War through Imagery: The Civil War in American Memory

By Molly Bompane, U. S. Army Heritage and Education CenterJuly 15, 2011

2nd Rhode Island
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General Grant
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Anne Bell
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Jefferson Davis
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This year begins the Civil War Sesquicentennial. It is a time when many reflect and relive the events of the last war that took place on American soil. In telling the Army’s Story “One Soldier at a Time,” the U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center has acquired thousands of Soldiers’ collections. Among these treasures is the MOLLUS-MASS collection of photographs, manuscripts, books, and artifacts. Especially significant are these photographs of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States from the Massachusetts Commandery, which are considered by some to be the single best Civil War photograph collection in the world.

The images from this Union officer veterans' organization are so vast and comprehensive that they are invaluable to American military history and to the story of the Army. The photographs depict individual soldiers and officers, both in portraits and in the field, as well as supporting organizations and some of the key battlefields both during and after the war. They go well beyond the heavily recycled photographs of Union generals to include new images of those generals plus some of the sole surviving images of lower-ranking officers who played key roles in the war. The images allow a glimpse of what life was like for Soldiers during one the most famous wars in history. The collection has been used in numerous scholarly and popular histories as well as playing a key role in the popular Ken Burns public television series on the Civil War.

USAHEC has long been known as the world’s largest repository of Civil War photographs through collections held in its archival repository - the Military History Institute. The MOLLUS photograph collection came to the Military History Institute in 1973 from the Massachusetts Commandery in Boston. The Loyal Legion, a military fraternal organization, was established in April of 1865 in Philadelphia in the days just after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Membership to the organization peaked at nearly 12,000 Army, Navy, and Marine officers, to include: Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Schofield, Miles, McClellan, Hayes and Custer. MOLLUS continues to this day with direct male descendants of Civil War officers. It is composed of a National Commandery-in-Chief and individual state Commanderies. There are currently nineteen Commanderies and two Provisional Commanderies.

The collection was built primarily by Colonel Arnold A. Rand and General Albert Ordway. Colonel Rand sent out solicitations to veterans throughout the United States requesting photographs of rebellion scenes and portraits of general, regimental, staff and naval officers. General Ordway, working in Washington, had connections to high profile officers and thus access to their collections. Rand and Ordway also purchased negatives taken during the war by and under the supervision of Mathew Brady from the H. T. Anthony Company, to which they were transferred by Brady as payment of debt. In addition they also purchased over 2,000 negatives taken by famed Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner. Rand and Ordway eventually sold the collection in the 1880s to John C. Taylor, who made stereographic prints and lantern slides for purchase. In 1907 the negatives were purchased by Edward B. Eaton, who used the images in several books he published on the Civil War, most notably The Photographic History of the Civil War, which was first published 100 years ago and has been reprinted many times since 1911. The Library of Congress purchased the collection in 1943, which at that point totaled 7,500 glass plate negatives, approximately 2,500 copy glass and film negatives providing roughly 3,750 different views and 2,650 different portraits.

In keeping with our mission to preserve and make available history related to the United States Army, USAHEC is working to enhance its digital collections to reach audiences far and wide. The MOLLUS -Massachusetts photographic collection contains over 40.000 images (23,000 from 117 volumes have already been digitized), as well as images from “membership portrait” volumes. Researchers and enthusiasts alike will eventually find over 5,000 pages of these exquisite photograph volumes available in USAHEC’s digital archive. The collection is accessible for research through the USAHEC’s on-line catalog available at http://www.ahco.army.mil. Please send inquiries to CARL.USAMHI@conus.army.mil.

ABOUT THIS STORY: Many of the sources presented in this article are among 400,000 books, 1.7 million photos and 12.5 million manuscripts available for study through the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). The artifacts shown are among nearly 50,000 items of the Army Heritage Museum (AHM) collections. MHI and AHM are part of the U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center, 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA, 17013-5021. Website: www.carlisle.army.mil/ahec

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