Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

More Photo Mysteries Uncovered

Posted in Media, Memory by Andy Hall on June 12, 2011

The new issue of Civil War Times features a neat bit of detective work by Rick Eiserman, who discovered the likely photographer behind the famous images of the Texas Brigade in its winter quarters near Dumfries, Virginia, in the winter of 1861-62. Eiserman came upon the critical reference while doing more generalized research on the Texas Brigade, in the papers of two Galveston soldiers, William and Charles Schadt:

The Schadts wrote several letters from their Dumfries encampment at Camp Wigfall during 1861-62. I was  halfway through an April 2, 1862, letter from William when the words seemed to jump off the page: “When we were in winter quarters Tom Blessing in our company had some dauguean [sic] fixings send [sic] to him and he went to work taking pictures in [sic] we have had a picture taken of the mess you can see it by calling on Mr. Waters or F. Hitchcock either of them will let you have one to take a copy of if you want it.”

My heart started racing as I read and reread that letter. After so many hours of searching specifically for the identity of the photographer, I’d found what I wanted when I wasn’t really anticipating it. The Dumfries photographer had actually been a soldier in the Texas Brigade. But who was this man who had obtained “dauguean fixings,” and how did he know what to do with them?

It turns out that Solomon Thomas “Tom” Blessing, who did indeed serve with William Schadt in Company L, was one of three brothers who worked as professional photographers before and after the war. Between the three of them, they owned or operated studios in New Orleans, Houston and Galveston. Clearly he had the knowledge and skills to take the photographs.

This is good stuff, made better for me by the local connection of the photographer, and the archival source being the incomparable Galveston and Texas History Center at Rosenberg Library here. The Blessings were prolific photographers in the years after the war.

Props as well to Craig Swain, who has his own photographic detective work highlighted in the same issue, along with a feature article on the Union’s 4.5-inch rifle, appropriately dubbed the “Yankee Super Gun.”


Images: At top, a photo believed to have been taken by Pvt. Tom Blessing of Galveston, Texas, of fellow members of Co. L of the 1st Texas Infantry. Left to right, as identified by Rick Eiserman: Pvt. Charles McCarty, Pvt. Joseph Nagle, Sgt. James Southwick, and Pvt. James Nagle. Photo via Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.