Family members Heirloom, National Treasure: Uncommon Images Show Black Civil War Soldiers

  • A yellowish brown photograph of Sgt. Hiram White. Sgt. White is wearing a buttoned-up jacket and a kepi in the portrait. He is leaning to his right and his kepi is on the left side of his head. His name is inscribed below the photograph on the same page.
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    A yellowish brown photograph of Sgt. Hiram White. Sgt. White is wearing a buttoned-up jacket and a kepi in the portrait. He is leaning to his appropriate and his kepi is on the left side of his head. His name is inscribed beneath the photograph on the exact same web page.

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    Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Present of Aneita Gates, on behalf of her son, Kameron Gates, and all the Descendants of Captain William A. Prickitt
  • A yellowish brown photograph of Sgt. Isaiah White. He is wearing a buttoned-up jacket with epaulets on the shoulders and a kepi. A bugle insignia is on the front of his kepi. His shoulders are straight and he is directly facing the camera. His kepi is on the left side of his head. His name is inscribed below the photograph on the same page.
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    A yellowish brown photograph of Sgt. Isaiah White. He is wearing a buttoned-up jacket with epaulets on the shoulders and a kepi. A bugle insignia is on the front of his kepi. His shoulders are straight and he is straight facing the camera. His kepi is on the left side of his head. His name is inscribed under the photograph on the exact same web page.

    Earlier Subsequent

    Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Present of Aneita Gates, on behalf of her son, Kameron Gates, and all the Descendants of Captain William A. Prickitt
  • A black-and-white photograph of John Walls. He is wearing a buttoned-up jacket with epaulets on the shoulders and a kepi. His kepi is on the right side of his head. He has a shoulder strap on his left side. His name is inscribed below the photograph on the same page.
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    A black-and-white photograph of John Walls. He is wearing a buttoned-up jacket with epaulets on the shoulders and a kepi. His kepi is on the correct side of his head. He has a shoulder strap on his left side. His name is inscribed below the photograph on the very same web page.

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    Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Aneita Gates, on behalf of her son, Kameron Gates, and all the Descendants of Captain William A. Prickitt
  • A black-and-white photograph of James Tall. He is wearing a buttoned-up jacket with epaulets on the shoulders and a kepi. He is holding a rifle and his left hand is visible in the picture. He is leaning slightly to the right side of the picture.
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    A black-and-white photograph of James Tall. He is wearing a buttoned-up jacket with epaulets on the shoulders and a kepi. He is holding a rifle and his left hand is visible in the image. He is leaning slightly to the right side of the picture.

    Preceding Subsequent

    Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Present of Aneita Gates, on behalf of her son, Kameron Gates, and all the Descendants of Captain William A. Prickitt
  • A black-and-white photograph of George H. Mitchell. He is wearing a buttoned-up jacket with epaulets on the shoulders and a kepi. He is also wearing a shoulder strap on his left side. A rifle rests against his left shoulder. He is leaning slightly to the right side of the picture. His name is inscribed below the photograph on the same page.
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    A black-and-white photograph of George H. Mitchell. He is wearing a buttoned-up jacket with epaulets on the shoulders and a kepi. He is also wearing a shoulder strap on his left side. A rifle rests against his left shoulder. He is leaning slightly to the right side of the picture. His name is inscribed below the photograph on the same web page.

    Earlier Subsequent

    Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Aneita Gates, on behalf of her son, Kameron Gates, and all the Descendants of Captain William A. Prickitt
  • A black-and-white photograph of William H. Morris. He is wearing a buttoned-up jacket with epaulets on the shoulders and a kepi. His kepi has a leather chin strap resting on the brim and is on the right side of his head. His name is inscribed below the photograph on the same page.
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    A black-and-white photograph of William H. Morris. He is wearing a buttoned-up jacket with epaulets on the shoulders and a kepi. His kepi has a leather chin strap resting on the brim and is on the correct side of his head. His name is inscribed below the photograph on the exact same web page.

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    Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Aneita Gates, on behalf of her son, Kameron Gates, and all the Descendants of Captain William A. Prickitt

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Every single of the pictures in Capt. William A. Prickitt’s album could match in a locket: headshots of 17 black soldiers who served beneath the Union Army officer in the course of the Civil War, most of their names handwritten on the mat surrounding the photos.

At just two inches tall, the square, leather-bound album itself could be simply misplaced amongst the much more than 35,000 artifacts it will join at the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture when it opens this week in Washington, D.C.

Its size belies its historical significance: It really is a uncommon instance of original photographs of African-American soldiers whose identity is documented.

“That is quite rare,” says Michele Gates Moresi, a curator at the museum. “And to have a group from the very same regiment with that information. There are photos of African-American soldiers with their troops that are accessible. Some of them are panoramic. We have a couple in our collection, but you don’t always know who’s who.”

The pocket-sized photo album of Capt. William A. Prickitt includes 4 albumen prints and 14 tintypes of 17 African-American Union soldiers from the 25th Regiment, United States Colored Troops (USCT), Company G. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Aneita Gates, on behalf of her son, Kameron Gates, and all the Descendants of Captain William A. Prickitt hide caption

toggle caption Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Present of Aneita Gates, on behalf of her son, Kameron Gates, and all the Descendants of Captain William A. Prickitt

The photo album stayed in the Prickitt loved ones for generations — it was passed down to the youngest child in the loved ones. Prickitt’s great-grandaughter Aneita Atwood Gates says she heard the stories about the captain — that he was born in 1839 in New Jersey and was a teacher just before he joined the army and ultimately came to serve as a captain in the Union Army’s newly formed U.S. Colored Troops.

