Tag Archives: Philadelphia

A Toy Cannon at Antietam: 1862

Miniature Cannon on display in the White House of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. Curators believe that it was not owned by the family of Jefferson Davis. http://moconfederacy.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/43279EF6-D46F-42B1-981D-055826964540

Miniature workable cannon on display in the White House of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. Curators believe that it was not owned by the family of Jefferson Davis. http://moconfederacy.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/43279EF6-D46F-42B1-981D-055826964540

A WAR RELIC

How a Boy Fought and Lost His Life at Antietam

[Philadelphia Times]

General Hector Tyndale Post No. 160, of this city, has been presented with a small brass cannon, which is apparently a toy, but it has a historical interest.

It was used at the battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862, with deadly effect. It was drawn from Sharpsburg while the battle was in progress by a boy sixteen years of age, who lived in the vicinity, and who, like old John Burns at Gettysburg a year later, went into the conflict on his own responsibility. He took a position on an elevation and with his little cannon faced the enemy and poured load after load of deadly missiles from the muzzle of his miniature cannon into the ranks of the Confederates. The young hero fought for hours in the ranks of the Union army. Among the hundred thousand men with whom he fought there was not one with whom he had any personal acquaintance.

While thus engaged he was shot, it is believed, by a rebel sharp-shooter. When found he was lying upon his face, with his body across the little gun. After his death the cannon was kept until recently, when it was sold for old brass and brought to this city with other old metals. A comrade of the Tyndale Post, who is an extensive metal broker, learned the history of the little piece of artillery, then dirty and corroded, and presented it to the society. It has been cleaned and brightened up and looks like new. It is about three feet in length and has a bore of less than two inches.

Xenia [OH] Daily Gazette 3 August 1886: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The Battle of Antietam of 17 September 1862, was the bloodiest single day in the American Civil War. Over 500 cannons were deployed with terrible effect. Participants dubbed it “Artillery Hell”  for the fire that rained down from the artillery batteries on the heights. One can have no conception of the infernal noise of the battlefield.

Toy cannons were a popular amusement of the young.  While many were designed to fire wooden projectiles, a surprising number were designed to be actually fired, to deadly, sometimes fatal effect. For example, in 1901, 244 persons across the United States were injured by toy cannons over the Fourth of July holiday.

Mrs Daffodil has, alas, not been able to corroborate this touching story of youthful soldiery, nor locate the original cannon.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Taking Pictures of the Dead: An Interview with a Photographer: 1882

The dead at "Bloody Lane" after the Battle of Antietam.

The dead at “Bloody Lane” after the Battle of Antietam.

A first-hand narrative from a photographer of the dead and how he came to such a vocation. This past week was the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, where this photographer had a grim experience.

GHASTLY PHOTOGRAPHIC EXPERIENCES.

[Sunday Mercury.] I’ve been engaged in taking pictures of the dead for twenty years or more, was the remark of a photographer of Philadelphia, as he arranged his camera to photograph the first corpse ever brought to a Philadelphia gallery for that purpose. A little coffin or casket was under the sky-light in a slanting position, supported by two chairs, and in it was the body of a fair-haired child, whose peaceful, smiling expression, despite the ghastly pallor of death, make it appear to be in tranquil sleep. The head lay in a perfect bed of flowers, and the waxen hands clasped held a spray of mignonette and two delicate tea rosebuds. The sun, shaded as it was by curtains, threw a bright glare over one side of the little dead face, leaving the other half in shadow. The tube of the camera was brought to the proper focus on the silent subject, and in a few seconds the negative was ready to go into the “dark room” and be prepared for printing in its chemical bath. No one was in the place except the proprietor, a solemn-faced undertaker and your correspondent. This is the first time, said the photographer, as he critically examined the negative, that I have ever been called upon to picture the dead in my own place, but this case was such a peculiar one that I could not refuse, although it would undoubtedly draw away custom if it were known. People have a foolish horror of death, you know, and would actually be afraid to come if they thought I had dead bodies here. It only took a moment, and there was really nothing awful about it. The mother, poor soul, will have something to look at and cry over now, and the speaker stopped, as the undertaker had turned the last screw in the lid of the coffin and was preparing to carry it out to the hearse again.

THE CAMERA ON THE BATTLE-FIELD.

