Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. My Favorite Picture

 
Members of Edwin Libby Post #16, Grand Army of the Republic, in Rockland, Maine. (Author’s Collection)

Being an historian with more than a passing interest in the American Civil War, I have managed to collect a rather large number of original photographs of men who fought in the conflict. I picked up the above photo two years ago on eBay, and it is one of my personal favorites. When the photo was listed in the auction it was simply described as a “Group posed in front of a church,” and there was no identification with the image telling who these men were, or when and where it was taken.

Grand Army of the Republic Membership Medal and Lapel Pin. (Author’s Collection)

One thing I was able to determine almost instantly from a quick glance at the image; these men were members of the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest Union veteran’s association in the United States, which had at its height in 1890 over 400,000 members. I could tell this by the distinctive Grand Army membership medals and lapel pins that a number of the gentlemen in the picture were wearing.

Once I had the image in hand and examined it with a magnifying glass, I found a wealth of additional information that came in the form of a sign. It wasn’t a sign from above; it was literally the sign on the church, which was perfectly legible and read, “Pratt Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, Pastor Rev. C.W. Bradlee.” It only took a few minutes of research to locate the building: Pratt Memorial was dedicated on February 4, 1870, in Rockland, ME. Even better, the church is still standing, and I was quickly able to find a modern picture and compare it to mine; and they were most certainly a match. No longer used as a church, the building is now an art gallery.

Modern Photo of Pratt Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church. (Tim Sullivan Photography)

The information on the church sign also helped me to narrow down the date the photograph was taken. The pastor is listed on the sign as C.W. Bradlee, and after doing a little research I found he was only at the church from 1894 – 1897, so the image had to be taken during that period.

I’m now in the process of researching the men that belonged to the G.A.R. post in Rockland, and hopefully one day I will be able to identify some of them in the photo and tell their stories. Until that time I will leave you with a quote from one of my favorite Civil War authors, Bruce Catton, as I think it sums up so well what it meant to be a Civil War veteran of the Union army:

For the most part they had never been fifty miles away from the farm or the dusty village streets; yet once, ages ago, they had been everywhere and had seen everything, and nothing that happened to them thereafter meant anything much. All that was real had taken place when they were young; everything after that had simply been a process of waiting for death, which did not frighten them much – they had seen it inflicted in the worst possible way on boys who had not bargained for it, and they had enough of the old-fashioned religion to believe without any question that when they passed over they would simply be rejoining men and ways of living which they had known long ago.
— Mr. Lincoln’s Army

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  1. Blondie Thatcher

    Interesting find. I look forward to the fruits of your further research into this picture. It truly is worth a thousand words, or more. 

    • #1
    • October 25, 2020, at 10:22 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnellJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thank you for this post. As an avid reader of Civil War history, I always look forward to learning from your research.

    • #2
    • October 25, 2020, at 10:33 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. Limestone Cowboy Coolidge
    Limestone CowboyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Thank you for this post. As an avid reader of Civil War history, I always look forward to learning from your research.

    Ditto.

    • #3
    • October 25, 2020, at 1:59 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. TreeRat Member

    My great-grandfather was a GAR member who apparently attended the 1892 annual encampment. I have his cane from that event.

    • #4
    • October 25, 2020, at 2:23 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  5. Skyler Coolidge

    I admit to being ignorant of things Protestant, having been raised as a Catholic, but how can a church be both Methodist and Episcopal? I thought they were different things.

    • #5
    • October 25, 2020, at 6:02 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. Skyler Coolidge

    I interviewed with a law firm to form an association of sorts and the owner of the firm bragged that no one knew more about the Civil War than he did. I told him, “We’ll see about that.” Then he started pontificating about it, and I corrected him (politely) when he made a particularly boneheaded statement that he’d probably been making to less informed people for decades. He was shocked that I had the temerity to correct him and glad to learn what was correct. We work really well together now.

    I like your picture and I really like how you’re bringing what to most people is some boring “group photo” to life and I look forward to your completed story someday.

    • #6
    • October 25, 2020, at 6:11 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Kephalithos Member

    Skyler (View Comment): I admit to being ignorant of things Protestant, having been raised as a Catholic, but how can a church be both Methodist and Episcopal? I thought they were different things.

    Methodism emerged from the Church of England as a revival movement, and its largest denomination (the Methodist Episcopal Church) kept the word “episcopal” in its name. The Episcopal Church, meanwhile, is what became of America’s Anglican Church after the Revolution.

    So, the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church are closely related, but they’re different denominations.

    • #7
    • October 25, 2020, at 7:05 PM PDT
    • 1 like
    • This comment has been edited.
  8. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge

    Jeff Giambrone:

    I’m now in the process of researching the men that belonged to the G.A.R. post in Rockland, and hopefully one day I will be able to identify some of them in the photo and tell their stories. Until that time I will leave you with a quote from one of my favorite Civil War authors, Bruce Catton, as I think it sums up so well what it meant to be a Civil War veteran of the Union army:

    For the most part they had never been fifty miles away from the farm or the dusty village streets; yet once, ages ago, they had been everywhere and had seen everything, and nothing that happened to them thereafter meant anything much. All that was real had taken place when they were young; everything after that had simply been a process of waiting for death, which did not frighten them much – they had seen it inflicted in the worst possible way on boys who had not bargained for it, and they had enough of the old-fashioned religion to believe without any question that when they passed over they would simply be rejoining men and ways of living which they had known long ago. — Mr. Lincoln’s Army

    Man. That’s a rough paragraph. A hard thing to contemplate.

    Thanks for the post!

    • #8
    • October 26, 2020, at 3:40 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. J Climacus Member

    Great post (from a fellow Civil War buff). I look forward to see what you come up with.

    Bruce Catton is exceptional, and his series on the Army of the Potomac is the most captivating and heartbreaking history I’ve ever read. He has a way of communicating what it meant to be in that war that is unparalleled.

    • #9
    • October 26, 2020, at 4:49 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Juliana Member

    Gazpacho Grande' (View Comment):

    Jeff Giambrone:

    I’m now in the process of researching the men that belonged to the G.A.R. post in Rockland, and hopefully one day I will be able to identify some of them in the photo and tell their stories. Until that time I will leave you with a quote from one of my favorite Civil War authors, Bruce Catton, as I think it sums up so well what it meant to be a Civil War veteran of the Union army:

    For the most part they had never been fifty miles away from the farm or the dusty village streets; yet once, ages ago, they had been everywhere and had seen everything, and nothing that happened to them thereafter meant anything much. All that was real had taken place when they were young; everything after that had simply been a process of waiting for death, which did not frighten them much – they had seen it inflicted in the worst possible way on boys who had not bargained for it, and they had enough of the old-fashioned religion to believe without any question that when they passed over they would simply be rejoining men and ways of living which they had known long ago. — Mr. Lincoln’s Army

    Man. That’s a rough paragraph. A hard thing to contemplate.

    Thanks for the post!

    Agree, and you can see it in their faces and body posture.

    • #10
    • October 26, 2020, at 7:44 AM PDT
    • Like