A Peculiar Form of Headgear
It’s pretty safe to say that many Civil War enthusiasts have seen the image shown below at some time or another. It’s been published in a several books covering various topics of the American Civil War. Some may even remember it when it was on the cover of the November / December 1994 issue of “Military Images”, a very popular magazine among collectors of Civil War photography.
The reason behind the popularity of the image obviously varies among it’s viewers. Some simply appreciate the youthful spirit and innocence found in the young man, an honest portrayal of an amateur soldier who’s about to discover the horrors of war. Others see the content and clarity of the image as an perfect example of the talents of Matthew Brady (and his staff) during the early infancy of Civil War photography. Military collectors may find the soldier’s “battle-shirt”, or the knife and pistol tucked into his federal regulation belt, as the items that attract them to this military portrait from the fall of 1861.
All of these attributes were of significant importance to me as well. But they were secondary to the fact that the soldier in this image was from the Fourth Michigan Infantry. Based on an inscription found on the back of a similar photograph, he is identified as Private Richard L. Cramer of Company I, Fourth Michigan Infantry. You may notice in this image that he is seen wearing the “Canadian Hat”, a peculiar form of headgear worn by several Fourth Michigan soldiers during the late summer and fall of 1861. Credit for the earliest use of this hat’s moniker has been given to Frank T. Miller’s Semi Centennial 10 volume collection of books entitled “The Photographic History of the Civil War” published in 1911. We have only speculation as to how he came up with that name for the hat at this time.
The Fourth Michigan Infantry however, was not the only Civil War regiment to wear this sort of hat during the war, so one has to be careful in assuming that soldiers photographed wearing similar styled hats were from this regiment. Over the course of twenty five years I have seen several images misidentified as being men from the Fourth Michigan Infantry, simply because of a close resemblance in headgear on the soldier. Due to this concern, I decided to assemble a collection of images of men who were “conservatively” identified as members of the Fourth Michigan Infantry and wearing “Canadian Hats” in order to form a basis for a comparative analysis. The forty images found below are the main core of that group, and as noted, are identified with substantial confidence as men who served in the Fourth Michigan Infantry.
Please keep in mind that as you scan the various portraits you must take into consideration the type of the photograph (tintype / photo on sheet metal, ambrotype / a photo on glass, or albumen / a photo on paper) that was taken for each of these soldiers. Additionally, the lighting used to take each image will have a significant effect on the shades found within it. The photo’s contrast and clarity are also very important for the purpose of our comparison. Unfortunately, the original photographs themselves are over 150 years old, and were taken by both amateur, and professional photographers with their varying portrait setting conditions in which to perform their task, that of creating a “likeness” of the soldier.
Over the years I have seen several soldier’s photographs which were improperly described as being that of men from the Fourth Michigan Infantry. But in reality, they weren’t. Otherwise unknown soldiers photographs were being given this identification based on the fact that the subject in their image was wearing a hat “similar” to those seen above. Most of the time there was nothing else to support the owners claim with regard to provenance or image content. So the key word here for their misunderstanding is of course, similar with regard to the headgear. In many of those situations the photo was being offered for sale to me, and so it became crucial to establish some form of criteria for a comparative analysis of headgear in order to determine a more confident link to the Fourth Michigan Infantry.
So I came up with these points to consider:
The color of the hat
The hat’s material and form
The location, color, and style of the hat’s tassels
The hat in connection to other content of the photo
I will continue this study in an upcoming blog as time permits.