tv Black Civil War Soldiers in Photographs CSPAN August 23, 2021 5:10pm-5:54pm EDT
while photographs of earlier conflicts exist, the civil war was the first to be extensively documented through this then nascent medium. deborah willis collected these through her exhibit and this book shows how african-americans used photography to document for history their role in the war and to project stories of
courage, family, and citizenship to counteract prevailing stereotypes, and the national archives hosted this talk and provided the video. >> greetings from the national archives. i'm david fairio, archivist of the united states. and it is my pleasure to present deborah willis author of "the black civil war soldier." the civil war was the most prolonged conflict to be extensively be recorded in photographs. this visual record gives a sense of immediacy that we don't have with paintings and prints from the revolutionary war and other earlier conflicts. we can identify individual faces and imagine ourselves in the battlefields in the aftermath of the fighting. thousands of those images are in the national archives but photos of the black soldiers are rare. in the book "the black civil war soldier" deborah willis shows us the faces of the 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 the african-american communities during and after the war. deborah willis is a university professor and chair of the department of photography at new york university and has an affiliated appointment with the college of arts and sciences and department of social and cultural analysis and africana studies. she's the author of "envisions emancipation" and "michelle obama." . both of which received naacp image awards. now let's hear from deborah willis. thank you for joining us today. >> thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. i am excited to be here and i thank the national archives for this invitation to share my work and inviting me. it is really exciting to
consider the work -- a place where i did a lot of work in terms of research at the national archives focusing on my topic. my topic also is about memory and rediscovery as well as investigating the legacy of african-american soldiers as well as women who were teachers and nurses and to think about how photography, letters and diaries form this experience. i am going to start off with sharing my screen. and which will include a talk focusing on my research. and beginning here with the first image, it is the cover of the book, and the image that celebrates, but also documents
the experience of image making. this one of the photographs that is part of the collection, and it really tells 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 when we read this photograph of this soldier who is holding this gun to his chest, the sense of bravery. one of the first people who inspired me to even think about this project, and to inherit the project is the research that i have found on frederick douglass, his words, and so it is the civil war that inspired him to write and speak on photography and like many americans, he believed that photographs and pictures greatly contributed to the succession and a war over slavery.
during the civil war, douglass wrote a number of lectures and also had created this sense of commitment to the war, and he wrote, once you, the black man, get upon his person the breath -- let him get an eagle on his chest, a musket on his shoulder and let him earn the right of citizenship. finding that quote, and i use it often, just in terms of setting the aspect of the visualality of being photograph. and this is central to my research, and as we are looking at the missing history of these images, and this is a self-portrait and antebellum dress styled with the quilt, and
she says, i looked and i looked to see what so terrified you. she's looking at the history of the image of black people that were made that denigrated black bodies as subhuman, and she created this space of louie agassi's research on black bodies. also, i just recently discovered this image of the plantation scene as entitled antebellum tableau by shawn mullin, and it is a fascinating story as i am trying to place the land, and place the personal experience and place the memory of the enslavement and also of the civil war. here we see a land owner who is standing in the front, and we see a post that is the fascinating aspect of the image, and we can see the young woman
who is straight in the back. she has a bonnet in her hand, and another young girl who is actively posing as if she is sweeping the land. the experience of this, and when we think of dress in these images and the importance of land and family stories, this -- finding these images and meeting -- when i was researching this story, i was looking for ways to tell how photography mediated with the silencing of this history by going into public and private collections to find another narrative. this is a port rate of richard etheridge. and he writes a letter to his former captain, orem hedrick --
in the days to come, we will have a chance to say hello again. this is important because we will see the exchange of the man who is born into slavery and fought in the war and he was enlisted into the 36th u.s. colored infantry in 1863, and he worked and fought in st. petersburg, new market heights, and had a relationship that was healthy with the captain, and also one of the -- why i'm excited about the talk here at the national archives, that i researched the national archives through the pension records and trying to find the stories of the black soldiers and their families and their experiences. this is the portion of henry brewster who is in the archives probably about 1870, and his wife in 1905, susan brewster, sent a photograph with return that is only in the archives and
in the photograph, it is there, and in the department of interior, and in the archives when she sent the letter and she is asking for the return, and this is because it is the only image that henry was a blacksmith and a laborer and a tailor, and he fought in the war and injured, and she wrote and she had a number of affidavits proving her marriage to brewster, and also finding that he lost sight in his right eye, and he had kidney problems after he left the army, and he was trying to get his pension. so there are a number of letters in the pension records where black women are trying to survive after their husbands' death. unfortunately, she never received his pension, but the letter remains, and her after dates remain, legible in terms of telling this story.