My first experience in photographing the dead, resumed the photographer, as the hearse rattled away from the door, was on the battle-field of Antietam. It was a warm September morning, three days after the great fight. I had a boy with me to assist in preparing the chemicals. He only worked for an hour. With boyish curiosity he went poking about, and picked up an unexploded shell. He was then on the bank of the creek about half a mile off. I never knew how it happened, but the bomb exploded, and almost blew him to pieces. A little darkey came up to where I was waiting for the boy’s return, and completely unnerved me by shouting: “Say, boss, de red-headed gemmen has done gone and blowed hisself up wif a shell!” He was a bright, intelligent boy, and I felt his loss keenly, but I pressed the negro boy into service, and went to work.

It would be useless to go over the scene of that carnage again; to tell of the ghastly after-sights of that awful fight which made so many widows and orphans. I was nervous and excited, and you can depend it did not tend to quiet my nerves when I unwittingly planted one leg of the camera stand on the chest of a dead Union drummer-boy. By some means he had been partly buried in a patch of soft soil. Nothing was visible but the buttons on his blouse and one foot. I changed my position rather hastily. A “dark room” was improvised by hanging army blankets from the limbs of a low tree; and after taking four negatives, I packed up my traps and started for Philadelphia. It was a slow and dangerous journey, but I made it in safety, and went to work printing pictures. They sold like wildfire at fifty cents and one dollar each. I was nearly two thousand dollars in pocket in less than two weeks, and determined to repeat the programme after the next big battle. It came with Fredericksburg. My anxiety to get a view of the field after the retreat of the Union army led to trouble. I was captured by three Confederate stragglers and taken down the Rappahannock in a rowboat. They suspected me to be a spy, I suppose, and the photographic apparatus merely a blind. At any rate the valuable camera, chemicals, glass and everything else were dumped into the river. I was taken before General Lee, personally, and charged with being a Union spy. No explanation availed anything; it was not even believed that I was a photographer. One of General Lee’s staff—I think his name was Murray—proposed that I should be tested. An aide-de-camp galloped off and procured the necessary apparatus, and I photographed the rebel general and his entire staff, on a day cold enough to freeze the words in a man’s mouth. The officers were evidently impressed with the idea of my innocence. A short consultation followed, and then General Lee himself said to me: “Sir, it appears that you are simply engaged in earning a livelihood, and, I believe, honestly. You are at liberty.” I was blindfolded, put back in the boat, and landed within twenty miles of where Burnside had his winter quarters. From that day to this I never knew where I was. Here is the picture of Lee and his staff, and the photographer exhibited the faded likeness, which had probably saved his life.

FRIGHTENED BY A SUPPOSED CORPSE.

After the battle of Gettysburg, he resumed, it became very common for photographers to go to the front. They all appeared to be making money, and I finally made up my mind to try it again. The three days’ fight at Spotsylvania Court House was the last battle-field I ever saw, or want to see again. I arrived there before General Grant had driven the enemy into Richmond. Many of the dead had been removed, but there were still many bodies on the field—enough, in fact, to make a good picture, I thought. I never took it. After getting the best site to have the sun on a half-dozen dead soldiers and two abandoned cannon for the central figures of the picture, I covered my head with the cloth and brought the tube to bear on the group. I had just got the proper focus when a most startling incident occurred. I saw the arm of a supposed dead man lift high in the air and then fall. The day was mild, beautiful and sunny. Everything was as still as death, except the faint booming of a far distant cannon. I dropped the cloth and ran forward to where the dead soldiers lay. There was not the least sign of life in any of them. Decomposition had set in, except in one of them, a dark-haired young man wearing the gray uniform of the Confederacy. He was dead, to all appearance, and a ragged bullet-hole in his forehead precluded any other idea. Thinking it was only imagination, I went back to the camera to make another attempt. No sooner had I lifted the cloth to put over my head than I saw the arm lift up a second time. There could be no mistake. Again I approached the dead men, and looking first at the young man who seemed to have met death later than his companions, I plainly saw a tremor in his fingers. Quickly I bent over him, and placing my hand on his forehead found it clammy and cold. He was not dead, but dying. I spoke, and his eyelids trembled in a sort of unconscious recognition of the presence of the living. I heard a faint flutter of the breath, and saw the shadow of a smile hover for a moment about the lips. Then came a long-drawn sigh, a weak gurgle in the throat, and the soldier boy was dead.

I opened his coat. An old-fashioned daguerreotype of a gray-haired lady, a pack of cards and a Catholic prayer-book I found wrapped up in a small Confederate flag. On the fly-leaf of the book was written, “Henry Barnes MacHenry. From his mother.” The poor fellow had evidently lain where he fell for two or three days, suffering from the tortures of hunger and thirst. Earlier attention might have saved him. The incident, simple as it may seem to you, frightened me. I went home, and for a year devoted myself to regular photography.

