We have a very extensive and well known collection of Civil War-related diaries and correspondence, so we made the decision last year to collect selectively in this area. So, why did we recently add to the collection the correspondence of Joseph H. Cummings of Waterbury, Connecticut? What makes this particular set of letters exciting and worth acquiring is that it was accompanied by two photographic images. The first image is cased and shows Joseph in his Connecticut State Militia uniform, complete with epaulets and a busby (big furry hat). We assume that he wore this uniform even after he enlisted in the army. No wonder he wrote to his Uncle William about getting new United States uniforms! The second photograph was taken while Joseph was serving with the 1st Regiment, Connecticut Heavy Artillery and shows him in a much less dramatic uniform, with some pistols in his belt, and a knit cap that the men frequently wore in camp.
The value of photographs to research on the Civil War led to our current volunteer project to match portraits of Civil War soldiers in our photograph collections with manuscript materials in the library and keep that information in a database. Reading about someone’s exploits in the war becomes much more meaningful when one can put a face to a name. This will be an invaluable research tool for our visitors.
The rest of the story of Joseph H. Cummings is that when he joined the army, he had been working as a clerk in his uncle’s grocery store. He proudly stated that his regiment was called the Double Quick because of their stamina on long marches. Joseph rose through the ranks to Sargent, and also served as secretary and commissary for unit. Evidently he was well liked by his men, as evidenced in the letter written by his commander, informing Uncle William of Joseph’s death. He did not die from fighting, but from “malarial dysentery”. Such is the story of many young men who served during the Civil War.
You can access this collection at the CHS library by asking for Ms 100912.
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