Civil War case exhibit, Bickham’s cartes de visite album

If you are interested in the Civil War and have a few minutes, please stop by the Local History Room at the Dayton Metro Library (in the basement at Main). We currently have a case exhibit (well, three cases, actually) showcasing Civil War materials from the Dayton Collection. The exhibit will be up through the end of 2011.

This is my favorite portion of the exhibit:

Civil War Exhibit, Local History Room

Civil War Exhibit, Local History Room

The young man in uniform on the upper right is Howard Forrer; the shoulder boards were his. You’ll be hearing a lot more about him in the future. (I haven’t forgotten that I promised to tell you some Civil War stories; it’s just that they’re still “stewing” and haven’t fully formed yet.)

The copy of the Dayton Daily Journal (May 6, 1863) is the first issue published by W. D. Bickham after taking over as editor of the paper, following the burning of the Journal office by a mob in response to the arrest of Copperhead leader (and Daytonian) Clement Vallandingham. (There is actually a picture of him in the case as well; I’ll share a little more about him in another post, in a day or two.)

Last but certainly not least, you’ll notice the large album at the bottom of the photo. This album belonged to W. D. Bickham and contains cartes de visite he collected during the Civil War era, many depicting famous politicians and generals. For instance, the page currently open shows off a photo of none other than President Abraham Lincoln, plus Generals Winfield Scott, Philip Sheridan, and George Thomas (all 3 on the opposite page).

The Bickham cartes de visite album is from the Bickham Collection (MS-017), which I processed. This was my first experience with this type of archival item. Obviously, I had seen cartes de visite before. I recognized them as a small, mid-19th-century type of albumen photograph. But as yet, I had only worked with family photo collections wherein all the cartes de visite were from friends or relatives. But this had to be something different; the majority of the images in the album are of famous people like Lincoln, Sheridan, Bragg, John Clem (aka Johnny Shiloh), just to name a few. While Bickham did have many famous (or later-famous) contacts due to his profession as a journalist, I seriously doubted that he had been given all of these photos personally.

As it turns out, it was extremely common during that era for people to collect cartes de visite in a manner similar to how one might collect baseball cards. The National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian has an excellent blog post [“Civil War Portraits: Where Personal and Public Meet,” Oct. 3, 2011] discussing this practice. They also have a YouTube video [“Civil War Portraits: Personal and Public,” Sept. 25, 2011] to go along with it. This was a great help to me in understanding what I was actually looking at, in the case of the Bickham Album.

I hope you’ll come down and see us and check out our exhibit. Although the Bickham Album is currently on display in a locked case, you can browse its contents online anytime on our Flickr page. I scanned each individual photo and added them to the set Bickham Civil War Album. There are several unidentified individuals — probably famous politicians or generals that I just don’t happen to recognize (we can’t all know everything!) — so if you see any marked unidentified and know who it is, please leave a comment to help us out.

The collections discussed here are publicly available for research at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

The Bickham Civil War Album is from the Bickham Collection (MS-017). The Howard Forrer photograph is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018). Other items shown are from various parts of the Dayton Collection; contact librarian (i.e., me, or the library!) for info on specific items.

Oh! One more thing:  Just so you know, I did not create this Civil War exhibit, although I did suggest the inclusion of the Bickham scrapbook and the Howard Forrer photo and shoulder boards. The majority of the exhibit (like, 99%!) was done by our lovely and talented Local History Specialist, Nancy Horlacher. The other two cases, which I have not photographed, include materials pertaining to the Dayton Soldiers’ Home and the 131st O.V.I. (a regiment made up primarily of men from Dayton).

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3 responses to “Civil War case exhibit, Bickham’s cartes de visite album

  1. Pingback: Civil War case exhibit, Vallandingham and Schenck | Glancing Backwards

  2. Pingback: Bio Sketch: William D. Bickham | Glancing Backwards

  3. Pingback: Bio Sketch: William D. Bickham (1827-1894), editor of the Dayton Journal | Glancing Backwards

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