Identifying a Civil War Soldier

For those interested in Civil War history, there’s a marvelous story on today.  A collector and his family donated 1,000 photographs of enlisted soldiers from North and South to the Library of Congress, and reporter, Ramona Martinez tells of her quest to learn the identity of one of these men who intrigued her with his flamboyant uniform and dashing pose.  You can read the story and see the photograph here:

The collector, Tom Liljenquist, gave Martinez her first clue, pointing out that the young soldier had carved his initials, T.A., into the stock of his rifle.  At the West Point Museum, Martinez learned that the Zouave-like uniform belonged to just one regiment, the 14th Brooklyn, sometimes called the “Red Legged Devils, for the bright red pants they wore.  The 14th Brooklyn served in some of the fiercest fights of the war, including Antietam and Gettysburg

Martinez plugged this information into the National Park Service’s Civil War Database, and found just four men with initials, T.A., in the regiment.  A National Archives researcher helped her narrow it down to two possibilities.  Armed with vital statistics, including the height of the men, Martinez found an antiques dealer in Gettysburg who owned a musket like the one shown in the photograph.  Using the gun as a yardstick, they identified the soldier as Thomas Ardies, who stood 5′ 4 1/2″ tall.

Ardies was wounded at Chancellorsville, but survived the war.  He emigrated to Canada, where pension record notes, “He was always considered a bachelor by all who knew him in the community where he was widely known and most respected.”  Ardies married at age 75, five years before his death, and is buried in Ontario.

Those who have followed this blog for a while know I am fascinated by Civil War history.  Ramona Martinez search for the details of one private soldier’s life highlight an area that’s not as well known as the stories of generals and major campaigns.

I wonder a lot about the lives of private soldiers, during and after the war.  The battles were as horrendous as those of the First World War fifty years later, but history does not record a “lost generation” after the earlier conflict.  Bitterness, economic hardship, and instances of violence,yes, but not the world-weariness that characterized veterans of later wars.  More Viet Nam veterans died of suicide after the war than were lost on the battlefields – nothing like that happened after the Civil War.

We always see history through the filter of our own sensibility.  It’s easy for us to believe the casual brutality we find in the pages of Cold Mountain. It’s harder to imagine the idealism we see in pictures of men like Thomas Ardies.  Maybe that’s why the old photographs are so haunting.

The Empire Mine

The visit of a friend over the holiday weekend was an excuse to drive out of the valley fog and into a stunning late fall day as we made our way to the Empire Mine State Park, a mile east of Grass Valley.  This is the site of California’s richest gold mine, in operation from the 1850’s through 1956.  We lucked out:  on Saturday they were holding a special open house.  Park personnel in historical costume were greeting visitors and explaining things in both the “cottage,” where the mine owner lived with his family, and at the diggings themselves.

The Empire Cottage

Gold was discovered in 1848, and by 1850, the rivers were panned out.  There was plenty of gold, but larger operations were needed to extract it.  The Empire Mine got off to a shaky start as it bought out numerous small claims, but faced serious difficulties in getting at veins of gold that laced the strata of quartz at deeper levels.  Starting in 1879, William Bourn Jr., who gained a controlling interest, and his cousin, George Starr, the mine superintendent, created a very successful enterprise, largely because of the technical know how and labor of a large number of miners from Cornwall, England, a region where hardrock mining for tin and copper was a thousand years old.  By 1890, Grass Valley was estimated to be 85% Cornish.

Cottage from the ornamental garden

Bourn ran the mine from 1879 until 1929 when poor health forced him to sell it to Newmont Mining. In today’s terminology, these miners, photographed in 1905, are the 99%. According to one of the living history guides, the least prestigious job was that of a “mucker.” After a blast, they would load the ore carts and push them up the tracks to one of the main shafts where the rock would be hauled to the surface. The muckers could fill six or seven carts an hour, and each held a ton of ore.  Muckers made $3 for a 10 hour shift.

Miners descending the main shaft (postcard)

In 1905, that wage beat the median income of twenty-two cents an hour.  In addition, the mine prospered during the 1930’s – The Great Depression didn’t happen in Grass Valley.  The safety record appears to be pretty clean too.  Not only are hard rock mines the safest, but after the San Francisco earthquake in 1905, when miles of steel rails were twisted beyond use by railroads, Bourn bought them up to reinforce the shafts.  In movies you see mines shored up with timber.  At Empire, the shafts were braced with steel.

