Monday, March 7, 2011

Question of the Day

I was at a Civil War relic show over the weekend and, of the myriad relics that I saw that were beyond what most normal human beings could pay in a lifetime ($24,000 for a Le Mat Revolver is but one example) I came across the photograph shown above. It immediately caught my eye, as I thought it looked like an African American soldier, but the vendor who was selling the item did not seem to think that the gentleman in the photo was a USCT. My gut told me that he was, however, so I went ahead and paid a very reasonable price (less than what I spend on groceries) in the hopes that I could do further research and find out just who the gentleman portrayed in the photo is. There’s a handwritten note glued to the back that states that the gentleman is “Uncle Hugh” and the picture was taken “in Virginia during the Civil War 46 years ago when he was 35 years of age.”

All of that being said, I thought I would ask you, gentle readers, what you think.

Does this look like an African American soldier to you?

Are there any distinctive markings that I’m oblivious to that can lead to a conclusive answer?

Whatever the case may be, I’m still very pleased with my purchase and I now have an irrepressible urge to start collecting more period images.

Please don’t tell my wife…


  1. He does look lighter-skinned. Yet, his facial features seem like a mix of European and African, which makes me think he may be of mixed descent. If that is the case, he might have been part of a non-colored unit. Appearances are of course deceiving, especially with such an old photograph.

    It is going to be tough to track him down with just a first name.

  2. A three-stripe sergeant named Hugh. Must have been dozens in the 130,000 of the USCT, alone, hundreds in all the other units. Got to examine those buckles and that cap with a magnifying glass to try to discern a unit number. Good luck!

  3. Is that a (partially obscured, flopped) Company E badge on his kepi? Would that uniform be considered an early war/state militia type?

  4. It looks as though the mark on the forage cap is actually a small tear in the paper - I thought it might have been an insignia too! He's wearing a standard "US" belt buckle with an eagle breast plate which everyone and their brother was issued back then and the uniform is a standard U.S. frock coat. I keep waffling as to whether or not he's a USCT. Someone said his hands and his hair "look black," whatever that means. When you look at Milton Holland (who won the MOH at New Market Heights)he doesn't look "black" either, but the fact that his mother was a slave lumped him into that category. Here's his picture:,+M.+Holland,+Sergeant+Major,+5th+USCT.jpg

  5. He indeed could be mixed race. As you have noted this "looks black" is really nonsense. I have cousins who appear white. Blue eyes, straight black hair, white skin. This man reminds me a bit of my great-grandfather in fact (not alive at the time of the war).

    Unfortunately, without more identification than that there, it is sad to say we may never know.

  6. I think you may have hit the jackpot here Jimmy, but we will probably never be able to say with certainty. A very nice image all around though for a fresh looking recruit, armed and accoutered.

  7. Was Hugh really as popular a name as Dick Stanley suggests? Why not search and find out? I'm in UK so I have no real idea what records exist in USA but if there are lists of names of members of specific regiments (which I believe there are if a recent US Who Do You Think You Are is anything to go by) why not find the Hughs of that rank in first the Coloured Regiments and then The Eastern Union infantry to see how much of a pool there is? Who knows, there may less to choose from than you think.

    Ken Clark