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The Engineers of the 8th New York State Militia

What happens if you wear magnifying glasses (2.50x power), hold a 4-inch wide 3x power magnifying glass in your hand, and stare for hours upon the computer screen at enlarged (“power” unknown) digitized photographs circa 1860? You give yourself a headache and an upset stomach.

But how else shall I find the tiny images of flags? I wondered this morning, how many people have stared at these same photographs, trying to unlock a mystery or determine a single bit of information. Not just to identify faces, although that is surely a popular reason. But what about the person who is seeking images of watches or the button collector? Does the man who restores or builds wagon wheels stop over every photo of a wooden wheel? What about swords, side-arms, rifles, and cannon?

I found myself quickly skipping past photographs that did not have a flag in them, and that’s a mistake. I need to go back and look at everything in each photo. What story I have overlooked from the cobbler’s point of view?

What does this photograph reveal? I stopped on it because I spotted the large U.S. flag. Too large perhaps, for their needs, but they have it displayed anyway—draped and swagged over the opening to the tent. What else? Two tripods for their surveying tools. A black man with a broom. The soldiers’ uniforms and shoes appear to be in good condition, so this company likely has not been directly in battle thus far. Cocked caps according to individual preference. Some of the soldiers have bedrolls on their backs. Plenty of rifles in view. And last, but not least—one man appears to be sitting on a drum.

Engineers of the 8th New York State Militia in front of a tent, 1861. (Ill-B-499).

civil war 005 engineers

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