Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What's Lost Waits To Be Found

So many remarkable things have surfaced from the depths over the last several weeks. To separate each nugget at this point feels next to impossible, but it's important I think to document the process as well as the finds just so I can at some point in the future remember what's been learned about How to look and How to see.

This particular entry tells a tale of chance, of one forgotten or overlooked letter that just happened to contain a small 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" picture, which it turns out is now 146 years old. On the back is this handwriting:

Mr. James Gillespie
Co. I 3rd Mich Cav.
Vet. Vol
Baton Rouge

(please do not copy this image without permission)

There is also an orangish two-cent stamp with Pres. Washington on it. The stamp on the top reads U.S. Inter.rev with the bottom reading bank check. In doing some research on this, we find the stamp is a revenue, designated Scott number R6, first issued in 1862.

"The stamp shows that the federal tax was paid for the photo. A stamp with the word 'proprietary' on the bottom should have been affixed, but it was common that proprietary stamps would run short, and thus other stamps of the same denomination were used in its place.

R6 was printed in three varieties: perforated on two sides only, perforated on all four sides on old paper, and perforated on all four sides on silk paper. The most common is the middle variety, and fault-free, eye-appealing examples have a catalog (retail) value of 25 cents apiece."


Thanks to the research by Cousin Diane, we have determined that this extraordinary little photo is indeed our James H. Gillespie, younger brother of Alexander Gillespie who served in very same company as his brother in the Civil War. James' service was toward the end of the war, and here is how he came to be in Baton Rouge in 1865 when this picture is believed to have been taken:

"After the fall of Mobile, they were employed on outpost duty until the surrender of the confederate forces east of the Mississippi River, when the Regiment was selected as the escort of General Canby on the occasion of his receiving the formal surrender of the forces of General Taylor. They left Mobile on May 8th., marching cross country to Baton Rouge, reaching there the 22nd. When General Sheridan assumed the command of the Military Division of the Southwest, the Regiment was selected, then ordered to report to him for duty, then immediately prepared to join the expedition to Texas, leaving Baton Rouge for Shreveport, June 10th."


This find is so remarkable. Mostly because our knowing of James H. Gillespie evaporated over the years. Why? Maybe in part because James was the youngest - that part is hard to know. But after the war, James returned to Michigan to marry Belle Greer. They had one son, John Wilbur, and for whatever reason, their little family decided to leave Michigan for points west. Eventually they settled in Denver, Colorado where the three lived, died, and were buried. And because they left the Michigan family nest, they faded from the Gillespie family memory. Until now.

Who knows why this picture was not preserved and passed down with other family heirlooms. And it's doubtful that any one past or present could have predicted the circumstances of its discovery in 2011. But here we are, looking squarely into the face of a 20-year-old James H. Gillespie who served with the Union army and survived to help shape the place where I live and love today. It almost seems that James has been waiting for me all along, both to discover and to remember him and his family.

So here's to James H. Gillespie, my second great grand uncle, his wife Isabella Greer Gillespie, and his son who graduated from the University of Michigan and became a lawyer, John Wilbur Gillespie. I hereby proudly claim these Colorado pioneers my family.

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