2017-10-19 / Life in Leelanau

THE MYSTERY SOLDIER

Northport man hopes to identify soldier pictured in Civil War photo
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


THIS PHOTO of a soldier during the Civil War era was found in a Northport home. The man’s identity remains a mystery. THIS PHOTO of a soldier during the Civil War era was found in a Northport home. The man’s identity remains a mystery. Bob Newell felt someone looking at him while working in his kitchen last week.

Newell was removing walls in his Shabwasung Street home when he noticed a small tintype photo. The soldier in the Civil War era photo appeared to be staring at him.

“It was on top of the door frame looking right out to me,” he said.

Newell recovered the primitive photo that was still in a frame and set out to get more information about the soldier whose image was captured using a “wet-plate” process.

The meticulous, multi-step procedure to record the image took more than one “camera operator” and lots of chemicals and equipment. It’s for this reason that most images of the Civil War are not action snapshots: They are portraits and landscapes.

Newell has owned the house at 415 S. Shabwasung since 2007, but moved in full-time about three years ago.

He wants to know more about the man in the photograph and what, if any, connection he might have locally.

So he turned to John Mitchell, author of “Grand Traverse: The Civil War Era,” who said he didn’t recognize the uniformed man.

Not knowing where to turn next, Newell brought the image to the Enterprise business office to ask editorial staff for help identifying the man.

So staff reached out to other locals with an interest in history.

Dick and Sue Hanson of Northport are frequent contributors to the weekly history page in the Enterprise, on behalf of the Northport Area Heritage Association (NAHA).

They were able to provide a lead in terms of previous owners of the home, but couldn’t identify the subject in the photo.

“That address on Shabwasung Street looks like the address of ‘The Homewood,’ which way back in those early days was the home of Hilda (last names of: Wilson, Lemcool, Guthrie). So perhaps this Civil War guy came down through these names,” Dick Hanson said.

The Hansons have sent the photo image to NAHA members in hope they might recognize the man.

Mark Morton, who works as the “cybrarian” at the Leland Township Library, also looked with interest at the photo. For many years he has traveled to Civil War battlefields and participated in competitive shooting events using the same type of arms which had been taken up during the “war between the states.”

He was happy to share the photo with friend Larry Flees, a local Civil War historian, with whom he’s been traveling for more than 20 years while competing in the North-South Skirmish Association.

“I have compared it to all of the greater Grand Traverse Civil War soldiers that I have acquired over the last 30 years while doing research and was unable to make any identification by comparison,” Flees said.

He has been working on a book about the greater Grand Traverse area men who were members of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters, 26th Michigan, and Battery G of the 1st New York Light Artillery; which he hopes will be the definitive story about what happened to these area men during Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign.

While Flees couldn’t identify the man in the photo, he noted details about the soldier which could help discern the mystery man’s identity.

Among them was the fact that the soldier wore a 9-button frock coat.

“Based on the rear-sight configuration on the firearm it appears he is holding an 1861, three-band Springfield musket, although it is hard to be 100 percent certain from the quality of the photo,” he said.

The bayonet is also mounted on the end of the musket.

Flees noted that the mystery solider has the standard issue “cartridge box” with what is most likely an “Eagle Breast Plate” attached to the shoulder strap.

In addition, the soldier also has a “cap pound,” and the “scabbard” for the bayonet on his belt, along with a “U.S.” insignia belt buckle.

“It is also impossible to say for certain whether he is wearing ‘kepi’ or a ‘forage cap,’” Flees said. “Any unit designation, such as regimental designations and/or Corps blades would have been found on the top of the hat, which of course we cannot see.”

All these available clues would lead to a strong possible assumption that he was a member of the infantry, rather than cavalry or artillery.

But the true identity of the man may never be determined.

“With the number of Civil War veterans who moved to the greater Grand Traverse area after the end of the War, it is also impossible to say with any certainty whether or not he was a local at the outbreak of the War; especially when you factor in the house where the photo was found may have been built either just before or after the turn of the century,” Flees said.

According to Newell, a previous owner of the house was born in New York, but was too young to have fought in the war.

“Maybe they had a father or brother who was in the Civil War and brought it with them,” he said.

Newell asked that anyone with information about the photo to call him at 313-204-8312.

An update will be provided in a coming issue of the Enterprise.

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