Inside one of the shafts (state park photo)

Still, with more than a bit of claustrophobia, I would have sought work in one of the craft shops above ground.  Carpenters and metalworkers on site made and repaired almost everything used in the mining operations, including the ore carts and their wheels.

Empire Mine Carpentry Shop

The metal shop

The blacksmith shop (state park photo)

The mine was closed as a non-essential industry but the War Production Board at the start of WWII. It reopened in 1945 but the price of gold was fixed at its 1934 level of $35 an ounce. By 1956, each ounce cost $45 to produce, and the mine closed in January, 1957.

During its years of operation, the Empire mine produced 5.6 million ounces of gold – roughly five billion dollars at current prices. The state owns the surface structures and grounds, but Newmont mining retains mineral rights, and there’s still gold underground. If the price of rises high enough, mining operations could resume. The real value these days, however, is the historical interest and beauty of the place.

Swimming pool below the cottage

Rose gardens behind the cottage

The heritage roses behind the cottage had all been cut back, but small plaques identified the roses and their dates. Most came from the 19th and early 20th century, but a few were earlier than that. When they are in bloom, you can buy cuttings.

View from the formal gardens toward the mine

I had been to the Empire Mine once before, in the 80’s one January day when the trees were bare, the pool was dry, and no one was no one around. I’d been wanting to return for most of this year, but something always came up until this past Saturday. I had no idea how much I would enjoy the site, and I highly recommend it if you are ever in California’s central valley, with a yen to explore the foothills and the gold country.

Interlude on the Oregon Coast

I first explored the Oregon coast as an undergrad when I was studying art and photography at the U of O.  I kept a 4×5 view camera, a sleeping bag, and a coleman stove in the trunk of my ’63 biscayne.  A box of mac and cheese, a few apples, and a jar of instant coffee, and I was ready to spend a weekend poking along the backroads up and down the coast.

One of my favorite spots was the south coast town of Bandon.  With a nice state park, miles of beaches to explore, and expresso and pizza available in town, it was a fairly posh spot for camping.  That was in the mid ’70’s.  Mary and I have travelled there at various times over the years since then, but had not been up for almost a decade.

We drove last week to Bandon, and blessed with mild weather, spent some memorable days enjoying the changing leaves and the autumn light on the ocean.

The sound of the waves and the foghorn at night, drifting through an open window, brought T.S. Eliot to mind.  Here are a few photographs, and some of Eliot’s lines from The Four Quartets.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches were it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation

It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices
Many gods and many voices.
The salt is on the briar rose,
The fog is in the fir tree.

The tolling bell
Measures time not our time, rung by the unhurried
Ground swell, a time
Older than the time of chronometers, older
Than time counted by anxious worried women
Lying awake, calculating the future,

Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception,
The future futureless, before the morning watch
When time stops and time is never ending;
And the ground swell, that is and was from the beginning,
The bell.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same; you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

A Mountain Interlude

Interlude:  n.  <origin> Middle English (originally denoting a light dramatic entertainment):  from medieval Latin interludium, from inter “between” + ludus “play.”

1  an intervening period of time.
2  something performed during a theater intermission.
<special usage>: a temporary amusement or source of entertainment that contrasts with what goes before or after.

Trail in Yosemite Valley

Normally the valley is brown by September, but weather has not been normal this year.  Extreme rainfall this spring and recent thunderstorms have kept parts of the valley bright green.

Stump in one of the meadows

Over the years I’ve found the beauty that moves me most right at hand, right in front of me on a walk, rather than the famous scenes, the stuff of picture postcards, which are almost too much to take in.

Along the south fork of the Merced River

I first saw Yosemite when I was 12.  My family came up year after year, in all of the seasons, as often as they could.  I got my first job up here, washing dishes and flipping burgers, because I wanted to stay for a whole summer.

Above the river

Mary and I first came up soon after we met, and have continued to visit these woods for the last 35 years, by ourselves and with family, friends, and dogs.  Mary took this photo near the Awahanee:

Photo by Mary Mussell

Some of my favorite spots are outside of the valley. Chilnuala Falls, in Wawona, near the south entrance to the park is one of them. As people learned all too well this year, you have to be careful when hiking and climbing, and once you get away from the crowds, keep an eye out for mountain lions too.  Still, I’m sure driving is infinitely more dangerous.

lower Chilnuala Falls

I know this area better than any other place on earth.  I’ve photographed here for decades, in all seasons and in all kinds of light. Nothing is ever the same twice. You truly cannot step into the same river – or walk along the same riverbank – twice.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow if I can.
Pursing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And wither then? I cannot say.
– J.R.R Tolkien