A well dressed man sits in front of a crude canvas backdrop holding a keyed concert flute made of blackwood, typical for this instrument in the 19th century. He gives the appearance of a professional musician, but not I think, of a bandsman. The clues come from the writing on the back.
Oct. 8th 1861
The date is 6 months into the War between the States, which began in April 1861, shortly after the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. The place is Annapolis, the capital city of Maryland, a slave state that chose not to secede but to remain in the Union.
Annapolis is situated on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay about 25 miles south of Baltimore and 30 miles east of Washington, DC. On April 19, 1861, the first conflict of the war exploded in the Baltimore Riots when Southern secessionists attacked Federal troops marching to the defense of Washington. As a result, the assembly point for the Union Army was changed from Baltimore to Annapolis.
After this riot, Maryland's General Assembly was called into special session to decide the question of secession, but Annapolis's politics and public sympathy for the Confederate cause forced the Governor to move the state house to Frederick, MD. The legislature voted unanimously to remain in the Union, but of 85,000 Maryland men who signed up for military service, 25,000 fought on the Confederate side.
Annapolis has one other prominent role in American history, it is the location of the U.S. Naval Academy. In April 1861, when the threat of the Confederate force became real, the academy and the USS Constitution were moved to Newport, Rhode Island for the duration of the war. But Annapolis still remained the main port on the Chesapeake for all the shipping necessary for the Union Navy's war effort.
So who is this flutist and how did he come to be received in Annapolis in such a turbulent time? So far I have not discovered any easy answer. Woodwind instruments like the flute were rarely used in the regimental bands of this period, which were brass bands with perhaps only an E-flat clarinet or piccolo for the high treble lines. Military units also had fife bands for marching, but this keyed flute was more associated with the sophisticated music of the orchestra or theater.
Surprisingly, there were quite a lot of traveling musical groups at this time during the war. This is the era of the minstrel shows, and one of the more popular groups, the George Christy Minstrels advertised a flute soloist, Mr. E. Haslan, who accompanied popular ballad songs. So it's possible that this flutist is a professional theater musician.
By the autumn of 1861, Annapolis was rapidly changing into a major logistic station for thousands of soldiers, sailors and their assorted equipment. Every week, more companies of soldiers arrived from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York. In fact the first large armada of troop transports would leave for North Carolina in late October. Later Annapolis became the site for both a Union hospital and prisoner of war camp. With this great movement of military personnel around Maryland, I think it is probable that this flutist might be a military officer from New England who has just joined his regiment or his ship. The flute was long considered a mark of a gentleman, and was a common instrument for sailors too.
The theme this weekend at Sepia Saturday was a photograph of a live oak tree overlooking the coastal salt marches of Glynn County, Georgia. It is titled "the Poet's Tree" for the Southern poet, Sidney Lanier (1842-1881). Sidney Lanier is remembered today for his poetry, but he was also an accomplished flute player and composer, and his career as a musician deserves more examination. In 1873 he took a position as principal flute with the Peabody Conservatory Orchestra in Baltimore for $120 a month. His essays on music reflect a strong artistic ambition with a distinctive American flavor.
But as a young man he served in the Confederate Army. Around 1863 while on board a blockade runner he was captured and sent to a Union POW camp at Point Lookout, MD. This camp on the mouth of the Potomac river, became infamous for the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions resulting in over 3,000 deaths. It was in this prison camp that Lanier contracted tuberculosis, eventually succumbing to the disease in 1881 in Tryon , NC.
Annapolis and Point Lookout are relatively close on the Chesapeake Bay, at least by water, and the possibility that these two flutists, one from the South and one from the North, might have met is an intriguing thought. One that could easily inspire another short story.
I conclude with a charming YouTube video of a solo performance on a wooden flute very like the one in the photograph. This is not to say that the Annapolis gentleman played Irish tunes too, but his flute would certainly sound very like this.
My contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Follow the link for more enthusiasts of vintage photographs.