Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Collector's Corner: Rare gem tintype of 14th Connecticut Sergeant Thomas J. Mills, who was mortally wounded at Antietam

A gem tintype of  Thomas J. Mills, who was mortally wounded at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.
When it comes to Civil War collecting, luck often plays a big factor. 

Just seconds before I was to go for a run during our vacation last summer in Myrtle Beach, S.C., my iPhone rang. The caller was an antiques dealer from Michigan, who had noticed an image of 8th Connecticut Sergeant George Marsh on my blog. She had just purchased five images of Marsh and his family and wanted to know if I had more information on the man who may have been the first Connecticut soldier killed at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. Our conversation soon turned to whether she wished to sell the images, and a week later we struck a deal. The terrific photos -- two pre-war images of Sergeant Marsh, a member of his regiment's color guard, as well as photographs of the soldier's father, mother and sister -- soon were on their way to their new/old home in Connecticut.

Tad Sattler, a 14th Connecticut Civil War re-enactor, recently got lucky when he stumbled onto an eBay auction of old, miniature photo album. Among the 22 images in the fragile family keepsake was a gem tintype of Thomas J. Mills, a color sergeant in 14th Connecticut, who was mortally wounded at Antietam. From New London, Mills died on Oct. 16 or 17, 1862, at Smoketown Hospital near the battlefield.  (See my Antietam hospital site post here.) Mills left behind a wife named Sarah, whom he married in 1853, and a 6-year-old daughter, Julia. After the war, his remains probably were re-buried in Antietam National Cemetery under a stone marked "Unknown."
According to this document in Mills' widow's pension file, he died on Oct. 16, 1862 at
 Smoketown Hospital. Another document in the file notes he died on Oct. 17, 1862.
Sattler, who has an impressive collection of Connecticut Civil War militaria, was ecstatic when he won the auction and amazed when the album arrived in the mail this week. Only an inch thick, the album measures 1 3/4 inches by 1 3/4 inches.  "It came in a flat-rate, small priority box and weighed close to nothing," Sattler said. "I thought there was no way this could be a photo album." The image of Mills is about the size of a thumbnail.

Earlier today, Sattler answered five questions about his fabulous purchase:

What was your reaction when you first saw the Mills image on eBay?

Sattler: The item's availability on eBay was brought to my attention by my friend, Alan Crane. (See my post on Crane's amazing Civil War discovery here.) When I first saw the pictures on the site, I couldn't make out much detail, but the "Died at Battle of Antietam" written under the image caught my eye. I wasn't overly excited until I researched the name, which revealed more information than the seller listed in the auction detailed. I always research the names because sometimes a seller will say that the soldier was in a certain regiment and then you find out no one with that name existed in said regiment.

Sattler says the most unusual item in his Civil War 
collection is this wooden peg leg, which may have belonged to a 
14th Connecticut soldier.
The seller listed the name as Thomas J. Mills and that he first served as a 1st lieutenant in the 1st Connecticut (a three-month regiment) and joined the 14th Connecticut as a sergeant. The day the auction ended, I looked up his name in the 14th Connecticut regimental history and realized that he was not only a sergeant but a color sergeant who was mortally wounded in the 14th's first battle shortly after leaving Hartford. In paperwork provided to me by Fran Moir, I learned that Mills carried the regimental flag. At that point, I realized that this was no ordinary soldier and I really wanted this image for my collection.

How did you feel when you knew you won the auction?

Sattler: I was on vacation when the auction ended, and I normally do not bid on items like this until the very end because it usually just drives the price up. But seeing that I didn't know where I would be at the auction's end and that no one had placed any bids yet, I submitted a proxy bid two hours previous to the end time. Within an hour someone else bid, which made me a little nervous. Someone else placed another bid at the very end, but I still came out on top. I don't know if anyone else realized the significance of this image, but I was ecstatic to be its new keeper, and hopefully I will be able to bring it to light for future generations.

You have a fairly extensive collection of Connecticut Civil War items. Where does this item rank in the collection?

Sattler: I would have to say image-wise that this ranks in the top two of images I own. It is second behind an image I have of John Hirst, David Whiting and Elbert Hyde of the 14th Connecticut taken in the field with a fake campfire. Hirst talks about this very image in his letters sent back home. The Mills image is extremely tiny -- it's about the size of a thumbnail.

What's the most unusual item in your collection?

Sattler: It  would have to be a wooden peg leg that came out of trunk in East Glastonbury, Conn., that also contained an image of a Civil War soldier that appears to be missing a leg, possibly a 14th Connecticut soldier.

What do you know about Mills?

Sattler: This image actually shows him with shoulder boards, but you can't make out the rank because the image is very small and because they actually tinted the boards along with the buttons as well as his cheeks. I find his story extremely interesting because I have to question why someone who was an officer became a color sergeant. If he had lived or survived Antietam, would he have been promoted to an officer? His death led to Charles Dart becoming the next color sergeant to carry the regimental flag, and he too was mortally wounded, at the regiment's next battle at Fredericksburg, Va., on Dec. 13, 1862.

Have something you would like to share for Collector's Corner? E-mail me jbankstx@comcast.net.

Mills' image appears in this tiny, fragile family album, which measures 1 3/4 inches by 1 3/4 inches.
When the miniature album arrived in the mail, Tad Sattler was amazed. 
"It weighed close to nothing," he said.
Wounded at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862,  Mills died at Smoketown Hospital near the
 battlefield on Oct. 16 or 17, 1862.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, John. Great artifacts as well. Thanks for sharing both.