Photographs and Autographs of Distinguished Civil War Union Generals, 1864
The title page of this fabulous historic album reads as follows: “Photographs and Autographs of Distinguished Union Generals, contributed to The Fair for The Sanitary Commission, by Mrs. George G. Meade, Philadelphia: June, 1864.” From the estate of a prominent American family, this original album stands alone as the finest and most complete collection of Union Civil War General carte de visites and signatures. Assembled during the Civil War by Margaretta Sergeant Meade, this item represents a moment in time during one of the greatest conflicts the United States has ever faced.
The legacy of General Meade in many ways fell to the wayside as it was overwhelmed by the success of Ulysses S. Grant. (the second CdV included in the album, signed) But up until the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, Meade was a top contender to lead the whole of the Union Forces. Raised in Philadelphia, he later excelled in his Military career. During the Gettysburg Campaign, he was appointed to command the Army of the Potomac. However, Meade was criticized heavily for not pursuing General Lee and his forces more aggressively during their retreat.
The following year, his wife Margaretta facilitated the compilation of the album in order to raise funds for The Sanitary Commission (USSC) a private relief agency created by federal legislation on June 18, 1861, to support sick and wounded soldiers of the United States Army (Federal / Northern / Union Army). With an overwhelming need for medical aid and the financial backing to see it through, highly orchestrated events and fundraisers occurred to accumulate as much money as possible in support of these efforts. The greatest of these was The Fair for The Sanitary Commission held in Logan Square Philadelphia during June of 1864.
An early inspiration to The Centennial Exhibition in Fairmount Park, the event was grandiose and fantastical to say the least. Companies and individuals vied for attention with more and more extraordinary donations, causing there to be a magnificent gallery effect the likes of which those in attendance had never before experienced. From the PhiladelphiaEncyclopedia.org : “In final form the fair had close to a hundred departments and booths offering a broad range of appeal: Arms and Trophies, Children’s Clothing, Horse Shoe Machine, Fancy Articles (homemade), Turkish Divan for Smokers, Fine Arts, Brewers, Wax Fruit, Trimmings and Lingerie, Button-Riveter, Horticulture, Art Gallery, Umbrellas and Canes, Curiosities and Relics, and Steam Glass Blower. The Great Central Fair represented a successful amalgamation of the traditional ladies’ ‘fancy’ and ‘floral fairs’ and the more masculine industrial exhibitions that had become popular in the nineteenth century.”
Therefore, we know that this album was created as a relic of the Union Army in order to raise funds for the care and preservation of the soldiers themselves. For lack of a better way of describing it, this was the current members of the Military Hall of Fame coming together to form an item that represents their joint efforts toward victory. Some of the Generals were career men like Winfield Scott, known as ‘Old Fuss and Feathers’ (the first CdV in the album, signature added below). Some, like John F Reynolds, had recently perished on the battlefield. (the twenty-second CdV in the album, signature added below) Others like General Sherman had a long history in the Military but were yet to fully rise to their later successes and pivotal moments. (the forty-first CdV in the album, signature added below)
With this in mind, the album was available at The Fair for The Sanitary Commission. The event was so spectacular and unprecedented that President Abraham Lincoln traveled to Philadelphia to attend along with his wife Mary and their son, Todd. This further cemented the legendary status of the event for attendees and all those involved. “Ultimately, the Great Central Fair raised over a million dollars for the USSC through admissions, concessions, and the sales of goods and mementos." For an unknown sum, a member of this prominent American family obtained the album in support of The Sanitary Commission. Members of the family were in the Military themselves, ranging in rank and position.
An item of this nature would have been a lavish and curious item for public display. Photography was a relatively new technology and was only just becoming widely available for the first time. Carte de visites were a part of many households, and families would seek to obtain the portraits of the latest and greatest of their Military heroes during the years of ongoing warfare. To have them signed during this time would have meant an indirect connection to these men at the very least, and Margaretta Sergeant Meade certainly had uncommon access to the goings-on of Union Generals. Nearly all of the photographs are signed directly, with eleven having signatures clipped and applied from documents or letters. There are also three unsigned and unidentified portraits. The photographs were taken by a variety of different studios and photographers, but at least one has been confirmed to be from the most prominent of all Civil War photographers, Mathew Brady. Brady studied under Samuel F. B. Morse (inventor of Morse Code and pioneer of photography) and his images of the Civil War unquestionably changed the public perception of the battles and gave a stark insight into the brutalities of Military conflict. His early photojournalism set in motion the legacy of documenting the front lines of war.
To further understand the deep sentiment and support of The Sanitary Commission, one need only look to Reuel Colt Gridley and his notorious flour sack. As far-fetched as it may seem, a news report made by a young Mark Twain stated that a friendly competition resulted in a single fifty-pound flour sack being auctioned, sold, reauctioned and resold so many times that it eventually raised over $250,000 for the cause. The support was similar to the public response for War Bonds and some of the items available ranged from the original manuscript of President Lincoln’s Proclamation in 1862 to a solid silver vase from Bailey & Co Philadelphia which was valued at $5,000 at the time. But of all items made available for this festival of “patriotic capitalism”, the album of portraits and signatures showed a commitment to the outcome of the War and the support of the Union Army as a whole. Undoubtedly, this grouping is the most outstanding collection, possible or imaginable, in the entire category of Civil War portraits.
This item and other fine goods involving the Founding Fathers of America, Rare Books and Manuscripts, as well as Civil War and Early U.S. Military history will be featured at auction TBA.
The full CdV index is as follows:
#1. Winfield Scott - General in US Army from 1814 - 1861. Signature clipped and applied