The World's Best Confederate Image?


Description and Photograph





     The image shown here has everything a collector could possibly want in a Confederate image.  It is the rare, large half plate size.  It is a Ruby ambrotype.  It is crystal clear and does not have a single blemish.  The subject is four Confederates in uniform.  The photographic artist color tinted his subject’s faces.  All four subjects are positively identified.  All are from the same unit and from the state of Kentucky.  All four of the subjects are armed.  Two are armed with swords that can be positively identified as Confederate and a third is likely a Confederate sword.  Even the maker of the Confederate swords is positively identifiable.  

     With all this, I could easily claim this as the best Confederate image in existence; however, to be honest there are two or three other images that are of equal size and quality but differ in content.  Any of these few perfect images could be regarded as the best, because at some point it comes down to the simple fact that it is art, and the perfection of art is in the eye of the beholder.  What can be honestly claimed is that there is not a better Confederate image in existence.

     In the back of the case, recorded in pencil, left to right as we face the image are:

W.E. McGuire, Corporal

Baker S. Leavell, Co A., 1st Ky

E.W. Steger, Co.   “   “    “   “

Henry C. Herndon, “   “     “   “

Also recorded is the sum they paid for the image, $4.00.

     All four young men wear eight button wool frock coats with matching pants.  The coats are adorned with eagle buttons.  Two of the frocks are dark wool, perhaps blue or black.  Two wear light colored wool, perhaps butternut or cadet grey.  All four wear identical model 1851 Enlisted Cavalry Dragoon belts fastened by plain faced clip corner sword plates.

     Corporal McGuire holds what appears to be a Sharp & Hamilton (precursor to Nashville Plow Works) sword.

     Baker Leavell holds a German import cavalry sword and has a large caliber revolver butt sticking out of his holster.  He wears knee length cavalry boots.

     E.W. Steger is displaying his sword at a right angle and it is clearly a Nashville Plow Works sword, brass mounted scabbard and all.  It is shown so clearly that it is easily discernable as a Plow Works with the naked eye.  He has a holstered revolver and a cap box on his belt.  He has a cigar between his fingers on the sword’s pommel.

     Henry Herndon also holds a Nashville Plow Works sword and a cigar.  A large holstered revolver is on his belt.

     All four of these men are from Christian County Kentucky and were original members of the Oak Grove Rangers, which mustered in on June 26, 1861 at Camp Boone, just across the Tennessee and Kentucky border.  In September of 1861 the Rangers became Company A, 1st Kentucky Cavalry, under Colonel Benjamin Helm.

     I will here give a sketch of each man’s experience.

William McGuire was born in Lovelaceville, Ballard, Kentucky to Thomas and Sarah McGuire in November of 1838, which would have made him approximately 23 years old when he enlisted June 25, 1861 in the Oak Grove Rangers which would become Company A, 1st Kentucky Cavalry.  He stood 5 foot 8 inches and had grey eyes and dark hair.  In June of 1862 his commanding officer wrote “I do certify on honor that W.E. McGuire, Corporal in Co A 1st Ky Cav. has been actively engaged as a currier & in secret service during the time above specified, that he has repeatedly furnished valuable information during that time.”

     McGuire’s term expired and he reenlisted in Company A, 2nd Kentucky on December 9th, 1862.  The end of 1862 found him a 4th Sergeant in Company A, 2nd Kentucky Cavalry at Williamsport, Tennessee.  He served faithfully in this capacity for the remainder of the War and is shown as present on all surviving rolls.  He surrendered at Washington, Georgia on May 9, 1865 and swallowed the yellow dog at Nashville on May 20th.  He went on to marry in 1867 and raised a family.

     Baker S. Leavell was born in Christian County Kentucky to S. J. and Mary Leavell in 1839.  He was 22 years old, stood 5 foot 9 inches, had a dark complexion and dark hair when he enlisted on June 25, 1861 in the Oak Grove Rangers, which became Company A, 1st Kentucky Cavalry.  He served out his year faithfully and was discharged.  He apparently returned home and sat out the War afterwards as his first child was born in 1864.  By 1870 he was living in Todd, Kentucky with his wife and two children.  He later added a son and namesake and was still living in the same place in 1910.

