Having begun my career as an historian in the pre-internet era, it never ceases to amaze me how much information is now available through my trusty lap top computer. As more and more collections are put online, material that I might never have found is readily available – it truly is an amazing time we live in.
A good case in point are some photographs taken in Mississippi in 1865 that I found posted on the flickr account of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. The museum is located in Rochester, New York, and as I am just discovering, they have a large collection of Civil War photographs among their holdings. I only found four images taken in Mississippi that they have posted online, but they are photos that I have never seen before.
Until I found the Eastman photograph collection, I thought that there were no known images taken in Iuka Mississippi, during the Civil War. The only depiction of the city I was aware of was the illustration above from the October 4, 1862, edition of Harper’s Weekly. So imagine my surprise when I found this image during a routine Google search for a Power Point presentation I am working on:
The photograph is identified as “View of Iuka Miss., from near the Brinkley House.” I did a little research, and found that the Brinkley House is still standing in Iuka – today it is known by the name “Dunrobin.” Built in the late 1850s by lawyer R.C. Brinkley and his wife Elizabeth, the home was located on the Eastern outskirts of Iuka. If the photographer set up his camera “near the Brinkley House,” he was probably looking in a westward direction toward the town. The Battle of Iuka, fought on September 19, 1862, took place to the southwest.
The next three photographs from the George Eastman Museum Collection were all taken in Vicksburg. The first is labeled, “Vicksburg from Fort Castle, Interior of the Fort, in the foreground, ‘Whistling Dick,’ gun, dismounted.” NOTE – the cannon is NOT ‘Whistling Dick,” a Confederate rifled 18-pounder that was known for the distinctive noise its shells made when fired. That gun was probably dumped in the Mississippi River at the end of the siege and has never been found.
‘Fort Castle,’ better known as the ‘Castle Battery,’ was one of the Union fortifications built after the siege of Vicksburg to defend the city. It was named for the home that the Federals destroyed to build their fort. The Castle was built by banker Thomas E. Robins in the early 1840s from hexagonal bricks imported from England. He constructed the home to resemble a European Castle, complete with a moat. The grounds covered 17 acres and were bordered by Osage orange trees. At the time of the Civil War the home was owned by Armistead Burwell, a lawyer from Virginia who was an outspoken Unionist.
The next photo is labeled, ‘Shirley House, Rear of Vicksburg, Headquarters of Generals Logan & Leggett, Rendezvous of Generals Grant, Sherman, McPherson, McClernand, Osterhaus, & Others for consultation during the Siege of Vicksburg’
Known to the Union soldiers during the siege as the ‘White House,’ the Shirley House is the only surviving wartime structure in the Vicksburg National Military Park. Owned by James and Adeline Shirley, before the couple bought the home it was described in the Vicksburg Weekly Whig as “a most desirable residence in a healthy location.” During the siege the home was in anything but a healthy location; the house was located directly in front of the Confederate fortifications and would have been burned by the Rebels if not for the fact Mrs. Shirley refused to leave the residence. The stubborn lady remained in the house with her young son until Union soldiers persuaded her to leave three days after the siege started.
Alice Shirley, daughter of James and Adeline, wrote: “Those three days must have been a time of great distress to my mother, and I think she never entirely recovered from the strain caused by the war. She has told me that she and the two house servants sat most of the time in the chimney corner, where the bullets might not strike them.”
The final photograph is labeled, “Site of the Proposed National Cemetery, Vicksburg, Mississippi.”
In 1866 the Vicksburg National Cemetery was established under the authority of an act of Congress that was passed on July 17, 1862. The cemetery contains 116 acres, 40 acres of which has burials. There are approximately 17,000 soldiers and sailors buried in the cemetery, making it the largest Civil War burial ground in the nation.
These are just a few photographs from one collection – I have to wonder how many great Civil War photographs are sitting in collections all over the nation, just waiting to be found.