Civil War Photography

I just completed a class on Civil War Photography for the SAIL program at Collin College.

The first class presented the following topics:

  • In 1837 the first successful photographs was created by the daguerreotype process
  • The technology of wet plate photography used the reaction of silver oxides
  • Photographers took over a million ambrotypes (glass) and tintypes (metal)
  • The carte de visite (cdv) process used a glass, wet-plate negative that allowed for unlimited copies to be made on albumen paper
  • Stereographs were 3-D photographs taken with a twin-lens camera
  • Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, and Timothy O’Sullivan were the most famous Civil War photographers

Please see Civil War Photography – Class One (pdf)

In the second class, we examined the range of topics and subjects photographed from soldiers to presidents. We also viewed 3-D photographs.



The following links feature images from the Civil War.

Please see Civil War Photography – Class Two (pdf)

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19th Century Photographs

I have been searching for an elusive picture of Ebenezer Allen for my biography on Republic of Texas and State of Texas attorney general. Alas, so far my search has come up empty.

During my efforts, I discovered numerous sources of historic images. The best site is the Library of Congress Digital Collection.   The Brady-Handy Collection offers images from L. C. Handy and Mathew Brady.  The Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints collection is another worthy source with over 7,000 images.


This is a photograph of members of the West Point class of 1860 at Harrison’s Landing taken by Alexander Gardner in August 1862 during the Peninsular Campaign.


This is an image of the Naval monument at Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD.


General Grant’s staff at City Point, VA in March 1865.

These are just a few of the thousand prints. Lastly, two generals who met untimely deaths: Lt. Gen. Thomas Jackson and Maj. Gen. George Custer.

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Classless Students Interrupt Best-Selling Author

On February 23, 2017, best-selling author Jamie Ford was in Highland Park to speak at the town’s literary festival. Earlier that day, he spoke to an assembly of freshman and sophomore students at High Park High School.

About halfway through the fifty-minute talk, Mr. Ford started a question and answer session. While Ford tried to respond to questions, students interrupt with random cascades of clapping and cheering that drown out the author’s responses. He chronicled the behavior on his website. He said that he a group of students mocked him with “a  thousand students, trolling me,” as teachers and a principal looked on.

Despite the 1,000 to 1 odds, I wasn’t about to be run off the stage by a bunch [of] entitled children who had decided I was just another mark to be bullied — Jamie Ford

Highland Park  ISD issued a statement Saturday night:

Unfortunately, the behavior of some of our students during this year’s keynote presentation was not at the standard that we expect. We value the current and past authors who make this event possible, and we will work with our students to improve as a result of this experience. — Highland Park  ISD

Shame on Highland Park High School for their collective actions. Students must realize that they represent their school and community and their actions can produce, as they did, unwanted attention. The teachers failed to correct unacceptable behavior and the principal reinforced the actions of this “unruly mob” by doing nothing. Lastly, it took the administration nearly two days to respond to the incident. Their response did not include an apology to Mr. Ford.


This incident reminded me of my experience during a talk to students at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law. During my talk on OPEC, I described how a gasoline station attendant in Saudi Arabia washed down the lanes at the pumps with gasoline and not water. I wanted to illustrate that in the United States we had insufficient petroleum supplies, but in Saudi Arabia water was the scarce resource. A student from Saudi’s royal family angrily stood up and accused me of belittling “his backward country.” I was not permitted the courtesy of responding to his comment because, after his utterance, he stood up and left the room.  Like the teachers in the Highland Park ISD situation, the professor did not stop the talk to address students on the behavior.

In many cases, audiences think that the speaker is fair game to be ridiculed, mocked and interrogated. As a speaker/teacher, I value give and take. I welcome tough questions because they reveal that the person has listened to and analyzed my presentation. They force me to consider ideas that I might not have considered.

I hope that other schools and colleges will use the Highland Park incident as an opportunity to teach their students respect for ideas and people.

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Evans Biography Awards

On Valentine’s Day, I received a request to submit Your Affectionate Father, Charles F. Smith to the Mountain West Center for consideration for the Evans Biography Awards. We are extremely pleased to be asked to apply for these awards.

The Evans Biography and Handcart Awards encourage the best in research and writing about the Interior West through the giving of two annual prizes for excellence in biography.

The Evans Biography Award is a $10,000 prize given to the best biography of a person who lived a significant portion of his or her life in the Interior West, or, in the words of the awards’ founders, “Mormon Country” – that region historically influenced by Mormon institutions and social practices. The region is roughly an expanded Great Basin and Rocky Mountain region, extending south into Chihuahua and Sonora, Mexico, and north into southern Alberta, Canada.

The $2,500 Evans Handcart Award is given to a biography addressing similar subjects as the Evans Biography Award, but broadens the criteria to include family histories, and focuses on first-time and emerging authors.

