"[At Fort Sumter] I had a fine view of the whole harbor but the bursting overhead made me nervous and my hand trembled so that I gave up any further illustrations"Civil War Archive of Union Army Engineer James H. Pollard, Consisting of Over Eighty Sketches, Seventeen Letters, and Thirteen Photos. This fascinating archive contains sketches that illustrate what James Pollard saw during his four years of service as a Union engineer during the Civil War. His subjects are varied-slaves, military camps, plantation homes, military reviews, fortifications, and more-and are presented as detailed ink drawings, as well as hurried pencil sketches, some within illustrated letters. He drew most of his sketches while serving in the 1st New York Volunteer Engineers near the coasts of South Carolina and Virginia (Hilton Head, Bermuda Hundred, Fort Sumter), and later in Florida. Sixteen of the letters are Civil War-dated (five are illustrated letters) and consist of fascinating content regarding battle scenes, troop movements, slaves, and Pollard's love of drawing. Soldier-artist Pollard also provides important comments in his letters on the details of many of his sketches. The thirteen photos include several of Pollard, along with four cartes de visite of his sketches. Also included is a leather portfolio, which Pollard found on the battlefield following the Florida Battle of Olustee in 1864. Most items bear some soiling, foxing, stains, occasional tears. A few contain adhesive remnants.
James H. Pollard (1832-1904) was a carpenter from Middleport, Niagara County, New York. Married with one young son, he enlisted on October 15, 1861, for three years as an artificer in the 1st New York Volunteer Engineers (also known as Serrell's Engineers). He was discharged in January 1864 (the discharge document is included in this lot) and immediately reenlisted. His final discharge occurred on June 30, 1865, at Richmond (discharge included). According to these seventeen letters, Pollard was an earnest, religious, teetotaler, who was resigned to his fate. He was also dedicated to his craft of drawing and constantly on the lookout for ways to improve.
Sixteen letters (five are illustrated letters) are dated November 21, 1861, through June 14, 1864 (two are not dated, but likely fall within these dates). In one two-page illustrated letter (n.p., n.d.), Pollard identifies slaves and his own "pigeon house" in the sketch. The letter reads in part, "I send you some of my odd moments in the shape of sketches. I hope you will overlook imperfections in the art while I try to give you some idea of our location. . . . I am staying with three of my comrads in a pigeon house. You will see its location in reference to the house in one picture, and in the other you will see it Enlarged without and inside views and the every day occurance of dividing our rations with the negros. I presume you understand the rest-my comrads are Harry Wood, Thomas Clark & . . . [illegible]. We have a stove you see that belongs to Wood. . . . I miss the little one. I hope he will be interested with the pictures I have sent and I hope I can be permitted to send you more of a more lively nature." On the reverse of the two pages, Pollard has drawn his pigeon house. He attempted to give depth to his illustration by cutting out of the drawing the face of the house. On the reverse of page two of the letter he has drawn a view of the inside of the house, featuring three men: two on their bunks and the third on a bench. The illustration bears the caption, "This room is about 8 by 10 inside. I have not mentioned that the negros carry all their luggage on their heads here. I saw one yesterday carry a kettle and they often carry a wash tub of water in the same way." Below the pigeon house, Pollard has drawn a slave woman carrying a wash tub on her head to illustrate his description.
As a member of an engineers' regiment, Pollard did not participate directly in battles, but according to a letter written to "Friends of Vermont" on August 13, 1863, he met his brother Charlie, who served in an army unit, which led to a close encounter on a battlefield: "As he could not get excused from the duty for that night, I went up to the front with him and for the first time experienced what the common soldier has to endure lying in the trenches under fire, and there in those trenches we lay and talked over our family matters while the Rebel Shot & shell were making all sorts of noises about us . . . so close was the bursting of some shell or the humming of its fragments." This letter is illustrated on the final bifolium page with the scene of a farmhouse.
From Morris Island, South Carolina, on August 30, 1863, Pollard reported on the kinds of diversions soldiers found, including his own of drawing: "Many may wander what the soldier finds to do during his Evenings and odd spells. Why some of them are playing cards others are talking about the progress of the war. Others are taking a snooze and their minds are with the Loved ones far away. Some are eating and others drinking. . . . But I spend most of my odd spells in my tent and a good many of them alone. I want to improve myself in some way. . . . Therefore I shun those Evils [card playing, drinking] by the help of God, I mean to be able to copy the features that he has delineated in the face of man. I think the past-time is harmless and I am sure that it has no degrading influences but rather an Elevatory tendency, and if I live and can accomplish what I intend to at the Expiration of my time I shall not consider my odd moments lost. . . . My chances for having left on my body a right-arm is another inducement for me to try and make myself skillful while I indulge the taste that God himself has put within me."