we see it through this photograph of henry twoouser who is posing in the studio. another figure central to women in the war are the washer women. they are central to this story as we think about the experience of men who fought, we think about sanitary situations in the war, where most of the men, many of the men who died, they died because of the experience not only of the bullet wounds, but because of unsanitary conditions. and the experience of washer women, who also washed the clothes of the men and the soldiers, and they created -- tried to create a safe and sanitary space for the soldiers. here is a woman who is unidentified, and her -- it's in the smithsonian collection. she posed with an american flag
pinned to her chest with the u.s. brass button. and we see the photographer in terms of relationships, as we think about the importance of how the photographer's hand 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 of one man who is unidentified here, standing in front of a painted backdrop. so we see the importance of art in history making. we see the importance of art ooz -- as a narrative of telling the story of bravery. we see the 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 family member, and also another image of a soldier with his family seated with his children and knowing that this image is the central way of creating a narrative, the importance of family. women wrote letters to their husbands and it's really -- as i tell this story, i think about the experience of women who wrote to abraham lincoln about equal pay. not only the wives and mothers, but soldiers, as well. as they fought, they understood their presence, 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 a collector, greg french, and we see these two
posed images, one, of course, it's as lovely as the gold highlights on the tin type. so, again, as the artist, the photographer is using ways to enhance the story, enhance the humanity of the portrait. so letters such as this letter that i found, it's really important to think. she starts off in 1863 and writes, my dear husband, i received your last letter. and then ending up, i say tell isaac that his mother and others got the 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 an image of the 127th ohio regiment. later called the 5th u.s. colored troop in ohio. and as they're about to go to war, we see a group of people standing on the street, bearing witness through the experience of these soldiers. and in terms of the war and the importance of history, when we created and worked on the book, 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 a plantation and the papers. and this is where he highlights his $50 reward for a woman by the name of dolly. and we see that he says, ranaway
from the yard corner of jackson and broad in augusta, georgia, on the date of 7 april, 1863. the woman, dolly, whose likeness is seen here. 30 years of age, light complexion, hesitates when spoken, and with a fine set of teeth but rather good looking. and not healthy. so his letter, you know, implicates her good looks, that she's pretty, that she ran away, but she was enticed by a white man, and as research has -- subsequent shared has shared it could have been a union soldier, it could have been her lover. so there are different stories and there is here a photograph from south carolina. a portrait of suzy king taylor,
thinking about the aspect of suzy king taylor and her diary, in her book. she understood that soldiers desired to communicate with their loved ones and to write letters. 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 worked with her on that. this is a fantastic image in the scene in beaufort, south carolina, with a regiment that has escaped slaves in formation. we see the land, we see the importance of this image, and the rarity of space. but the comportment of the clothes to have men in uniform, it says a lot about the next step, where they were prepared to move forward. and i'm going to walk through some images here 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, and to create an image of you soldiers who were on a mission to create a story about the fight for freedom. this is a group of soldiers in hudson, louisiana. and this is the provost marshal office in fort hudson. outside we see the rage of people, we see the soldiers, we see men and women who are standing outside in terms of dress. we see that some are known as called contraband, as they were seen as their entry into a space
of freedom. and moving out of slavery. 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 that circulated of black figures. we see a sense of nation building and citizenship with these images. there are images in the collection in the book of abraham lincoln, with some of the generals that we know in history, an image here of nicholas bitle, who is from potsville, 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 a group of men, militia, volunteer militia from pennsylvania, they marched through the city of baltimore to defend the capital in washington, d.c. it's an important moment to see this image, because bittle, he was injured, he was called names and rocks were thrown. and he was hit on the head by one of the rocks and was bleeding. we can see after the war, he visited a photographer's studio in his uniform, with the hankerchief that he used to wipe the blood off of his face. so here again, we see the aspect of 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. when i began the research, i wanted to have firsthand accounts of soldiers, as well as their letters. but also journalists who wrote about the experience of witnessing the war. this is by william h. johnson. prior to black people entering the war, he was able to write about the experience, and he was a war correspondent during the first year of the civil war. and he wrote a number of amazing articles that visualized the union's experience and the sense of bravery that meant to most of them. he 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 at the library. newton also wrote about his experience in the war, as well as his enslaved experience, as well as helping people through the underground railroad. and he says, i was born under the regime of slavery, a free child. my mother being a free woman. my father was a slave. so that in my family, i learned what slavery was firsthand. i longed for an opportunity and the power to play the role of moses on behalf of my people. so in terms of that, and just the poetics of 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 writes about the experience of the colored asylum in 1861.
