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Evaluation turns up unexpected treasures

You never know what you'll find when people open the doors to their homes for an antiques appraisal. In this feature article, Antique Trader contributor Dr. Anthony J. Cavo shares the story of unexpected finds, including an 1863 blueprint of a Civil War fort, during an assessment.

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. She was interested in disposing of her uncle’s possessions, which included some Civil War items. 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. Photographs, paintings, and Civil War related items are some of those things.

Thrill of Assessment and Evaluation

Hat insignia

Two hat insignia included in Josiah’s box of medals. There is no indication how these were obtained or why Josiah had them – perhaps one of our readers might identify these. (All photos courtesy Dr. Anthony J. Cavo)

Frequently the items encountered during these calls are antiques and collectibles that are readily available. There are other times, however, when you are surprised in ways that make you vibrate on a visceral level. 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. The trip also produced 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; “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. Suddenly I was a contestant on a game show but in this case, all the boxes could be mine if The Price Is Right (did you catch that?). She withdrew photographs from the first box, which I immediately recognized as World War II era and my heart sank; they were photographs of her uncle, Richard Hammond.

WWII Versus Civil War Artifacts

World War II, it is World War II stuff, not Civil War. Not CDVs, or ambrotypes, but glossy, paper photographs of a WWII soldier. Then there are WWII medals, and finally about 12 long, clear cylinders loaded with Indian head pennies. The woman explained the pennies were tips her uncle received on his paper route during the early twentieth century, which he never spent. There was a WWII photo album and documents as well, not a bad find but not Civil War.

My adrenaline levels were in the basement when the next thing she pulled from the box was a 19th century tobacco tin. The 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 in the attic pounding against the roof. 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 whose 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.
Then I withdrew a couple of hat insignia and uniform buttons along with a “Massachusetts Minute Men 1861” medal inscribed on the edge.

Items Represent Civil War Soldier's Life

“Josiah P. Hammond, PRVT. H. 3rd. Reg,” and other Civil War-related medals. Josiah’s 10-page,

Port Hudson Civil War fort blueprint

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.

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. Plus, there is 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 would pass. The rim of each medal is personally inscribed with the service member’s name, rank, and unit.

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

Beyond Service to Country

Josiah P. Hammond, born November 24, 1839, answered Lincoln’s call for volunteers on April 16, 1861. This was 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. Plus, 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.” Josiah took part in many historic battles from the Carolinas to Florida into the Gulf and finally on the Mississippi River 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 note to “The North Precinct in the Town of Plymouth General Court” dated November 11, 1743 in Plymouth, Massachusetts about building a meetinghouse; a member of the Hammond family wrote it. There were other Civil War related documents, pension papers, 18th and 19th century land deeds, and Last Will & Testaments.

Legacy of a Civil War Fort

Ambrotype Josiah P. Hammond

Ambrotype of Josiah P. Hammond, pulled from a 19th century tobacco tin.

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). Until now, I had never made the connection between the cyanotype process and blueprints. I took the opportunity to learn that 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 during 1862 and 1863 by Farragut’s forces 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 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.

Civil War Fort Blueprint Reveals Character

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 (Captain Ormand F. Nims 2cd 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 Xs indicating spots where Union Lt. Glover 53rd Mass. Infantry was killed and Union General Paine wounded.

'First Lady of the Confederacy'

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. Prior to that display and the only place these items can currently be appreciated is here in the Antique Trader.

Collecting and owning are fine, but sharing your 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 exciting to realize this blueprint could help reconstruct a map or model of the Civil War era Port Hudson.

Also rewarding is 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.

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