Yep—It’s backwards. On purpose

Looking at the rifles on the March cover, it appears the lock plate and hammer are on the left side of the stock. Are my eyes playing tricks on me or does this have something to do with the reproduction of a wet-plate photograph?

Gil Stewart

Jacksonville, N.C.

Wherever did the reenactors on the cover of the March issue get their left-handed rifles? I want one. And how about those mirror-image belt buckles? Oops.

Randall Morris

Omaha, Neb.

Are the images reversed on some of the “new old photographs?” On page 31, a reenactor has his blanket rolled over his right shoulder. This would prevent the firing of his musket. Blanket rolls were always over the left shoulder. So if the image is not reversed then these reenactors are not being authentic in appearance. I myself was involved in Civil War reenacting, and that is a mistake that should not be made by reenactors who claim to be authentic.

Richard Clarke

Herndon, Va.

Editor’s note:Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. According to wet-plate collodion photographer Robert Szabo, readers of National Geographic had the same reaction when they saw one of his ambrotypes on their April 2005 cover. So we asked Szabo to explain his image of reenactors Robert Hodge and Nick Duvall on our March 2008 cover and in the feature “New Old Photographs”:

“Some wet-plate images are tintypes (or ferrotypes), some ambrotypes, and some prints from negatives. All tintypes are backwards and most ambrotypes are, too. Ambrotypes on clear glass could be turned around so that the image is not reversed, but when the photographers mounted them in cases they usually kept them backwards. Not always, though. The other image that is common is a paper print from a glass negative. These are always forward, not backwards. Many of the Mathew Brady images, cartes de visite, stereo views and large paper prints were of this type.”

America’s Civil War March 2008 cover features a tintype.

Attic Revisited

Nice article and art on Rob Hodge (“My 15 Minutes Out of the Attic”) and Claude Levet (“The Magic of New Old Photographs”) in the March 2008 issue. Good to see mainstream coverage of the serious reenactors.

Larry Strayer

Dayton, Ohio

Robert Hodge’s self-aggrandizing article seems to contain many of those elements of arrogance often found in the very soldiers he wishes to portray. Perhaps he will now return to the attic and take Confederates in the Attic author Tony Horwitz with him, and then the rest of us can get back to what really matters— actual history.

Steve Gill

Pfafftown, N.C.

Lincoln’s Letter: On Closer Examination

I really enjoyed the article by Tom Wheeler and Trevor Plante on Lincoln’s note in the January 2008 issue—especially the close-up photographic examination of the document. This would make a great recurrent series for your magazine—such as an examination of Lee’s lost order prior to the Battle of Antietam, for example. I don’t believe I have ever seen the actual document.

Robert E. Zaworski, M.D.

Past President, Atlanta Civil War Round Table

Lincoln vs. Douglas: Words Counted

In the March 2008 issue, Allen C. Guelzo’s article (“Make Your Point!”) addressing the performances of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in the Illinois debates was informative and well written. May I append some additional data in reference to their rapidity of speech? A generally accepted observation, as Mr. Guelzo reported, was that Douglas spewed out more words than Lincoln. Two major newspapers—the Chicago Press and Tribune, a Lincoln supporter, and the Chicago Times, the pro-Douglas organ—usually printed the finished reports within two or three days. A reasonably accurate degree of word counts can be gleaned from these publications if the count number is derived from the supporting paper: Lincoln’s speech speed from the Press and Douglas’ from the Times.

The results: Historians Edwin Erle Sparks (1908) and Harold Holzer (1993) both made attempts to show the word differences. My own counts produced the following: Douglas delivered 65,493 words (average of 104 words per minute) to Lincoln’s 63,080 (100 wpm). Douglas spoke 2,313 more words, representing 23 plus more minutes. But— for whatever reason—at Galesburg, Lincoln cut short his 90-minute presentation by 11 to 13 minutes, or nearly 2,000 words less than his recent count at Charleston. Those 2,000 words, if added to Lincoln’s final total, would have made the contestants even: Douglas 65,493 and Lincoln 65,080—a difference of only 4 minutes of a 630-minute total. Furthermore, the totals for the final two debates after Galesburg were Douglas 18,064 (100 wpm), Lincoln 19,557 (108 wpm). In conclusion, their speechspeed deliveries were about the same.

Bob Sterling

Charleston, Ill.

Battery D’s Grenade Exchange

I am doing research for a book about the First Illinois Light Artillery Volunteers Battery D. So I read Joseph G. Bilby’s article “Grenade!” in the November 2007 issue of America’s Civil War with special interest. Battery D was involved with the exchange of hand-propelled cannon balls at Vicksburg.

On May 22, Maj. Gen. John Logan went to Captain Edgar Cooper’s section of the battery and asked for volunteers to throw hand grenades over the crater walls and into the Confederate works to help relieve the Union soldiers within. When they were preparing to advance for this purpose, it was discovered that hand grenades had not been supplied. Cooper thought of using cannon shells. Twelve volunteers were quickly found, and cannon balls were procured.

The soldiers of Battery D entered the crater. Cooper acted as if he were the cannon by throwing the cannon balls over his head and into the enemy’s works, with the fuses cut to five seconds. The rest of the volunteers acted as the caissons and carried the cannon balls. This 5-second fuse length was eventually reduced to one and a half seconds. Only two of the battery mates came out of the crater whole, with some killed and some so badly wounded that they were sent to their homes in Kentucky and Illinois to die.

David E. Wall

Oceanside, Calif.

B&O Railroad stock destroyed

I recently read a March 2006 article about the destruction of B&O railroad stock in May and June 1861. Then, in the September 2006 issue Robert Krick wrote an analysis that concluded the account in Battles & Leaders (which had been quoted in the March issue) incorrectly detailed when the B&O stock was destroyed. Most, it seems, would have been destroyed in June, not May.

My great-great-grandfather, Andrew Malseed, was Second Sergeant, Company C, 23rd Regiment, Pa. Volunteers (3 months). That unit entered Martinsburg on July 3, 1861. On the 12th, Andrew wrote to his wife, Eliza Shubert Malseed:

… at one side of the town the locomotives of the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road are piled on the track some 60 odd in number all destroyed they piled wood all over them and burned them all so that they are worthless. on the other side of town they destroyed some 200 and over freight cars and all the passenger cars of the same road and when we marched into Martinsburg there was a long string of coal cars all loaded with coal standing on the track about a half mile from the town which were still burning and in fact the fire is not out yet in the greater part of them. We pass them every day when we go out on dress parade and this morning they were burning yet. It is almost impossible to tell how much they have destroyed but the railroad was in good condition, had plenty of cars of all kinds, and now they have none at all; all are burned up. this is one of the evils of civil war. …”

Andrew Malseed’s estimate of 60 locomotives and more than 200 cars destroyed seems in general agreement with the numbers in ACW last year. The fact that Malseed saw the railstock destruction in early July supports the idea that they were destroyed in June.

Robert A. Malseed

Albuquerque, N.M.


Originally published in the May 2008 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here