Found on a Civil War Battlefield
December 18, 2012
The recent release of the movie Lincoln reminds us that we are still marking the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. As previous posts have noted, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is fortunate to have a number of items associated with that conflict in its collection (to see more, visit our website, select our online collection and search for “Civil War”).
I recently came across this intriguing, Civil War-related photograph in the collection. The round case (about 1 3/4 inches in diameter) contains photographs of Union Generals Ambrose E. Burnside (1824-1881) and George B. McClellan (1826-1885). Burnside was born in Indiana and attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After serving in the Mexican War (1846-1848), he settled in Rhode Island. Burnside returned to military service during the Civil War, but is remembered for a lackluster record, including a disastrous performance at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, when the Union Army suffered 13,000 casualties. After the war, Burnside entered political life, serving as Governor of Rhode Island three times and as a U.S. Senator twice. In 1871, he became the first president of the National Rifle Association. He died in Rhode Island in 1881.
George B. McClellan, born in Philadelphia, also attended West Point in the 1840s and fought in the Mexican War. In 1857, he left the military and took a position as Chief Engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad. When the Civil War began, McClellan returned to military service, becoming popular with his men, but employing a command style that put him at odds with President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). In November 1861, McClellan became General-in-Chief of the Union army. McClellan often hesitated and delayed his attacks, fearing that he faced an enemy with more troops than he had. By November 1862, after McClellan’s failure to make significant progress, he was relieved of command. In 1864, he ran against Lincoln for president and lost. After the war, McClellan returned to work in the engineering field and also served as Governor of New Jersey. He died in New Jersey in 1885.
When these photos were donated to the Museum in 1980, the donor provided a family story that the case “was found on the battlefield at Gettysburg in the latter part of August or early September 1863 by my grandfather, George E. Blose.” George Elmer Blose, born in 1836 in Hamilton, Pennsylvania, was 27 years old in 1863. By the time of the 1860 federal census, Blose had moved east to Perry Township, Pennsylvania, where he lived in his father’s house and worked as a laborer. Records of George’s military service during the Civil War are unclear – a couple of George Blose’s are listed from Pennsylvania, but it is inconclusive which record belongs to George E. Blose, if any. By the time of the 1900 U.S. Census, Blose was listed as the head of his household and worked as a farmer in Perry.
At the time that the Civil War began, photography was still a relatively new development. Family members scrambled to have portraits of their loved ones taken before the men marched off to battle. Portraits of generals, like these of Burnside and McClellan, were popular sellers in the North. Whether George Blose found this pair of portraits on the battlefield as his family recalled, or if he purchased them as a souvenir of the nation-rending conflict he lived through is not known. Nor is the maker of these portraits identified. While Mathew Brady is perhaps the most well-known photographer associated with Civil War pictures, he actually took few himself. Instead, he financed a group of field photographers, sending them out to take the images, while he acquired and published the negatives. To see more photographs from the Museum’s collection, visit our website and search the online collection.
Generals Ambrose E. Burnside and George B. McClellan, ca. 1862, unidentified maker, United States. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, gift of Olney V. Wadding, 80.60.
William Marvel, “Ambrose E. Burnside (1824-1881),” retrieved November 28, 2012, from Encyclopedia Virginia: http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Burnside_Ambrose_E_1824-1881.
“Ambrose E. Burnside,” retrieved November 28, 2012, http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/ambrose-burnside.html.
“George B. McClellan,” retrieved November 28, 2012, http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/george-mcclellan.html.
“Photography and the Civil War, 1861-1865, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,” retrieved November 28, 2012, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/phcw/hd_phcw.htm.