On The Civil War Memorabilia Trail

By Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

I parked in front of the late Victorian A-frame home in response to a phone call I received from the friend of a friend who said she was interested in disposing of her uncle’s possessions, which included some Civil War items. While every house call (as we’ve come to call them) brings its own unique sense of anticipation, those with items described as “Civil War” instill a strange mixture of anticipation, excitement, worry, doubt and even anxiety. From the time you make the appointment to the appointment itself, your mind works overtime. “What could there be? Is it really Civil War related? Will we be able to come to an agreement or will I walk out empty handed?” After a lifetime in the business, few things cause me to shiver – old photographs, paintings, and Civil War-related items are some of those things.

These two hat insignia were included in Josiah Hammond’s box of medals. There was no accompanying information to indicate how the insignia were obtained or why Josiah had them. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

Frequently the items encountered during these calls are antiques and collectibles that are readily available in the marketplace. There are other times, however, when you are surprised in ways you hadn’t expected. I have been called to homes to buy “Civil War” items only to find World War I real-photo postcards, helmets, canteens and other equipment – not that these are bad finds, but they are not Civil War.

Conversely, I have walked into a home to look at grandma’s rocking chair and walked out with a Colt Special Model 1861 rifle-musket dated 1862 and a World War II Nazi dagger from a soldier who served with Patton, both items with complete provenance. That is precisely why, with every house call, the excitement reaches a crescendo as you approach the home and ring the bell, thinking, ‘What will I find behind this door?’

The woman invited me to sit at her dining room table onto which she placed a few boxes. Was I a contestant on a game show? No, but all of the boxes could be mine if “The Price Was Right.” She removed photographs from the first box, and my heart sank. I immediately recognized as being of World War II era, not Civil War. They were photographs of her uncle, Richard Hammond.

Following the glossy paper photographs were Hammond’s WWII medals, and finally about 12 long, clear cylinders loaded with Indian head pennies. The woman explained that the pennies were tips her uncle received on his paper route during the early 20th century, which he never spent. There was a WWII photo album, and documents as well. Not a bad find but not Civil War.

Josiah Hammond’s Grand Army of the Republic Medal with insignia for the infantry, cavalry and navy, with images of 24 corps badges on verso. The partial letterhead from the District of Boton dates to 1859 and confirms that Josiah P. Hammond is an American seaman. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

The next thing she pulled from the box was a 19th-century tobacco tin whose rattle informed me there was something inside other than tobacco. I pried it open to find a few Civil War-related medals, and immediately my adrenaline was on the rise. There was hope after all.

Things only got better from there. Letters appeared from a sailor named M. C. Philbrick from the U.S.S. Monongahela. His private papers and sketch of the U.S.S. Albatross off Mobile, Alabama, September 25, 1863, are in a collection at the U. S. Naval Historical Center.

The Massachusetts Minuteman Medal awarded to troops who answered Lincoln’s “first call” for volunteers. The rim of each medal is personally inscribed with the service member’s name, rank, and unit. This medal is inscribed, “Josiah P. Hammond, PRVT. H. 3rd. REG.”

Then out came a couple of hat insignia and uniform buttons along with a “Massachusetts Minute Men 1861” medal, inscribed on the edge, Josiah P. Hammond, PRVT. H. 3rd. Reg., and other Civil War-related medals. Josiah’s 10-page, official military record came next, accompanied by a Seaman’s Passport from the “Collector of Boston, Arthur W. Austin” verifying Josiah P. Hammond’s status as a sailor, dated March 31, 1858; as well as a sailor’s certificate from 1859 and a four-page letter from Josiah’s uncle, J. Parker, from the Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C., dated June 24, 1864. There was an ambrotype of Josiah P. Hammond and another of his father, Doctor Josiah S. Hammond, an 1834 graduate of Williams College.

The Massachusetts Minuteman Medal was awarded to troops who answered Lincoln’s “first call” for volunteers. The initial enlistment was for a period of three months in the belief that the war would be over before three months passed. The rim of each medal is personally inscribed with the service member’s name, rank, and unit.

It is estimated that about 3,800 such medals were struck by the U.S. Mint in 1902, by which time many of the recipients had either died or otherwise were unable to collect their medals. The medal alone brings $400 to $500, but it might be worth twice that amount if it is part of a collection of items belonging to the same recipient.

