Monday, March 4, 2013

Melvin J. Hart's Civil War Photo

Melvin Hart, c. 1864
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
and Wayne Jorgenson

In a previous blogpost on my paternal great grandfather, Melvin J. Hart, I mentioned that finding a photo of him in a Civil War database on Ancestry had been the single most exciting experience of my family history research to that date. This is still the case. The second most exciting was discovering this week that the original of that small, blurry thumbnail photo, was in the possession of the Minnesota Historical Society, and that it was clear and had a paper frame. I ordered it, and got permission to use it for “personal” purposes, including a blogpost. I present it here, through the courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society, and Wayne Jorgenson, the Civil War Historian and author, who originally provided the image to them. He has also given his permission to display the photo. Thanks, Wayne, beyond words.

The handwriting on the photo identifies Melvin as being in “Co. D” “11th Min”, which refers to Melvin’s second enlistment in the Union Army during the Civil War.  I originally estimated that this photo was likely taken sometime after his enlistment on August 12, 1864, which would make Melvin twenty-one years old. By this time, he had already been discharged from Co. F, 94th New York Voluntary Infantry, due to illness. He had already been in the battles of Cedar Mountain and the Second Battle of Bull Run, and had been at death’s door with “dyspepsia”. His brother-in-law, William Glazier, had written in a letter supporting his pension application that Melvin was “nothing but a skeleton” when he came to them to be nursed back to health. As I have written before, so much of his experience seems to be expressed in his eyes. They were blue, according to his Civil War Pension File.

Wayne has kindly also provided me with an image of the back of the photo:

Courtesy of Wayne Jorgenson

That it says, "Melvin Heart Dundas Rice Co. Min.", may indicate that Melvin was from Dundas, or that the photo was taken there. The other possibility that the photo was taken in Galatin, Tennessee, where at least one other of Company D's photos was taken, and then it was more likely taken in 1865, as they were mustered out from there at the end of the war.

Since my previous blogposts on Melvin, I have found some brief articles about him and his family in local Iowa newspapers, including an article in the Spencer Clay County News, dated  February 16, 1899, referring to their residence in Texas:  “Mrs. Melvin Hart and two daughters, for past few years residents of Texas, recently returned to the old home in Freeman township. Mr. H. will follow soon. We understand they have had all they want of southern life and are glad to get back to Iowa. Mr. and Mrs. Hart were among the early settlers of Freeman township”. I know from Melvin’s obituary that they had been living in Rock Island, Texas. It has been a bit of a challenge to isolate in which Rock Island, Texas they lived, as there were three. I am increasingly convinced that this was the Rock Island which was in Colorado County, which is near the Gulf Coast. This Rock Island was settled as part of a railroad land development scheme around 1896, which lured settlers from Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri to a so-called “tropical paradise”, which apparently it was far from. I suspect Melvin and his family were among them. I am amazed at how adventurous Melvin and his family must have been, despite his life-long post Civil War health challenges, to have been settlers in three such varied places as Clay County, Iowa, Rock Island, Texas, and Lougheed, Alberta, Canada. 

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