     Edward Walton Steger was born in Christian County Kentucky to William Steger, a Virginian, and his wife Marie Louise Steger on February 22, 1841.  He too, like his comrades, enlisted in the Oak Grove Rangers on June 25, 1861.  At 20 years old he stood 5 foot 9 inches, had blue eyes, dark hair and a light complexion.  He was discharged as Orderly Sergeant at the expiration of his service and he, like his comrade McGuire, reenlisted in Company A, 2nd Kentucky Cavalry.  In the 2nd Kentucky he was promoted to 1st Sergeant.  Like his comrade, he served faithfully in this capacity for the remainder or the War and is shown as present on all surviving rolls.  He surrendered at Washington, Georgia on May 9, 1865 and swallowed the yellow dog at Nashville on May 20th.  He died on the anniversary of his enlistment, June 25, 1914, still in Christian County.

     Henry C. Herndon was born to John and Nancy Herndon in 1841 and was residing with his family in Warren Kentucky in 1850.  He was a prosperous 19 year old student residing in Christian County Kentucky by 1860.  Perhaps he was blessed with an inheritance as it is unlikely he could have made a small fortune by the time he was 19 years old.  His sister Elizabeth had approximately the same worth in 1860 which further indicates an inheritance.  His mother and siblings were still residing in Warren, Kentucky, but his father was no longer with the family, indicating he had passed on.

     Henry, like his comrades enlisted in the Oak Grove Rangers on June 25, 1861.  He stood 5 foot 11 inches, had blue eyes and light hair and a light complexion.  He honorably served his time, was discharged and reenlisted like the others, but he reenlisted in Company L, 2nd Kentucky (Gano’s) rather than Company A, 2nd Kentucky (Woodwards) like his comrades.  This was likely because he was not originally from Christian County, but was there as a student when he enlisted with the other boys.  During the course of the War Gano’s command was known as 2nd, 3rd and 7th Kentucky Cavalry.  Records do not show that he ever surrendered, but he did survive the War, married and raised a family in Christian County.

     Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner occupied Western Kentucky early in the War and the Confederates organized a company in Christian County within sixty days after the beginning of hostilities.  On June 25, 1861, the Oak Grove Rangers, made up largely of young men from Christian County, were organized and mustered into service at Camp Boone, in Montgomery County, Tennessee.  

     The company numbered about 130 men, the very flower of the young manhood of the southern part of Christian County and adjoining counties.  Among those from Christian County were: Austin Peay, afterward a State Senator, and father of Governor Austin L. Peay, twice Governor of Tennessee, who died in office a few years ago; William A. Elliott, afterwards Captain of Company A, Second Regiment; Hazard Baker, afterwards a Lieutenant of Company B; W. Frank Buckner, B. F. Clardy, Henry Clardy, William McGuire, Robert Owen, Nat Owen, John Blankenship, William Nichols, Sim Nichols, WilHam Blakemore, Robert Kelly, W. L. Leavell, B. S. Leavell, Thomas Smith, W. F. Gray, Robert Searcy, A. Lyle, George Bacon, Alex Bacon, Milton Seward, Tim Morton, Creed Hood, :?rank Rogers, John Richie, Robert Baker, Minus Parsley, Harvey Saunders, and Radford, Hardin, Blanks and Kidd whose first names are not preserved in the meager records.
     The Rangers moved into Kentucky in September and went into camp at Bowling Green with the rest of General Buckner’s force.
The First Kentucky Cavalry Regiment was organized at Bowling Green, Kentucky, which is just north of Nashville, Tennessee, on October 19, 1861.  They were assigned to duty as Company A, First Regiment of Kentucky Cavalry, under Colonel Ben Hardin Helm.  The company saw active service and took part in General Buckner’s campaign.  Notice that the men had been issued the Nashville Plow Works swords and signed as members of Company A, 1st Kentucky Cavalry.  This information and following there subsequent movements, leave no doubt that the photograph was taken at Bowling Green between October 19, 1861 and the end of the year.  We can sentimentalize that it was probably around Christmas time and was for the folks back home.                                              




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