Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
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.
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.
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