Civil War Veteran And His Wife

Unknown, ‘Civil War Veteran And His Wife’, hand-tinted collodion wet plate ambrotype, c1860s (via)

I don’t post vintage photos here very often (mostly because there are so many wonderful blogs devoted to them), but this one found over at Siege’s blog was too good to pass. You simply have to click here to see it in large format – there are so many incredible details! This looks like a still from a new movie – two talented actors, dressed expertly by a costume designer, captured by an in-demand photographer.  But no; it’s a vintage ambrotype from the Civil War era.

Just look at them. If this image doesn’t inspire you to start spinning tales, I don’t know what will. What did he do for a living? Did he ever fall off a horse? Did he like doing magic card tricks? Was he allergic to bees? How did he meet his lady, so stylish with her ruffled bonnet and black leather gloves? Was their marriage passionate? Did she have a good singing voice? Did she hate going to church?

Tell me a story about them.

Update! This post is officially getting the Coilhouse tag “Misinformation,” because Siege has uncovered some new facts. “A TinEye search result led to Google led to a post on A Database that lists this as ‘Veteran of Waterloo with his Wife’ c1850s:

“Bruce Bernard saw this unusual photograph for sale at Christie’s in the 1970s. It appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine where he was picture editor and in his book Photodiscovery, he later tracked it down for the collection. The medal on the man indicates him as a veteran of Waterloo.”

See also: Reliability of Wikipedia

Although it turns out this couple was from Europe, I still like Paul Komoda’s more American-sounding names from the comments: “Athanasius Scrimshaw and his good lady, Jerboa.”

For more on Coilhouse’s love affair with old photographs, check out The Tarnished Beauties of Blackwell, Oklahoma, probably one of my top 5 favorite Mer posts of all time.

17 Responses to “Civil War Veteran And His Wife”

  1. Paul Komoda Says:

    I’d love to base some characters around those two! “Athanasius Scrimshaw and his good lady, Jerboa”.

  2. Sam Says:

    David Warner? Is that you?

  3. Mark Elliott Says:

    She teared, cried & shouted for the young lads returning from the south as they triumphantly marched by in their war torn uniforms of Union blue. One straight marching hero caught her eye and her life was never again the same.

    Her life would grow old and her husband would grow alcoholic. Stumbling around in the fields of corn with bottle in hand, her husband would learn to speak with insects and someone named Patrick. Patrick was stopping in for dinner, would play the fiddle at night and needing to share the bed with them.

    Many years would go by and her spirit had hardened and her love had disappeared being displaced by her need to nurse the pet that used to be her husband. Some fellow named Winston would be using a photograph machine at the meeting house today. Embarrassed to socialize, but strongly encouraged by the minister, she dresses him up in the same Sabbath suit for the last 30 years. He hobbles along like an orangutan trailing on to her hand mumbling words of games that he and Patrick will play.

    They sit for a moment and she straightens him up before he falls. She reaches into her pocket and pins his medal on his coat… the camera clicks off into it’s light and full smoke…

  4. Jon Munger Says:

    Abigail knew this photography bullshit would never catch on.

  5. intrikate88 Says:

    I love the little smile she has tucked away in the corner of her mouth. She’s got two sides to her face, two sides to her personality. And you can tell he so knows it.

  6. Nadya Says:

    @Jon: HA!

  7. toro Says:

    I love this picture. The expression on the old man face is so honest that is scary to think what he did during his life. Also the old lady is kind of amused and proud of taking a picture with her old man. Fine finding.

  8. David Forbes Says:

    Well, I’m in a writing mood this morning, so here goes:

    It was not a young man’s war when he left for it, and he was not a young man when he returned. His shoulder had been pounded raw by Brown Bess’ continual kick. Shortly after he and his comrades paraded through the cheering streets he found his right hand began to tremble.

    He tried to hide it, some days better than others, leaving that memory behind along with his uniform, the simmering retch of amputation yards and that morning he shot a man out of a tree. All disappeared far behind ruddy cragged cheeks and a slow, even smile.

    Still, he could forget things, especially all those years later. So his hat was tattered, the brim tilted and he fumbled just to get his coat over one button. The medal, however, stood polished to a shine.

    She was not young either, by the time he returned. The home caught fire two years after he marched away. While she survived leaping from the window, the fall injured her jaw. It healed, but that side of her face stood out, fixed in its scars, from the other. She made no pains to hide it – hiding was not her way – and secretly enjoyed sharpening the wry expression it made so easy.

    There was much work to be done. She had no time for church; the house Bible remained dusty and little-opened. On occasion she could quote it, if called for in conversation. Blessedly, she still sang. So did he, though cruder tunes than hers; she even laughed at them once in awhile, before her hands shot up to cover smiling lips.

    When the photographer came, she drew the bonnet, scarf and gloves carefully out of the ancient, fire-scarred trunk. Her hands had been cleaned carefully and before she slid her fingers into the leather, took particular note to cover the clinging smell of kitchen meat with precious, saved drops of Oxford Lavender. He clasped his right in his left, to hide the twitch, leaning forward on heavy shoulders. The young cameraman’s many attempts to adjust his equipment amused her, as did his ill-concealed blushing beneath her steady gaze.

    Husband and wife both passed a few years later, within the same week. Each swore on their respective death-beds that they had never loved another so deeply, or so true.

  9. ferallon Says:

    I’ve got one, but it’s pretty long. Should I post it here anyway? It’s six pages double spaced. It’s called The Merriweathers.

  10. Bean Says:

    Oh I love this pic. Swipe!

  11. John C. Worsley Says:

    No time for stories, so instead, here is a related Instant Message log:

    CRH: well at least to me confidence is sexier than looks
    JCW: yeah. speaking of confidence.
    JCW: these two. mighty confident i suspect.

  12. David Forbes Says:

    John: Damn, that just woke me right up on this cold, cold Monday morning. With laughter.

  13. badluckshadow13 Says:

    You know, a family friend told me recently that when they moved into their house they found several boxes full of old black and white photographs. They told me they didn’t have any use for them, so the next time I go over there I’ll have in my possession a huge supply of old black and white pictures.
    I could scan a couple for you if I find any interesting ones :)

  14. Nadya Says:

    Sorry for the late response to this thread, guys. Was moving into my new apartment.

    @ferallon Yes, please! If it’s too long to post and our comment form rejects it, do post a link.

    @david That was so strong and evocative. WOW. I loved the descriptions of how they posed their hands for the camera. I love that some of my questions (singing voice, church, etc.) worked their way into this vignette! Thank you for creating this – reading this was truly a pleasure.

    @Worsley I LOL’D!

    @badluckshadow13 Doooooo it! Check out Mer’s Blackwell Post for how we feel about old photos. Would love to see them when you scan. Post them in the comments when you can.

  15. badluckshadow13 Says:

    It might be awhile before I pick up those boxes, but I just got a couple new pictures on vacation, I’ll scan those now

  16. badluckshadow13 Says:

    Here we go:

  17. Wilson Says:

    “If I could only get these trembling fingers to behave”, he started saying, conversing absent-mindedly with the photographer, while focusing his gaze at the camera, with the ferocious and patient intent of a hunter facing his prey, “I’d find a job”, he continued, to which his wife quickly responded: “You ain’t good for shit.”