Ambrotype of Josiah P. Hammond that had been stored in a 19th-century tobacco tin. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

Josiah P. Hammond, born November 24, 1839, answered Lincoln’s call for volunteers on April 16, 1861 – four days after the outbreak of the Civil War. He enlisted in Plympton, Massachusetts, for a period of three months as one of the “Minutemen of ’61.” Josiah was in the Massachusetts 3rd Regiment, Company H, Infantry. He re-enlisted in October 1861 in Boston for a period of three years and served as a seaman aboard the USS North Carolina, USS Bienville, USS Monongahela, and USS Pensacola. He was later promoted to Quartermaster for “meritorious service” and also took part in many historic battles from the Carolinas to Florida, into the Gulf and finally at Port Hudson, Louisiana, where he took part in the longest siege in American history.

The Hammond family has an interesting history. Josiah Hammond’s great, great grandfather, William Hammond, married Elizabeth Penn, the sister of William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia. William died in London, and Elizabeth Penn Hammond immigrated to America with her four children in 1634.

Included with the papers was a two-page letter on parchment, which is not related to the Civil War but very interesting nonetheless. It is a 1743 note written by a member of the Hammond family to “The North Precinct in the Town of Plymouth (Mass.) General Court” concerning the building of a meetinghouse. Also include in the historical trove were other Civil War-related documents, pension papers, 18th- and 19th-century land deeds, and last wills and testaments.

The most interesting item, however, was an 1863 blueprint of the Confederate fort at Port Hudson, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River. The blueprint originated with Charles H. Taylor, who was injured at the age of 16 during the battle of Port Hudson. As a photograph collector, I am familiar with cyanotypes (a type of blue-tinted photograph) and until now had never made the connection between the cyanotype process and blueprints. An Englishman named John Herschel, the son of astronomer William Herschel, invented the cyanotype and thus the blueprint process in 1842 in an attempt to copy his notes. Paper coated in iron salts was used to make a contact print (direct print by placing the original or a negative onto sensitized paper and exposing it to light). This resulted in a white image on a blue background.

Port Hudson was the Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River and a major obstacle to Union forces. The fort was vital in the flow of supplies from Texas and Europe to the Confederate states. If Union forces could capture Port Hudson, they would be in control of navigation on the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico throughout the Deep South. The Confederates repelled a number of Union assaults by Farragut’s forces during 1862 and 1863 until the 48-day siege from May 22 to July 8, 1863. At its peak, Port Hudson was 16,000 strong; however, during the 48-day siege it housed only around 3,500 men. This battle was the longest siege in American history and the first place where African-Americans fought under African-American leadership.

Portions of the Port Hudson blueprint showing the positions of the 1st Alabama, General Gardner’s Headquarters, a depot, Nims Battery, Lady Davis, 15th Arkansas Battery, rifle pits, the spot where Lieutenant Glover was killed, and the spot where General Paine was wounded. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

The blueprint of Port Hudson is unique in that it identifies the position of almost everything in the fort – information that has otherwise been lost to time. Places and positions identified by the blueprint are: rifle pits, depots, mortars, 18-gun battery, Nim’s Batteries (Capt. Ormand F. Nims 2nd Massachusetts), Confederate General Gardner’s Headquarters, the positions of “Native Infantry,” the Indiana battery, Arkansas divisions 9th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 19th, and 23rd, as well as the 53rd Massachusetts and 1st and 43rd Alabama. Also shown is Clinton Road, Baton Rouge Road, roads leading to landings, the road to Confederate General Bank’s headquarters, Lamely Creek, Chimpson Creek, and a variety of SAP. SAPs are zig-zag trenches.

Along the Mississippi River, it indicates a “Mortar Fleet,” the place where the Gunboat Mississippi was destroyed and the positions of the USS Hartford and USS Alabama. There are also X’s indicating spots where Union Lt. Glover of the 53rd Mass. Infantry was killed and Union General Paine wounded.

One of the more interesting things shown on the map is a location identified as Lady Davis. Lady Davis was a rather large gun – a 10-inch columbiad – that fired 128-pound shells for a distance of two miles. This gun was a curse to Union camps and so named by the Confederates for the “First Lady of the Confederacy” Varina Anne Banks Howell Davis, the second wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The collection, never seen by more than a few people, will be on loan for five years to the museum at the Port Hudson State Historic site.

It’s pleasurable to collect and own such treasures, but sharing a collection with the public is not only beneficial to others but may serve to inspire young people who are interested in history, preservation and collecting. It is especially exciting to know that this blueprint could help reconstruct a map or model of Port Hudson. It is also gratifying to know that letters to and from sailors, as well as a photograph of a sailor who took part in the siege of Port Hudson, will be displayed at the Port Hudson State Historic Site. It is kind of like sending them home.

Our thanks to Antique Trader for sharing Dr. Anthony J. Cavo’s article with us. Visit Antique Trader online at www.antiquetrader.com.