- Associated Press - Saturday, April 16, 2011

PORT ALLEN, La. (AP) — First you say, “Oh my,” then you let out a long sigh.

Then you turn away, but only for a moment, knowing that you can’t escape Tommie Wood’s gaze, even if you were to walk away from the gallery.

It’s seared in your memory, the sense of urgency, the hope for a purpose.

Wood was an orphan in Social Circle, Ga. He joined the 11th Georgia Infantry at age 16.

He witnessed his country divide, and he put on a uniform and marched into war.

And like so many Civil War soldiers on both sides of the line, Wood didn’t die in battle but from disease. Then again, Wood wasn’t really a soldier. He was a drummer boy and was so well-liked that he was the infantry mascot.

But drummer boys and color bearers often walked at the head of the line, which made them easy targets. Lots of these kids were picked off by a single shot.

But not Wood. He contracted pneumonia and was sent to a hospital in Richmond, Va., where he would tell the Rev. William M. Crumley that he’d joined the church at age 8.

“My father and mother are both in heaven, and I would rather go there and be with them there than to stay and suffer here,” Wood said.

He died not long after that conversation.

Though the panel says he’s 16, he looks younger, 13 or 14, maybe? His face is composed, absent of fear. He shows uncertainty, maybe, but definitely not fear.

And did he know what he was about to get himself into? Did any of the other 70-plus young men whose portraits now line the West Baton Rouge Museum’s gallery walls know?

Most were from Georgia, but they offer a good sampling of the population of Confederate soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Some have been identified, some haven’t.

And all are remembered in the exhibit Portraits in Gray: A Civil War Photography Exhibit at the West Baton Rouge Museum. The show is presented by the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Ga., and features studio portraits from a collection amassed by David Wynn Vaughan of Atlanta. It runs through July 3.

It also is the museum’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The 150th anniversary of when these fresh-faced boys, enthusiastic in their poses, were gung-ho for battle, posing in what appear to be found uniforms anything to make them look like the soldiers they would become.

“These portraits appear as if they were taken before they went off to war,” said museum curator Lauren Davis said.

This war becomes something more than regiments and infantries attached to states and numbers. It becomes something more than Matthew Brady’s legendary photos of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.

Which is the point of this exhibit — to give visitors insight into the human toll of war.

Vaughan is said to have the largest collection of Civil War images in the nation.

“The entire collection is exceptionally rare and gives us insight into the human face of the American Civil War, as well as the importance of the photographers and photography of the period, and the valuable visual record they left behind,” said Mike Bearrow, curator from the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History.

And again, this show also provides some insight to those who fought in the Louisiana militia. True, most of the photographs in Vaughan’s collection are portraits of soldiers from Georgia.

But Davis has filled cases in the center of the gallery with museum and private collection artifacts showing pieces from the battlefield. There are Minie balls shot from muskets, cannon balls and even the wooden leg used by Port Allen founder Henry Watkins Allen.

This may be the most curious piece in the exhibit. Allen was a brigadier general in the Confederate Army and Louisiana’s 17th governor. Port Allen was named for him in 1878, which is especially significant, because this is the location of the West Baton Rouge Museum.

Allen was wounded at both Shiloh and Baton Rouge during the war.

“Doctors wanted to amputate his leg, and he said no,” Davis said. “He kept his leg, but he apparently couldn’t walk on it.”

So, he had a special piece created, a combination crutch and wooden leg. Looking closely at this piece in the museum now, it’s clear that Allen placed his knee in the bottom of the device, and tucked the tall side of it beneath his arm.

The bottom of the piece is shaped into a peg. And when he walked, this served as his leg.

The wooden leg is on loan from the Confederate Civil War Museum in the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans. Museum education director Jeannie Luckett learned of its existence when bringing a group of teachers there for an educational program.

“She told the museum about this exhibit, and they said, Oh yeah, we have Henry Watkins Allen’s leg,’” Davis said. “She said, His leg?’ And they brought out this wooden leg.”

It definitely adds dimension to this show. It’s more than pieces of shrapnel discovered on a battlefield; it’s a result of what happened on the battlefield. And the photos are a preview of sorts.

Both show the human part of this war. If there’s any doubt, try to avoid looking into these men’s eyes when walking by their images.


Information from: The Advocate, https://www.2theadvocate.com.

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