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Early Maine Photography


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As the Civil War began in 1861, the ambrotype was joined by the tintype as a form of photography "popular with soldiers and camp photographers alike," according to Robert Wilson’s biography of Matthew Brady. Wilson cites the widespread practice of soldiers being photographed by quoting Humphrey’s Journal for February, 1862:

"The photographer accompanies the army wherever it goes, and a very large number of soldiers get their pictures taken and send them to their friends. Friends at home, in return, send their portraits to the soldiers…Most of these are taken on the (tintype) plate for the reason that it is light, durable, and easily sent in a letter."

John Mahoney of Augusta, ca. 1863
John Mahoney of Augusta, ca. 1863Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Maine sent more than 70,000 men to fight for the Union between 1861 and 1865, and many of them sat for the camera before they left or were photographed in camp studios. Large numbers of pictures of the common Maine soldier have survived, and the Maine Historical Society Collection has several representative examples.

There were two widely used poses, sitting and standing. Of the former, an unidentified solider posed for this tintype in a field studio, with a painted backdrop ornamented with tents and an American flag. Other seated images include tintypes of Private John Mahoney of Augusta, who served for four years in the 7th Maine and the 1st Veteran Infantry, Corporal George B. Follett of New Sharon (9th Maine), and Private George Allen Soule of North Yarmouth (1st Maine,10th Maine, DC Cavalry, 1st Maine Cavalry).

Some Mainers such as Randall Tolman Gammon of Machias joined out-of-state regiments. Private Gammon served in the 39th Massachusetts before transferring to the 12th Massachusetts on June 25, 1864. In August of that year, he was captured in Virginia and died in November in the Confederate prison camp in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Sgt. Nelson W. Jones, 3rd Maine Infantry, ca. 1862
Sgt. Nelson W. Jones, 3rd Maine Infantry, ca. 1862Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Examples of standing soldiers include an ambrotype of Captain Harrison G. Smith of Columbia Falls (1st Maine Heavy Artillery), described as a "farmer and lumberman, sturdy, robust, and practical, a most useful officer." In his tintype, Sergeant Nelson W. Jones (at right) strikes a military pose and looks determinedly into the camera of a photographer whose painted backdrop depicts an army camp scene. Sergeant Jones grew up on a farm in Palermo and enlisted in 1861 at the age of eighteen as a private in the Third Maine. This young soldier from Central Maine fought in such notable battles as First Bull Run, Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville before being killed at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. He is buried with 103 other Maine soldiers in the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Seven of his letters to his mother survive in her pension file in the National Archives. Less military in appearance is Private Loring Marriner of Gardiner, who served with Second Maine Cavalry. Standing before a plain backdrop with his left hand on a cane-seated chair, he stares earnestly at the photographer, seemingly unconcerned by his half buttoned jacket and ill-fitting pants.