The identity of a servant to a Union officer comes to light

Guest post by Ronald S. Coddington

There is perhaps no bigger thrill than being contacted by a reader with new information about one of the men profiled in my series of Faces books. I recently experienced the excitement after the unnamed individual in the frontispiece photograph of my latest volume, African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album, was identified by an unexpected source.

The identification came from a contributor to the book, photo collector and dealer Thomas Harris of New York City. I first met Harris years ago at the D.C. Antique Photo & Postcard Show, which is held annually in Arlington, Virginia. We struck up a conversation at one of the first events that I attended, and nowadays no visit to the show is complete until I have stopped by his table to chat for a few minutes. Harris has a fine eye for historic photography. I have always admired and appreciated the images he has offered for sale, and have made several purchases from his table over the years.

In 2009, when I started the search for African American photographs for the book, Harris was one of the first dealers that I contacted. He told me that he had a few images that might fit my criteria, and generously shared two portraits that appear in the book: Nicholas Biddle (pp. 11-15), who served a Pennsylvania infantry captain and suffered a wound when he was struck by a chunk of brick thrown by a rioter on the streets of Baltimore on April 18, 1861, and navy seaman Alfred Bailey (pp. 253-256), who served on the twin-turret ironclad USS Monadnock.

Meanwhile, I continued my search for images. One of the dealers I met along the way, Sam Small, of The Horse Soldier Fine Military Antiques in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is the great-great grandson of William Henry Small, a corporal in the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Infantry. Small provided two wonderful images for the book: John Hines (pp. 72-75), an under cook in the Fifteenth who suffered an injury at the Battle of Chickamauga, and an unidentified man wearing a uniform coat and a civilian hat.

I decided to feature the latter portrait as the frontispiece. The purpose of this photo is to show an image at actual size. The other two books in the series also have frontispiece photos. In each case I had selected an unidentified individual, and so followed suit in the African American volume.

When African American Faces became available in a couple months ago, Harris received a complimentary copy for his contribution. On October 24, I received an email from him thanking me for the book, which I had inscribed and signed. He added, “Upon opening the book I recognized the strong portrait on the frontispiece.” Harris, as it turns out, has an original print of the same image. He included scans of the print’s front and back. The scan of the back includes the identification: “Our boy ‘Tom’ (Henderson) the faithful Servant of C.B.L. Chattanooga Tenn May 1/64.”

lamborn-henderson

Lt. Col. Charles B. Lamborn and Tom Henderson
Credit: Scan by Google Books from The Genealogy of the Lamborn Family; Collection of Sam Small

“C.B.L.” is Charles Burleigh Lamborn (1837-1902) of Chester County, Pennsylvania. An 1859 graduate of the University of Michigan and a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity brother, he began his military service in June 1861 as an infantry lieutenant. Before the end of the year he joined the staff of Gen. John F. Reynolds, one of the most respected officers in the Army of the Potomac. In February 1863, Lamborn left Reynolds to accept a commission as lieutenant colonel of the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry. Five months later, Gen. Reynolds was killed during the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Lamborn and the Fifteenth spent the rest of the war in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. He went on to a distinguished career in the railroad industry.

Details of the life and times of Tom Henderson are scant. Preliminary research has yielded no information beyond the few words inscribed on the back of his portrait photograph. In coming months, I plan to dedicate time to learning more about Henderson. My working theory is that Henderson might have been a slave on a Tennessee farm in 1863, at which time Lamborn and the Fifteenth were active in state. It is conceivable that he fled the farm about this time and became a servant to Lamborn.

In the meantime, I’ve sent a revised version of the frontispiece caption with the information provided by Harris to the Johns Hopkins University Press. The new caption will be added in a future printing.

I am indebted to Harris and other collectors and dealers of Civil War photography. Their passion and depth of knowledge about the subject, and their experience in handling these precious relics, is invaluable to scholars and other researchers. The example of Tom Henderson speaks volumes to their efforts: The face of this forgotten young man who went to war with a Union officer has been reunited with his name.

Ronald S. Coddington has written three books based on his pioneering work uncovering the lives of the people featured in Civil War era cartes de visite, ambrotypes, and tintypes,coddington_african_american_faces Faces of the Civil War, Faces of the Confederacy, and, most recently, African American Faces of the Civil War. He is assistant managing editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education, a contributing writer to the New York Times Disunion seriesand a columnist for Civil War News.

Comments Off on The identity of a servant to a Union officer comes to light

Filed under African American Studies, American History, American Studies, Civil War, For Everyone, Photography

Comments are closed.