Identifying Musicians in a Civil War Era Photograph

By Maureen A. Taylor

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civil war musicians

In December 1864, the musicians of Fort Monroe, Virginia posed for a group portrait. It’s easy to find part of the story behind this picture. A quick Google search and you learn that while Virginia was a Confederate state, Fort Monroe remained in Union hands. As of 2011, the fort was decommissioned but parts of it were named a national historic monument.

It’s the men in this image that fascinate. Their uniforms signify their military roles as musicians. They stand with their instruments. Their headgear is a shako style cap festooned with a plume. Front and center stands the drum major who posed with a baton in front of two enormous drums. His sash and the large headgear signify that he leads this brass band.

The picture tells part of the story, but who are the men? A search of Civil War material on might reveal their names.

The Library of Congress cataloging record for this image clearly states that while the picture was taken in 1864 it wasn’t printed until between 1880 and 1889. It’s a print from a glass plate negative.

In the 1860s, the size of the negative reflected the dimensions of the print. This means that the negative was the same size as this picture.

It’s part of group of Lot 4190, a designation for a specific collection of one hundred and sixty three images. It’s unclear from the online record whether this group of pictures was given together or gathered together because they all relate to the Civil War. When you visit archives you’ll often see like material grouped together in a particular collection, known as a record group or lot.

What’s the most amazing image you’ve ever seen in a library collection that relates to your family? Share with us on social media.