Which War is It?

By Maureen A. Taylor

Mike Empting found this photo in a box with other cabinet cards. Only two men in his family served in the military:

Unknown Soldieredit.jpg

  • his great-grandfather, who at age 35 enlisted for the Mexican American War. He was a bugler. The time frame for this war, 1846 to 1848, coincides with the daguerreotype era. The photos of this war are amazing to look at. Here’s a website with several Mexican-American War images.
  • his great-grandfather’s wife’s brother enlisted in the Civil War in an artillery unit for two tours.

The problem with this photo is that Empting isn’t sure which man is depicted. Adding to the confusion are details on the photographer. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, J.J. Fritz aka the Fritz Studio operated in Saint Cloud from 1892 to 1909. Those work dates don’t align with either war.

The style of this cabinet card suggests the 1890s. At some point during that decade, someone likely had an earlier photograph copied. This was a common practice when multiple family members wanted a copy of a photo. The original photo was a carte de visite, a small card photograph popular during the Civil War.

In the 1860s, the standard studio pose often included a pedestal on which the subject could lean.

Since there weren’t standard military uniforms during the Civil War, the details in this man’s attire may help identify him.

Mike’s not sure this man is an Empting. The woman who gave Mike the images is deceased, but at the time of the gift, she didn’t know the name of the soldier.

National Public Radio recently broadcast a program about identifying a Civil War picture. You can listen to it here. There’s a bit of controversy about whether or not the photo in that story was reversed. It’s possible. Reversal lens were available to correct the mirror image inherent in photo technology of the day, but not all photographers used them.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album