A GHASTLY KIND OF BUSINESS.

Business grew dull, and I got poor. The war had just about ended, when one day, when pushed to my wits’ end for money, I was struck with an idea which I have followed out successfully ever since. The death columns of the morning papers were carefully gone over, and when the funeral was advertised from an humble neighborhood I was usually sure of a five dollar bill. I visited the houses and offered to photograph their dead. Out of a dozen visits I would probably get one job. In a couple of years my reputation grew, and now I am almost as frequently sent for as the minister. Only last May a messenger came from a West Philadelphia family for me to photograph their dying father.

When I got there he was too far gone and I had to wait. Half an hour after the old gentleman had breathed his last, and before he became stiff, we had him sitting in a chair, with his eyes held open with stiff mucilage between the lids and brow, and his legs crossed. He made a very good picture. I once photographed two children—sisters—who had died the same day of diphtheria. They were posed with their arms about each other’s necks. An Irish family, living in the southern part of the city, called on me about two years ago to take a picture of their dead son—a young man—with his high hat on. It was necessary to take the stiffened corpse out of the ice-box and prop him up against the wall. The effect was ghastly, but the family were delighted, and thought the hat lent a life-like effect. Sometimes, and at the suggestion of the family, I have filled out the emaciated cheeks of dead people with cotton to make them look plump. The eyes are nearly always propped open with pins or mucilage, but when people can afford to engage an artist it is an easy matter to paint the eyes afterward. Another time I took a picture of a dead man who had been scalded to death. It was a full-length photograph, and an artist was engaged to fill out the burns on the face and then make a copy in oil. For that piece of work I got $50, and I think he got no less than $500.

TAKING THE DEAD FROM THE TOMB.

I recall an instance, continued the photographer, which is probably the most remarkable thing ever related. Two young men came into my place in the winter of 1874 or 1875, I forget which, and said they wanted a photograph of their dead father, whose body was in the family receiving vault awaiting interment in the spring. They cautioned me that their step-mother was violently opposed to having her husband’s body taken from the vault for such a purpose, and that she daily visited the place of sepulture to prevent any such attempt. It was agreed that I should engage a couple of men to assist in taking the body out, and another to keep watch for the widow. We went to the vault early in the morning to avoid the woman, who usually made her visit after twelve o’clock. It took some time to get the body properly posed against the side of the vault, and then it began to drizzle. We threw a horse blanket over the coffin and retreated to the shelter of a tree. About noon the sun came out, and I hurriedly prepared to secure the negative. The camera had just been placed in position when our sentinel came running breathlessly in, with word that the widow was nearly at the entrance to the cemetery gate, a quarter mile distant. It did not take a moment to restore the corpse to the coffin, screw on the lid, and carry all back to the vault. I packed up my kit, and with the two men got out of another gate. Four months after that one of the sons came to me with a most remarkable story. He said his step-mother had lost her reason. When the dead man’s body was exhumed in the spring in the presence of the widow, she insisted on having the coffin opened. The corpse was found partly turned over and the lining of the coffin disarranged. The widow went into hysterics, under the impression that her husband had been buried alive. The stepsons tried to reassure her, and finally confessed that they had authorized the taking up of the body to have it photographed, but the explanation came too late. The woman’s reason was affected, and she could not understand that in our haste to escape we had turned the corpse on its side.

Photographic Times and American Photographer, Volume 12, J. Traill Taylor, Editor, 1882

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This gripping narrative contains several popular themes of the era: dying Civil War soldiers, post-mortem photography, and burial alive. The mistaken placing of the tripod on a drummer boy’s corpse, the “dead” soldier’s moving arm, and the descent into madness of the obviously disliked stepmother are thrilling touches. And it is always useful to get a professional’s tips on how to make a dead body seem alive using common household items.

This excerpt and more on post-mortem photography may be found in The Victorian Book of the Dead. 

For a piece on the myth of standing post-mortem photographs see this post, Dead Man Standing.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Umbrella Girl and the Quaker: 1820s

An 1820s umbrella

The Umbrella Girl

‘A Young girl, the only daughter of a poor widow, removed from the country to Philadelphia to earn her living by covering umbrellas. She was very handsome; with glossy black hair, large beaming eyes, and ‘lips like wet coral.’ She was just at that susceptible age when youth is ripening into womanhood, when the soul begins to be pervaded by ‘that restless principle, which impels poor humans to seek perfection in union.’