By most estimates, about 200,000 black soldiers served in the Union Army. All of the commanders of the U.S. Colored Troops, or USCT, have been white.

Gates hardly ever saw the album while increasing up, but it ultimately was passed down to her. When she started taking care of it, she kept it tucked away in a box on a laundry space shelf.

Gates says she and other loved ones members were stunned when a military magazine published a story about it and they discovered the significance of their miniature family members heirloom.

“We just assumed that there have been other of these albums out there. Up to then, it was just this great little treasure we had,” she recalls. “But then it was like, oh my gosh, I’ve got a responsibility, a key duty.”

Gates says there was great cause why her great-grandfather wanted the pictures of the black soldiers in his firm. In 1864, Prickitt and his troops were sent to defend two forts in Florida. There, he became really ill with dysentery — the camps were unsanitary — and some of the soldiers took care of him.

“The guys saved my fantastic-grandfather’s life,” Gates says.

Gates says she and other descendants are content that the soldiers saved her great-grandfather — who was in his 20s, unmarried and childless at the time. But that they do not know a lot beyond that.

“It is like the biblical stories,” the 72-year-old Gates says. “They don’t have time to go via all of the specifics, they just give you the essence.”

Aneita Atwood Gates looks through an album of her great-grandmother’s side of the household, which includes a image of her excellent-grandfather William A. Prickitt, noticed right here. Cheryl Corley/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cheryl Corley/NPR

Gates, who lives in Petersburg, Ill., says her loved ones was torn at initial about donating the Prickitt album to the Smithsonian. They feared it would be lost in a museum so huge, and another museum closer to property wanted it, too. And the family members lastly realized it was valuable to the captain, who carried it in his pocket.

“I know all the men had to think a lot about him, and he of them, or he wouldn’t have had this tiny album of them, with all their pictures, and he would not have meticulously written their names in it, and that is what makes it so particular,” Gates says.

There are 18 pictures in the album, both paper prints and tintypes, of the 17 soldiers who served in Organization G. A single of the soldiers is pictured twice: He carries a gun in one photo, but not in the other. All are in uniform. Some put on hats with the insignia of a bugle — the designation for infantry. The names and ranks of all but one particular soldier accompany the pictures, written presumably by Prickitt.

A friend of the Gates family initial contacted the Smithsonian. Shayne Davidson is an artist and amateur genealogist who has drawn portraits of the soldiers and written a book about them.

Initial, she started researching the Gates family members tree and then dug up details about the black soldiers employing military records and census info. The youngest was about 15 the oldest was almost 50, Davidson discovered.

Some of the guys have been born totally free some have been slaves. Two of the males have been enlisted by their slaveholder. Slaveholders could be paid as much as $ 300 for enlisting men, and the slaves won their freedom, if they survived.

Not only did Davidson find out about the background of the soldiers, she in fact identified some of their descendants, like Vanessa Tall Bryant of Nashville, Tenn.

A photo of James Tall is amongst the images in the Civil War album. He is Bryant’s grandfather — not wonderful-grandfather.

Bryant, who is in her early 50s, says Tall lived a extended life, married three times and had 16 youngsters, fathering some, like her dad, at an elderly age. James Tall was 77 when her father, Sigel, was born in 1922.

When he enlisted during the Civil War, James Tall was really young, Bryant says.

“He was a slave near Murfreesboro, Tenn., and as a teenager he was sent by his slave owner to truly shoe a horse at a neighboring farm,” she says. “Even though he was there, the person that was shoeing the horse talked to him about the Union troops that had been around the area and told him he might want to take that chance to ride out.”

He took the chance and joined the Union Army.

Portraits of George W. Davis (left) and Sgt. Stephen Johnson. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Present of Aneita Gates, on behalf of her son, Kameron Gates, and all the Descendants of Captain William A. Prickitt hide caption

toggle caption Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Present of Aneita Gates, on behalf of her son, Kameron Gates, and all the Descendants of Captain William A. Prickitt

Bryant first heard of Prickitt when her family’s search of military and pension records listed him as one particular of her grandfather’s commanding officers. She discovered out about her grandfather’s photo in the Prickitt album a year following her father — James Tall’s youngest kid — died at age 91.

“I believe he recalled a photo getting on the fireplace on the mantel in his house, a small tintype. When he was a kid, that property burned so that image did not survive,” Bryant says. “So it was a very emotional moment thinking that, wow, you wish your dad could have been here to see it.”

Bryant says she plans to travel to Washington to see the album. Aneita Gates, Prickitt’s excellent-granddaughter, says now everyone will be in a position to see the members of the 25th regiment of the USCT.

“Offers me goose bumps,” Gates says, “to share this small story of an officer and his males.”

Gates says that is what her family members wanted: a national stage for her fantastic-grandfather’s miniature album of black Civil War soldiers.

Arts &amp Life : NPR