. of many of the combatants of during the war and that he was a
non-commissioned officer as many and stuart was actively engaged in recruiting of soldiers in the regiment. he died as a disease at the regiment hospital in morris island. and 27 september 1863 and his estate was paid $50. so the sad story he was only in the war less than six months and died. he was a recruiter and and unfortunately the stories that that he experienced through through the unsanitary experiences. and here is a portrait of christian fleetwood and he writes that you know fleetwood he was he writes in carroll county, maryland and i get excited about some of these stories because i love the fact that issued a forge cap or kepi burying a breath bugle above it. then the new the number four a
uniform code dark blue wool dark blue wool and an overkill one pair of light blue woolen trousers, you know, a booty two shirts and knapsack a canteen. these are the in a blanket so when we see this when the soldiers were handed these items that they could write a note up at break of dawn, you know under the supervision of the camp and the experience of what it meant. so every day these little hand diaries you can hold in your palm of your hand and write a little note about the experience. they were portable they weren't large but they had they roll he wrote about the meals and what the the pickets and what was going on up front and then the best discovery was jill a new marks research on black. surgeons and she had an
exhibition at nih and here is photograph of anderson abbott, and he was appointed an acting assistant surgeon in 1863 and he he worked at the friedman's hospital, which is also the contrabands hospital during the war. and and so we see his photographs in the collection in baltimore. we see another surgeon and he writes about the experience on the 14th the most eventful day event of my life occurred i drew 100 dollars less war tax 250 for medical services rendered to the us government my draft was in favor of assistant. surgeon rank first lieutenant, i read the i read the address several times and i liked it. i confess it read strange to me though it read strange to me. so reading that that he was paid. a certain amount of money even
though he didn't like the experience of the war but he was there to take care of some of the wounded men and and and that experience of wearing his uniform another alexander augusta who also to president lincoln. i'm saying he's he wanted to tender intended to apply to apply for an appointment to become a surgeon for the freedman and he says i was compelled to leave he left his country to to live in canada to study medicine but come he was he returned to be a part of this experience of the war and here's his photograph and his letter. we see sojourner truth part of this and another group of photographs by white officers who photographed some of their
the men in their camp and we see ranges of images of photographs that tell the different story. a marriage certificate wb the boys organized an exhibition in 1900 of the medal of honor men who were part of the civil war and he put that in an exhibition in paris and this is a photograph that was on display there an important image. that's it george you eastman house where lewis hine photographed a family member family in their home and above the fireplace is the fort wagner a drawing of the fort wagner unfortunate death of of all of the men who died including shaw and we see this as a part of the artwork on the wall, and we see the importance of the memory of that experience and contemporary artists such as wendell white looking at the history of these
images of and the experience of the images that are in the archives and he's making contemporary images about these experiences. the notion of the grand army of the republic the veterans of the war. this is a parade in may 30th 1912 in the blockson collection at temple university young women and men walking with their grandfathers and fathers marching through the streets. carry me weems another artists who looking at that experience of the war and making art about it and she photographed the the monument the on in in boston and here it's it's title restless actor the longest winter. you marched and marched? and from that experience carrie is looking at the experience of
an artist who use this story to create to recreate the monument and to dramatize the long marches the cold winters and photographing this at a time when the 54th left the city and it says that at the 54th regiment marching down beacon street on may 28 1863. they left boston to head south. waves focuses on one soldier in this big monument and she says that you know the because of the looking at these images in the tarnished winters and the experience of the artwork changing as a result of the elements it looks as their sweat rolling and falling down the soldiers phase and the way that this brings life to the
experiences of contemporary artists who looking at the war such as willy william earl williams' image of sergeant carney monument in norfolk, virginia, that was built and by black people in that town and then linda ford roberts as she's photographing in north carolina and thinking about death as well as the experience of the burial grounds that the divided in death and you know and divided in life and here we see the two sides of a cemetery. and and then ending with images of women who were who worked for the union and the confederate hospitals. they were nurses and cooks and laundry women. and here are some photographs are in collections and one of my
i really love this images in arlington house as a way of the responding to looking at this image and this is a selena norris gray's image that she was. when she fled when the when robert lee left the house and here we see. she is credited with saving some union soldiers and say, you know saving some of the heirlooms from belonging into george washington that were stored in the house. so she's has this complicated role in history where she's working with the both sides and at the same time understanding the role that she has in history by looking at this photograph. we see her with these two young figures with dress again is essential story in this so i'm going to stop sharing the screen
and open up for questions. okay, so there are no audience questions at this time and this work for me in terms of the experience of of this wonderful as they tenure research. follows a long history of you know four years, you know, we think about the war but i'm amazed at the research that we see that. gives life to these powerful images just seeing the struggle that black people had in terms of fighting to be part of this phrase part of this equality wanting to be free and the importance that their words and their images are preserved. they're preserved at the national archives and in terms
of that experience, but also their crucial stories as well as these images of these a fantastic works by the photographers as these artists knew the importance of the worthiness of these soldiers and and fighters and and cooks and nurses the sense of what it meant to be free and what it meant to personalize their experience through the visual image. and so i guess now that we have no questions and i'd like to end and just think about for us to imagine. what you know photography meant i'm in this, you know photography was basically 20 some odd years old when the war started and to create this long visual history as visual
evidence of the black presence was a an important role that photography played. so in terms of the multiple lessons that we learned through history. i see the visual visual experience as telling that story and thank you. learn more about the people and events that shape the civil war and reconstruction every saturday at 6pm eastern only on american history tv tv here on c-span 3 the c-span cities tour travels the country exploring the american story since 2011. we've been to more than 200 communities across the nation like many americans our staff is staying close to home due to the coronavirus. next a look at one of our city's tour visits. nevada is one of the few states where our first anglo-american industry here was mining