‘At a hotel near the store for which she worked, an English traveller, called Lord Henry Stuart, had taken lodgings. He was a strikingly handsome man, and of princely carriage. As this distinguished stranger passed to and from his hotel, he encountered the umbrella girl, and was attracted by her uncommon beauty. He easily traced her to the store, where he soon after went to purchase an umbrella. This was followed up by presents of flowers, chats by the way-side, and invitations to walk or ride; all of which were gratefully accepted by the unsuspecting rustic; for she was as ignorant of the dangers of a city as were the squirrels of her native fields. He was merely playing a game for temporary excitement. She, with a head full of romance, and a heart melting under the influence of love, was unconsciously endangering the happiness of her whole life.

‘Lord Henry invited her to visit the public gardens on the Fourth of July. In the simplicity of her heart, she believed all his flattering professions, and considered herself his bride elect; she therefore accepted the invitation with innocent frankness. But she had no dress fit to appear in on such a public occasion, with a gentleman of high rank, whom she verily supposed to be her destined husband. While these thoughts revolved in her mind, her eye was unfortunately attracted by a beautiful piece of silk, belonging to her employer. Could she not take it, without being seen, and pay for it secretly when she had earned money enough? The temptation conquered her in a moment of weakness. She concealed the silk, and conveyed it to her lodgings. It was the first thing she had ever stolen, and her remorse was painful. She would have carried it back, but she dreaded discovery. She was not sure that her repentance would be met in a spirit of forgiveness.

‘On the eventful Fourth of July, she came out in her new dress. Lord Henry complimented her upon her elegant appearance, but she was not happy. On their way to the gardens, he talked to her in a manner which she did not comprehend. Perceiving this, he spoke more explicitly. The guileless young creature stopped, looked in his face with mournful reproach, and burst into tears. The nobleman took her hand kindly, and said: ‘My dear, are you an innocent girl?’

”I am, I am,’ she replied, with convulsive sobs. ‘Oh! what have I ever done, or said, that you should ask me such a question?’

‘The evident sincerity of her words stirred the deep fountains of his better nature. ‘If you are innocent,’ said he, ‘God forbid that I should make you otherwise. But you accepted my invitations and presents so readily, that I supposed you understood me.

‘What could I understand,’ said she, ‘ except that you intended to make me your wife?’

‘Though reared amid the proudest distinctions of rank, he felt no inclination to smile. He blushed and was silent. The heartless conventionalities of the world stood rebuked in the presence of affectionate simplicity. He conveyed her to her humble home, and bade her farewell, with a thankful consciousness that he had done no irretrievable injury to her future prospects. The remembrance of her would soon be to him as the recollection of last year’s butterflies.

With her, the wound was deep. In the solitude of her chamber she wept in bitterness of heart over her ruined air-castles. And that dress, which she had stolen to make an appearance befitting his bride! Oh I what if she should be discovered? And would not the heart of her poor widowed mother break, if she should ever know that her child was a thief?

‘Alas! her wretched forebodings proved too true. The silk was traced to her; she was arrested on her way to the store and dragged to prison. There she refused all nourishment, and wept incessantly. On the fourth day, the keeper called upon Isaac T. Hopper, and informed him that there was a young girl in prison, who appeared to be utterly friendless, and determined to die by starvation. The kind-hearted Friend immediately went to her assistance. He found her lying on the floor of her cell, with her face buried in her hands, sobbing as if her heart would break. He tried to comfort her, but could obtain no answer.

‘Leave us alone,’ said he to the keeper. ‘Perhaps she will speak to me, if there is no one to hear.’ When they were alone together, he put back the hair from her temples, laid his hand kindly on her beautiful head, and said in soothing tones: ‘My child, consider me as thy father. Tell me all thou hast done. If thou hast taken this silk, let me know all about it. I will do for thee as I would for my own daughter; and I doubt not that I can help thee out of this difficulty.’

‘After a long time spent in affectionate entreaty, she leaned her young head on his friendly shoulder, and sobbed out: ‘Oh! I wish I was dead. What will my poor mother say when she knows of my disgrace?’

”Perhaps we can manage that she never shall know it,’ replied he. Alluring her by this hope, he gradually obtained from her the whole story of her acquaintance with the nobleman. He bade her be comforted, and take nourishment; for he would see that the silk was paid for, and the prosecution withdrawn.

