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The Comforts of Home: 1861

The Comforts of Home: 1861

From 1861, a second look at these Northern infantry campers -- and our first glimpse of their puppy. "District of Columbia. Tent life of the 31st (later, 82nd) Pennsylvania Infantry at Queen's Farm, vicinity of Fort Slocum." View full size. Wet-plate glass negative, left half of stereo pair, photographer unknown. This has a lot in common with the pictures Dorothea Lange would be taking 75 years later of Dust Bowl migrants in the agricultural tent camps of California.

Library of Congress annotation: Princess Agnes Salm-Salm, wife of Prince Felix of Prussia, who served with the Union Army, observed in January 1862 that the winter camp of the Army of the Potomac was "teeming with women." Some wives insisted on staying with their husbands, which may have been the case with this woman, judging by her housewifely pose alongside a soldier, three young children, and a puppy. In addition to taking care of her own family, she may have worked as a camp laundress or nurse. Some women who lacked the marital voucher of respectability were presumed to be prostitutes and were periodically ordered out of camp. Only gradually during the four years of the war, and in the face of unspeakable suffering, were women grudgingly accepted by military officials and the general public in the new public role of nurse.


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I love how the process of the photograph plus the aging and wear and tear make it look otherworldly, ghostly, as though the spirits of the dead were there--as much as they could be--too.

Early Days

It's early in the war, after the First Battle of Bull Run since Fort Slocum and the rest of the Washington defenses didn't exist until after that battle, which may explain the quantities of stuff they have. It usually took their first real battle or even their long march to reveal just how overequipped they were. After Bull Run the army was incredibly sedentary which meant that they accumulated stuff they didn't need and that families came to join their husbands and fathers.

Queen's Farm

The images from Queen's Farm tent camp remind me of photos of American pioneers on the prairie in front of their sod houses. They would bring out all their valuables to be included in the photograph: a sewing machine, a rocking chair, a bird in a gilded cage, even a pump organ. The soldiers here are displaying pottery pitchers, plates and cups that might be unexpected in an Army tent camp.

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