All submitted books are read by a local jury of five scholars and book experts. This group selects three finalists that are then sent on to a national jury of three scholars, who choose the Evans Biography Award winner. The local jury selects the winner of the Handcart Award.

The awards are announced in the spring, and the awards ceremony is held in the fall at Utah State University. The time between the announcement and the ceremony allows us to arrange to bring the winners into USU classrooms for presentations.

Wish me good luck.

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A Question from David

Last week, my grandson David asked me why I didn’t get more questions even though I travel “everywhere.” That’s a good question.

asking_questionsPeople ask questions to learn new things and obtain answers. Some folks want to have their beliefs validated or opposing arguments defeated. So there are often motives behind the question. This means that people are often reluctant to ask questions because they suspect they won’t like the answer. People who ask questions like, “Can I stay out late?” “Is dog food a deductible expense?”  “Can I wear jeans to the wedding?” usually know the answer. Another reason for not asking questions is that people believe they know the response based on the beliefs held by the person they are asking the question. This fellow lives in Texas so he must believe in what the majority of Texans hold dear.

Another reason that I don’t get more questions has to do with exposure. The more people who you know and more who know you and your public presence, the more likely you are sought for advice and answers.

However, as David noted “at least you don’t have to worry about answering them.” I used to have email links on my websites for questions. Some people wanted to get free consulting advice or free access to data that I had painstakingly obtained. I received questions from my Civil War site from students needing help with their homework. Many of these questions could be answered by consulting pages on my website or other Civil War sites. When the question was something beyond the “garden variety,” I tried to help them with an answer. If the question was interesting to me, I might do some research myself and share the results.

Some folks champion the belief that “ignorance is bliss” and refuse to question a statement or check facts. Politicians are  skilled at distorting data to suit their agenda and hoping no one takes the time to check the facts. Other people are so entrenched in their beliefs that they refuse to consider any ideas that challenge these beliefs.

Knowledge is a strange commodity. It is all around us. All we have to do is use our senses and open our mind. Keep asking and learning young Jedi.


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The Devil is in the Details


Allen searching through books

A reader commented on the detail in Teacher of Civil War Generals and observed that some parts of the book contained daily narratives. The detail in this book or any other is driven by the time frame of the story. For example, General Smith’s actions at the Battle of Fort Donelson cover about five days. The importance of this battle in Smith’s life demands a detailed rendering. This is especially true on the afternoon of February 15, when he led the attack on the Confederate defenses.


Allen conducting research at the US Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA

Other details are often included to reflect journal entries and reports. I used this detail in Teacher of Civil War Generals and Your Affectionate Father, Charles F. Smith when describing Smith’s expedition to the Red River of the North. The detail helps bring the story to life and highlights the daily hardships experienced by the men of the Tenth Infantry Regiment.

The last reason I include detail is to provide information for other historians who might be interested in certain parts of the book. This is especially true when using previously unpublished letters and journals. 

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Return to Ebenezer Allen

After a couple of months concentrating on the book on Charles Marvin, I have returned my focus to Ebenezer Allen.  The book continues to evolve as new tidbits of information are discovered. The process takes many different directions with many missteps along the way.

Fortunately, I have Ebenezer’s poem to his wife to keep me on track.  The following verse revealed a part of Ebenezer’s life that I had misplaced.

Fair Lewistown, grateful the memories come
Of the scenes and the seasons while thou wert my home!
Return they, resplendent with gems of the past,
Set in tablets of love that forever will last!
Mementoes of pupils-(my twenty-fourth year
Saw me charged with that Institute on the frontier.)

This passage indicated that Mr. Allen was a teacher in Lewiston in 1828. But which Lewiston? My first thought was Lewiston, Maine. Then another passage from Ebenezer’s poem suggested a new location.

Left the shades of old Dartmouth, whose time-honored worth
Is yet fresh to my thought as its name to my ear.
I had heard the deep roar of Niagara’s flood —
I had stood where the fallen of Bridgewater stood

This verse indicated that the Lewiston that Allen referred to was the historic town in Western New York State on the Niagara River near Niagara Falls (“the deep roar of Niagara’s flood”). I concluded that Ebenezer taught at Lewiston Academy.

I rushed to tell my wife of this discovery. After I told her of Allen’s western New York connection, she suggested another possible link.

This part of New York State became known as the “burned-over district.” In the early 19th century, religious revivals and the formation of new religious movements took place. In addition to religious activity, the region was noted for social radicalism. The Latter Day Saints, Millerism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses trace their roots to this area. It was also a region that became part of the Spiritualism movement. The seeds might have been sowed for Ebenezer to embrace this belief.

The research is far from complete, but I thought you might be interested in how I conduct my research and the impact of various aspects of our life lead us to unexpected places.

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