Thursday, November 05, 2015

Ohio firefighter has burning passion for Civil War images

A sergeant in the 129th Indiana, Addison Harley, seated next to his wife Rachel, died of disease 
during the war. A note found behind the image reads, "To Miss Rachel. For our son when we
 have one." (Matthew Fleming collection)

If you collect soldier images, you may have spent a fair amount of time at estate sales or auctions, Civil War shows and surfing the web. The Civil War soldier photographs in my modest collection come from a variety of sources. I got this CDV of a 16th Connecticut private in a trade, this ruby ambrotype of  a 15th Massachusetts private on eBay and purchased this tintype of a 61st New York private from this website.

Firefighter Matthew Fleming, 41, began selling Civil War images
 to help finance his own collection. 
For Civil War photography, I frequently visit three online sites: The Horse Soldier, a Gettysburg institution; Medhurst & Company Fine Images and Documents and the Civil War Image Shop, owned by a 41-year-old firefighter-turned-image dealer named Matthew Fleming of Milan, Ohio.

Although I have yet to make a purchase from Fleming, no weekend passes without at least several clicks at Many of the images on Fleming's frequently updated site include much more than barebones details of the soldier's service, a great addition, and Fleming's gallery of sold images is a virtual museum with free admission. It's a very cool site.

A firefighter for the past 16 years, Fleming has had a longtime interest in history, but Ken Burns' 1990 Civil War documentary planted the seed for his passion for the War Between The States. He has collected Civil War images for about 20 years, actively working as a dealer in photographs for about five.

"I began selling images more or less as hobby to help finance my collection," said Fleming, "but it quickly ballooned into a full-fledged business." Most of the images he obtains come from other collectors, but he also purchases images on eBay as well as at estate sales, antique stores and from other sources. Many of the images for sale on his site are on consignment.

I recently posed these questions to Fleming, who answered them via e-mail:

What's the favorite image in your collection?

Fleming: Probably an image (see above) of a young soldier named Addison Harley, who is seated with his wife. Behind the image he wrote a note to her: "To Miss Rachel. For our son when we have one." Sometime thereafter, Harley, who was a sergeant in the 129th Indiana, contracted typhoid and died during the summer of 1864. A listing of his personal effects taken at the time of his death lists this very photograph as being on his person at the time. The photo was later returned to his wife along with the rest of his effects. Whether she ever became aware of the inscription written behind the image by her late husband is unknown, but the son of which he wrote was never to be as he died before they were ever able to conceive. (Here's Harley's grave on

Found in the widow's pension file for Addison Harley,  this note from a Union surgeon states
 that the 129th Indiana sergeant died of typhoid fever on Aug. 5, 1864, at Totten General Hospital
 in Louisville, Ky. (

Is there an image that you have sold that you later regretted parting with?

Fleming: There are a couple images that I have sold over the years that I later regretted selling but very few. An image either speaks to you or it doesn't the moment it lands in your hand. Early on, I picked up an outstanding image of a Trans-Mississippi Rebel armed with his musket and wearing a beautiful battleshirt all richly tinted in wonderful colors. I paid next to nothing for it, but I was just starting out, and I knew I could gain substantially from its sale, so I sold it. I've seen it a few times since, but where it is currently I don't know. That is one I would definitely like to get back.

Is there a great story you can share about purchasing an item for a relative pittance that turned out to be a rare or important find?

Fleming: I have on a few occasions picked up an image knowing nothing of its history only to learn later of some great historical provenance -- although rarely for a pittance. I just recently obtained an image on eBay of a simple Confederate infantry officer. Unidentified at the time I purchased it, it sat on my desk with the idea that he would most likely remain anonymous, like so many before him. It would not be the case. The once-unknown soldier turned out to be Confederate Captain Samuel Jackson of the 44th Tennessee Infantry (see below). He was grandson to President Andrew Jackson and had lived and worked at the president's estate at The Hermitage in Nashville, Tenn.

A second photo of Jackson in a different uniform was on display there alongside an old photocopy of the image that I now have. It was known the photograph existed, but it's actual location was not known. I stumbled upon it unknowingly and, after learning of its identity, I contacted The Hermitage. An updated full-color scan is now on display there next to the image that was already in their possession. Samuel was mortally wounded at Chickamauga on Sept. 19, 1863. I have had several such discoveries over the years.

44th Tennessee Captain Samuel Jackson, who was mortally wounded at Chickamauga, was a
 grandson of  President Andrew Jackson. The image was purchased by Matthew Fleming on eBay.

No comments:

Post a Comment