we all know during the time -- this was burned down in new york, and this battle about black people, 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 of this experience. there was a soldier by the name of james gooding who was part of -- who lived in the orphanage in 1846. and so he joined the 54th mass, and 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 titled "contraband" and here we see the 13th mass. we see women, we see a woman who
is 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 are seeking their freedom. this is an african-american hospital workers, including the nurses in nashville, tennessee. and this famous, well-documented image of gordon who was, you know, titled the scourged back, and it was used by the abolitionists. and there's a man in scotland who says, i found a large number of 400 contrabands examined by me, as badly as lacerated in
this enclosed photograph. so traveling through boston, this person, scottish scholar, john francis camp sell, he purchases a pro lincoln political photograph and we see the text on the back of this image by the -- colonel marsh, john w. mercer who writes the experience about this surgeon who insisted in the care of gordon. so when i think about the range of experience of gordon, as he entered the camp and how hislat ways, we see that it was in "harper's weekly" the story of a typical negro fighting for his freedom as he entered the camp, showing these lacerated backs 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 was freed and then continued to stay with the sergeant when he was wounded. images of mothers and family members and wives, their role played heavily in the visualizing women. and tara hunter writes, while women asserted claims of a citizen or soldier's wife, they were not readily granted either. yet they have chosen self-descriptions to find how they were vital to and undervalued by the union. this speaks a lot about how women played their role and visualizing their experience in
constructing their stories and their memory about using photograph as memorializing this experience. images of soldiers, here in rhode island. women again in terms of teachers, as we think of harriet jacobson and her school in alexandria, virginia. she said i'm not saying 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 also significant ways of how we read images of contraband. images of men who -- and women and children who were enslaved. this is another image here of a plantation in 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 moments of going into the studio, here is colonel shaw, who is head of the 54th. and we know before he left that he is -- posed considering the next steps, and he says, we have gone quietly among forming the regiment as he prepares for the war and how long it takes to get to south carolina as they prepare for the war. this is an album at 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. soldiers entered into the studios, the captains and other servicemen created albums of the
people in there camp. this is the outside of the album. the album is bound in gold leather in terms of the gold leaf clasp. but we see the power of images, and they're compelled to tell me the stories to push forward to tell the story from william carney with his flag in terms of his image, what he used throughout his lifetime, of the importance of the war and his story. the narrative of history lessons, as we think of this portrait of charles douglass, frederick douglass' son. after his father sent the call for colored men to arms, this is a way of looking at his try, posing before he entering into the war. but the pose, as he is prepared to fight. prepared to fight with his
brother, lewis douglass, who has a number of letters in exchange with his fiance, amelia. and he posed for the photographer in boston, his photograph is in howard university, but he says, i've been in two fights, and i am unhurt. i believe we have another fight tonight. he says, if i survive, i shall write you a long letter, and then he describes the people who were wounded from her city in upstate new york. and then he writes another, my dear girl, while i am away, do not fret yourself to death. i beg of you do not, please. also concerned about her life, her concerns, and his fiance, he talks also about the experience of the welfare of the men in the camp. he talks about the loss of the three who died in ft. wagner. and these are experiences that give light to the images that
breathe light into the images as they weave a story about the history of the -- not only iconic moments but also the southern landscape and how letter writing and slave narratives were important in creating my story that i was fascinated with. and here is a letter by amelia, she says, my dear lewis, i was very glad to receive yours. you know, i expected to hear from you. i heard that you were ill. and then her photograph. hand tinted photograph when we began to see these experiences of women. how they envisioned themselves. charlotte fulton's journal, she has a wonderful diary of her experience. when she met robert shaw and he came to take tea with us, and afterwards, they stayed to the shout, which was a religious
meeting, and he was really excited about the experience of going to a praise house to see the quote shout as she described. and she was delighted to find that he was one of the very best and most spirited that he had had. she says that colonel shaw looked and listened with the deepest interest. and so he expressed his gratitude for inviting him to the shout. 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 society of massachusetts. disease was the number one killer of many of the combatants during the war. and that he was a noncommissioned officer, as many, and stewart was actively engaged in recruiting of soldiers in the regiment. he died of disease at the