‘He went immediately to her employer, and told him the story. ‘This is her first offence,’ said he. ‘The girl is young, and she is the only child of a poor widow. Give her a chance to retrieve this one false step, and she may be restored to society, a useful and honored woman. I will see that thou art paid for the silk.’ The man readily agreed to withdraw the prosecution, and said he would have dealt otherwise by the girl, it he had known all the circumstances. ‘Thou shouldst have inquired into the merits of the case,’ replied Friend Hopper.  ‘By this kind of thoughtlessness many a young creature is driven into the downward path, who might easily have been saved.’

‘The kind-hearted man next proceeded to the hotel, and with Quaker simplicity of speech, inquired for Henry Stuart. The servant said his lordship had not yet risen. ‘Tell him my business is of importance,’ said Friend Hopper. The servant soon returned and conducted him to the chamber. The nobleman appeared surprised that a stranger, in the plain Quaker costume, should thus intrude upon his luxurious privacy. When he heard his errand, he blushed deeply, and frankly admitted the truth of the girl’s statement. His benevolent visitor took the opportunity to ‘bear a testimony’ against the selfishness and sin of profligacy. He did it in such a kind and fatherly manner, that the young man’s heart was touched. He excused himself, by saying that he would not have tampered with the girl, if he had known her to be virtuous. ‘I have done many wrong things,’ said he, ‘but, thank God, no betrayal of confiding innocence weighs on my conscience. I have always esteemed it the basest act of which man is capable.’ The imprisonment of the poor girl, and the forlorn situation in which she had been found, distressed him greatly. When Friend Hopper represented that the silk had been stolen for his sake, that the girl had thereby lost profitable employment, and was obliged to return to her distant home, to avoid the danger of exposure, he took out a fifty-dollar note, and offered it to pay her expenses.

‘Nay,’ said Isaac. ‘Thou art a very rich man, I presume. I see in thy hand a large roll of such notes. She is the daughter of a poor widow, and thou hast been the means of doing her great injury. Give me another.’

‘Lord Henry handed him another fifty-dollar note, and smiled as he said: ‘You understand your business well. But you have acted nobly, and I reverence you for it. If you ever visit England, come to see me. I will give you a cordial welcome, and treat you like a nobleman.’

‘Farewell, friend,’ replied the Quaker. ‘Though much to blame in this affair, thou too hast behaved nobly. Mayst thou be blessed in domestic life, and trifle no more with the feelings of poor girls; not even with those whom others have betrayed and deserted.’

‘When the girl was arrested, she had sufficient presence of mind to assume a false name, and by that means her true name had been kept out of the newspapers. ‘I did this,’ said she, ‘ for my poor mother’s sake.’ With the money given by Lord Stuart, the silk was paid for, and she was sent home to her mother well provided with clothing. Her name and place of residence forever remained a secret in the breast of her benefactor.

‘Years after these events transpired, a lady called at Friend Hopper’s house, and asked to see him. When he entered the room, he found a handsomely-dressed young matron, with a blooming boy of five or six years old. She rose quickly to meet him, and her voice choked as she said: ‘Friend Hopper, do you know me?’ He replied that he did not. She fixed her tearful eyes earnestly upon him, and said: ‘You once helped me when in great distress.’ But the good missionary of humanity had helped too many in distress, to be able to recollect her without more precise information. With a tremulous voice she bade her son go into the next room for a few minutes; then dropping on her knees, she hid her face in his lap, and sobbed out: ‘I am the girl who stole the silk. Oh! Where should I now be, if it had not been for you!’

‘When her emotion was somewhat calmed, she told him that she had married a respectable man, a senator of his native State. Being on a visit in Friend Hopper’s vicinity, she had again and again passed his dwelling, looking wistfully at the windows to catch a sight of him; but when she attempted to enter, her courage failed.

‘But I must return home to-morrow,’ said she, ‘and I could not go away without once more seeing and thanking him who saved me from ruin.’ She recalled her little boy, and said to him: ‘Look at that gentleman, and remember him well; for he was the best friend your mother ever had.’ With an earnest invitation to visit her happy home, and a fervent ‘God bless you!’ she bade her benefactor farewell.’

Isaac T. Hopper, L. Maria Child, 1853

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:

Isaac Hopper [1771-1852] was a Quaker, philanthropist, abolitionist, and worker for prison reform. His 1853 biography, which has a link above, is full of amusing and affecting incidents and anecdotes of his cleverness in outwitting slavecatchers and corrupt officials.

Other versions of this story add the information that Lord Henry Stuart’s “visit to this country is doubtless well remembered by many, for it made a great sensation at the time. He was a peer of the realm, descended from the royal line, and was, moreover, a strikingly handsome man, of right princely carriage. He was subsequently a member of the British Parliament and is now dead.” 

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.