On January (or July) 11, 1864, Pollard sent his niece an illustrated letter from Bermuda Hundred, Virginia: "I am in possession of a pass at this moment to take me on forbidden ground by command of Gen. Butler. . . . I am only waiting for my driver and then I take the boat and go across the River to a plantation and I am to take a general view of this side called Bermuda Landing. I am at work for the Porvost-Marshal Col. Fuller. . . . The Col told me that he would see I was Detailed for his orders so that I could devote my whole time to Drawing. . . . I thought I would send you a Sketch of this landing." Pollard then goes on to explain his sketch in detail. "This Sketch business," he hopes, "will take me most anywhere."
Pollard wrote of some of the awfulness of war from Jacksonville, Florida, on February 23, 1864, following the Battle of Olustee: "It was awful to see the fellers go in full of pluck and be shot down in such numbers, all done in about 2 hours. Only 30 or so of our Engineers were there and we were placed across the road to stop all that were not wounded from skedaddling. It was heart rending to send a man back after he had been in the thick of it. But we only stopped them so as to prevent a panic. But I saw the officers draw their swords and tell men to return to their company right under the thickest of the fire. Oh, tis Horrible but such is war. . . . We are now on the top shelf, but many are doomed to the loss of some loved one. To prove it more true, I brought a port-Folio from the field and in it was a song, When this Cruel War is Over. I did not take this from any knapsack but it lay beside a tree and I snatched it up when we were coming off."
During the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, Pollard writes on May 15, 1864, regarding the Battle of Proctor's Creek: "Our Division at the front got repulsed yesterday. The enemy sprang upon us in the Fog and in such numbers as to compel us to fall back. You will probably get full details of the battle before you get this. We took some prisoners, however, as well as they. . . . Our company are taking up and putting down pontoons. I expect we will run one across the River to day to let about 40 thousand cavalry across to this side."
In one color illustrated letter, written on October 16 (n.y.) from Branch Depot "In the field near Butler's Hd Qtr.," Pollard writes about his sketch, "On the opposite leaf you can see something as the land lies about us, and though tis not as well as I can do if I try, still I don't know as you care for that, but I must say that you have tried to have me improve as you offered to send me copies and Bristol board to draw upon. . . . I will do as well as I can while in the Army and I think with a little instruction after the war is over I shall be all right to paint window curtains or anything else that my come in my way, but don't take this for a sample."
In a letter (four pages on two sheets) written during the unsuccessful Union Assault on Fort Sumter in 1863 (the date and place have been removed from the letter), Pollard writes an illustrated letter from Fort Wagner in which he comments on his six penciled illustrations of "Sketches from Wagner." The illustrations include "Sumter," "My position in Grey," "Bomb proof of Wagner," "Plan of bomb proof," "One Entrance to the bomb proof of Wagner," and "Fort Wagner Bomb Proof, Gun & Telegraph." Pollard writes in part: "I visited Battery Wagoner on the 15th. I made a few sketches from its bomb proof, also the proof itself Exterior, but the shells were flying and I could not get many. I also took one of Fort Sumter from Battery Grey. And here you can see something of the appearance after the moniters had made their trials on her walls-but a Rebel rag still flies over one corner as you see, but when Gen. Gilmore [Quincy Adams Gillmore] gets ready to put ours in its place I trust I will be accomplished and scientificly as he has taken Wagner & Grey with little loss of life. As Floyd [Pollard's young son] might ask the question where did Pa stand when he took Sumter tell him that I was standing by a gun in battery grey where I had a fine view of the whole harbor but the bursting overhead made me nervous and my hand trembled so that I gave up any further illustrations trusting that you have seen it all long before this in some of the Pictures. They shell our men from Johnson & Moultrie but fortunately few are killed or wounded. . . . I have given you something of an idea of the bomb proof of Wagner. The work is one calculated to stand a long siege if rightly conducted, but if dead bodies are allowed to lie carelessly about they will get stunk out in spite of their mighty earth works and massive timbers which support the whole. I also give a rough plan showing you the dark allies that must be where there is such a covering. . . . My sketches are generally made in haste as I cannot tell what moment I shall be called by the Q.M. . . . I wish to impress and by these simple lines there may take root the foundation that composes a genuine artist."
In a post-war illustrated letter dated December 8, 1878, from Pollard's home in Gasport, New York, the veteran writes of his work as an artist: "[My greatest pleasure] lies in art mostly in copying nature and it is my greatest regret that I am not a skillful artist instead of an ordinary House builder. My odd moments at the present age of 46 years is spent in drawing. I use mostly Charcoal drawing as I never have taken lessons in Paint in any shape but I admire Paintings & Statuary." This letter includes a drawing of Gasport, identifying Pollard's house.