regiment hospital on 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 unfortunately, the stories that he experienced through the unsanitary experiences. and here is a portrait of christian fleetwood. he writes that, you know, fleetwood -- you know, he writes from carroll county, maryland. i gent excited about some of these stories, because i love the fact that the number four, uniform code, dark blue wool, and overcoat. one pair of light blue woolen trousers. you know, a booty, two shirts, a
knapsack, a canteen. and a blanket. so we see this when the soldiers were handed these items, that they could write a note up at the 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 that you could hold in the palm of your hand and write a note about the experience. they were portable, they weren't large. but they had -- he wrote about the meals and the pickets and what's going on up front. and then the best discovery was jill newmark's research on black surgeons. she had an exhibition at nih, and here is a photograph of anderson abbott. he was appointed an acting assistant surgeon in 1863, and
he worked at freedman's hospital, which is hospital the contra band hospital during the war. and so we see his photograph in the collection in baltimore. we see another surgeon, and he writes about the experience on the 14th of the most eventful day, eventful day of his life occurred, he drew $100, and my draft was in favor of assistant surgeon rank first lieutenant. i read the address several times, and i liked it, and 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 that
experience of wearing his uniform. another, alexander augusta, who also wrote to president lincoln, saying how he wanted to tender -- and tended to apply to apply for an appointment to become a surgeon for the freed men. he left his country to live in canada, to study medicine, but he returned to be a part of this experience of the war. and here is his photograph and his letter. we see a soldier, 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 a different story.
a marriage certificate, the medal of honor men who were part of the civil war. he put that in an exhibition in paris. and this was a photograph that was on display there. an important image in the george eastman house where a family was photographed in their home. above the fireplace is the ft. wagner drawing of the ft. wagner unfortunate death of all the men who died, including shaw. and we see this as 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, 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 may 30th, 1912 in the blocks and collection at temple university. young women and men walking with their grandfathers and fathers, marching through the streets. another artist here, who is looking at that experience of the war. and making art about it. and she photographed the monument in boston. and here it is titled "restless after the longest winter, you marched and marched." and from that experience, kerry is looking at the experience of an artist who used this story to create -- to re-create 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 as the 54th regiment marching down the street on may 28, 1863, they left boston to head south. weems focuses on one soldier in this big monument and she says that, you know, 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 if there's sweat rolling and falling down the soldier's face. and a way that this brings life to the experiences of contemporary artists two are looking at the war, such as williams' image at the sergeant carney monument in norfolk,
virginia, that was built 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 divided in death and divided in life. and here we see the two sides of a cemetery. 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. here are some photographs in collections, and one of my -- i really love this image, it's in arlington house, as a way of responding to looking at this image, and this is a saleena
norris gray's image, when margaret lee left the house. and here we see she is credited with saving some union soldiers and, you know, saving some of the heirlooms from -- belonging to george washington that were stored in the house. so she 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 a central 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 worked for me in terms
of the experience of -- of this wonderful, let's say, tenure research follows a long history of -- you know, four years. we think about the war. but i'm amazed at the research that we see that gives life to -- um -- these powerful images. just seeing the struggle that black people had in terms of fighting to be part of this -- part of this equality. wanting to be free. and important that their words and their images are preserved. they're preserved at the national archives. and in terms of that experience. but also, they're crucial stories, as well as these images of these fantastic works by the photographers.
as these artists knew the importance of the worthiness of -- of these soldiers. and -- and fighters. 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, i'd like to end and just think about for us to imagine what, you know, photography meant 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 -- of -- 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. the wisconsin veteran's museum hosts a conversation with jeff kannel. author of "make way for liberty, wisconsin african-americans in the civil war." mr. kannel describes how he researched the topic, and what life was like for many of the veterans after the war.
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