Saturday, November 16, 2013

Going Back in Time with Garry Adelman and the Atlantic

The Civil War was one of the first major conflicts that was captured in photographs. Photography was pretty new-fangled technology at the time of the Civil War, and it provided, for the first time, a real documentary record of a scene.

Using photographs as documentary evidence was first popularized by William A. Frassanito in his book Gettysburg: A Journey in Time (an excellent book, btw), and used by many historians ever since. The Library of Congress has a large selection of Civil War images, and they have done us all a great favor by digitizing a good portion of them in high detail. This means that anyone can download these images I use on this blog post.

While in some ways Civil War photography was a cumbersome, tiresome affair for both photographer and subject, the large glass plate negatives they produced offer amazing detail.

Here are two images showing the same scene taken a few minutes apart. They depict a cock fighting bout at General Orlando Wilcox's Petersburg headquarters in 1864.


If you zoom in on these pictures using the LOC's largest format file (TIFF), available here and here, you can see an item present in both images, the newest copy of the Atlantic Monthly (July 1864). Garry Adelman, a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide and educator (and all-around nice guy), explores the item in The Atlantic of today online here. I've always found it amazing what you can find in these Civil War photographs.

What else do you find interesting in these (or any other) photos?

H/T to Garry Adelman's Facebook page

Sunday, November 10, 2013

An Irishman in the 61st Ohio - A Veterans Day Tribute

Recently, I restarted a research project I had started during my time at Gettysburg concerning the Union and Confederate Dead of that battle. I've been going through the Union pension files that can be found online at NARA. Usually, they are pretty standard things, but every once and awhile you can find some great documents, including letters the soldiers wrote home to their families (one such set of letters, those of Nelson W. Jones, have been periodically featured on this blog).

Thomas Gilleran was born in County Roscommon, Ireland around 1819. When he was approximately 21 years old, he married Honora on May 23, 1840. Eventually, the couple made their way to the States like many other Irish did during the Potato Famine and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. By 1860, Thomas worked as a day laborer in the city.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Thomas volunteered for the Union Army and was mustered in the 61st Ohio Infantry on September 18th, 1861, joining Company F. Thomas participated in many of the well-known battles of the Eastern Theater with the 61st, starting with the 1862 Shenandoah Campaign through 2nd Manassas and Chancellorsville. Moving north in Summer 1863, the 61st Ohio was part of Gen. Alexander Schimmelfennig's brigade in the Union Eleventh Corps.

On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 61st Ohio battled Confederates north of the Pennsylvanian town before being driven back through the streets to Cemetery Hill.
The 61st Ohio's Monument at Gettysburg (Stone Sentinels)
The next day, the 61st Ohio watched and waited on Cemetery Hill. As the day came to a close, soldiers cooked their dinners, and waited for the next fury of action. One of the regular cooks had fallen ill, so Thomas Gilleran had be detailed to help the cooks deliver coffee to the weary troops. On his way back to the mess, Gilleran was shot by the enemy fire and was mortally wounded. Filleran would linger three more days at the Eleventh Corps hospital at George Spangler's farm before dying on July 5th, 1863. His first resting place was the Spangler Farm before he was disinterred and buried in the new National Cemetery which is nearing its 150th anniversary in a few weeks. 

The Marker for Thomas Gilleran, located in Gettysburg National Cemetery, Ohio Plot C-9
When family and friends made inquiries regarding Gilleran's death, his captain, William H. McRoarty wrote the following letter:

                                August 17 of 63
                                Camp at Warrenton Junction

                W H Scott
                                Sir in answer to your
letter of the 15th inst in relation to the
death of Thos Gilleran the circumstances
are these he was killed on the 2nd of
July in the evening being detailed to help
the cooks bring coffee to the men he was
killed whilst carrying the kettles back to where
they were cooking after the men had finished
their supper the reason of his helping the cook at
the time was on account of one of them being sick

                                                I Remain yours
                                                W H Mcroarty
                                                Capt Co F 61 Regt OVI

Honora Gilleran soon applied for a widow's pension due to her husband's death, which is where the majority of the information for Thomas Gilleran and the letter above was found. Mrs. Gilleran eventually was approved to recieve a $8 a month pension for her husband's "last measure of devotion" on the Gettysburg Battlefield.

Thanks to Thomas Gilleran, who gave his life in the service of his country on July 2, 1863, and all the other soldiers, known and unknown, who died fight for the cause of freedom. On this Veteran's Day, thank you for your service.
Widows' Pension File for Thomas Gilleran (WC16221), National Archives
1860 Census, National Archives
John Busey, These Honored Dead: Union Casualties at Gettysburg, Longstreet House, 1989.