Pollard states in his letters that he drew many of his sketches to give family and friends back home an idea of what he was witnessing and experiencing. Most of his sketches bear titles or captions; a few are in watercolor. Following are a few examples of the titles found in this lot:
"Remains of those killed in the front - Expedition here in the year 1861. This Located at the farther End of Robbers Row or North End. Tis Enclosed by a fence which compares with that on the other side." This drawing features over a dozen grave markers, with a goat wandering about. It is presented twice, once in a letter home and a second time on paperboard (11" x 8.5") in ink.
"Soldiers Home on furlough" (9" x 6"), ink and water color.
"Post Office, Bermuda Hundred Virginia" (11" x 7.5"), ink.
"Jeff Davis' Mansion, Richmond" (9" x 6.5"), pencil.
"Dutch Gap, Oct. 20th 1864" (6.5" x 5"), ink and watercolor.
"Col. Serrells Head Quarters, Folley Island, S.C." (7.5" x 6"), pencil.
"Palmetto Leaf Church, Folly Island" (8.5" x 5.25"), pencil.
"Head Quarters, Barbers Plantation, Florida" (8.5" x 7"), ink.
"Broadway Landing on the Appomattox" (11" x 9"), ink.
"Folly Isle Coast Officers tents, Ocean" (11" x 9"), ink.
"Engineers Encampment, Hilton Head S.C." (7.5" x 5"), pencil, identifying Pollard's tent.
"Building Bridge across Swamp, Graham's Plantation" (10.5" x 7.75"), pencil, identifying a "negro church," "negro House," "Eng[inee]rs," and "Privy"; ink.
"Headqts of the Army, Hilton Head" (7.25" x 8"), pencil.
"P.O. at Hilton Head, S.C." (7.5" x 7"), ink.
"Sunday Company Inspection, Capt. Parsons" (8.25" x 6.25"), ink.
"Sunday Inspection by Capt. Parson, NY Engrs., Company K" (9" x 7"), ink and water color.
"Depot and Tools" (5.25" x 4"), pencil.
"Provost Martial" (7.5" x 4.75"), pencil. Pollard recorded below the sketch, "This place is only a short distance from my tent. Tis where the prisoners were put."
"Fort Sumter from Battery Grey, Morris Island, 1863" (9" x 3.75"), pencil.
One sketch illustrates the inside of the two tents belonging to "Pollard & Goodspeed" and "Perigo & Sickles" on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., July 31, 1864. In another, Pollard draws the gunboat George Washington, which patrolled the waters around Hilton Head. He describes the gunboat as "our protector." Pollard sketched various subjects, such as family members, various homes (including plantation homes), a "Negro Camp," battlefield embalmers, various military camps, a senator, towns, pontoon wagons, Zouaves, the Hilton Head hospital, various post offices, a "Regimental workshop," a "Quarter Masters building," "Gilmores headqts," musicians, a "revolving fire arm," the CSS Atlanta, and more. Included is a post-war sketch book partially filled with various drawings.
Also included are thirteen photographs. Four are CDVs of Pollard's sketches, marked on the versos as "Dutch Gap," "Engineers Depot, City Point in Distance, Bermuda 100," "Gen. Ords. Qtrs, Varina," and "Train and Depot in the field." Four images feature Pollard (one is a CDV of Pollard in uniform). The remaining show Pollard's first and second wives, Colonel Edward Serrell (NY 1st Engineers) in uniform with saber, a tintype of a Union soldier with rifle and bayonet (possibly brother Charlie), and an unidentified man.
The leather portfolio (14" x 9") has two compartments. Following the Battle of Olustee, Pollard writes how he obtained the portfolio on February 23, 1864, stressing that he did not take it from a dead soldier: "I brought a port-Folio from the field and in it was a song, When this Cruel War is Over. I did not take this from any knapsack but it lay beside a tree and I snatched it up when we were coming off." Pollard must have used the portfolio to carry some of his sketches during the war. It is well used and worn, with some separation to the front panel.
The following are also included: Research materials (a Rochester, New York, newspaper article dated May 1954 regarding the letters and sketches of James Pollard [two copies]; facsimiles of pages from Arch Merrill's 1961 book, Down the Lore Lanes); two discharge documents for Pollard, dated March 1864 and June 1865; two advertisements (4 pages each) for a stereopticon (a.k.a. magic lantern) exhibition of Civil War slides; two late-nineteenth century newspapers; an affidavit from a soldier acquainted with Pollard during the Civil War testifying to Pollard's disability "of Piles and Varicose Veins" brought on by his service in the Union army; a $5 Confederate bill; a partly-printed Confederate transportation pass (February 19, 1863); and other items. This archive has been well cared for and merits much more research.
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