CABINET CARD OF VIRGINIA GENERAL WILLIAM TALIAFERRO BY THE LEE GALLERY, RICHMOND

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Item Code: 846-264

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This rather dynamic mid-chest up view of General William Taliaferro shows him in the regulation frock coat of a major general with two rows of buttons grouped by threes and the slightly out of date use of shoulder straps with his rank insignia to secure his epaulets. In more or less following U.S. regulations, he conforms to the Virginia militia law of 1858, which prescribed the uniform of the U.S. Army for its troops, though substituting state buttons. (Existing organizations might keep their old uniforms, but those formed after 2 March 1858 were to adhere to the new regulations.)

The photographic mount bears a photographer’s stamp in raised letters in a sunken cartouche reading, “THE LEE GALLERY / 920 MAIN STREET. / RICHMOND, VA.” The Lee Gallery was operated by John W. Davies of Richmond, who entered the photography business about 1864 as an offshoot of engraving, lithography, and printing sheet music for his book and music store. A bust length photographic portrait of Lee proved popular with the public and with Lee himself, who used it for gifts to admirers and about 1869 or 1870 Davies renamed the photographic portion of his operation the Lee Gallery. His son continued the operation for another ten years or so after the death of John Davies in 1883.

In format the photograph is a cabinet card, measuring 4 by 6 ½ inches, which was introduced in limited numbers under different names during the Civil War, but became the prevailing popular format around 1870, the same time the Lee Gallery opened up. The use of plain, matte finish cardstock with no gilt borders and the use of a simple impressed stamp instead of elaborate printed photographer’s logo also points to an early date, likely 1869 or 1870, while the image from which it was copied, was likely an ambrotype of 1859-1860, judging from the uniform and rank. The reverse of the card mount is inscribed in period pen: “Maj. Genl. Wm. B. Taliaferro, C.S.A. / of / Dunham Massie / Gloucester Co. / Virginia.” “Dunham Massie” was Taliaferro’s home, built in 1845 and named after the ancestral home of the Booth family in England.

William Booth Taliaferro (1822-1898) was born in Gloucester County, VA., and educated at William and Mary and at Harvard Law. In the Mexican War he obtained a commission in early 1847 as captain in the 11th US Infantry, one of ten new regiments raised provisionally for one year’s service, and was promoted major of the 11th US in August. Posted at Vera Cruz, he saw some minor action against Mexican guerillas, but was part of Lane’s column to raise the siege of Puebla and was in the fighting at Huamantla in which Capt. Samuel Walker of the Mounted Rifles and Colt pistol fame was killed in October, and present for the subsequent sack of the town. He did some occupation duty in Mexico City and mustered out in August 1848 to return to plantation farming and some politics as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He continued with his interest in military matters, however, sitting on the Board of Visitors of V.M.I. and was the highest ranking Virginia militia officer by 1859, when he was tasked by the Governor with overseeing security for John Brown and his men while they awaited execution at Charlestown.

In 1861 he was dispatched to seize the U.S. Navy Yard at Norfolk even before the Virginia Ordinance of Secession was passed, though actually doing so only the day after. Despite his high rank in the Virginia militia, he started his field command simply as a colonel, though promoted to brigadier general by the end of 1861. He commanded a brigade under Jackson in the Valley and at Cedar Mountain, taking a division command for a time, until wounded at Brawner Farm in August 1862. He returned to division command for Fredericksburg, but did not see action. Disappointed in further promotion he transferred to Beauregard’s command and successfully defended Fort Wagner, with subsequent service in the Dept. of East Florida and South Carolina, ending up with a division command again in time for Bentonville. After the war he returned to Gloucester County, serving in the state legislature and as a judge. He died in 1898, at Dunham Massie.

The photograph is in very good condition, a tad light, but with good detail, full of character, and just minor spotting. The upper right corner of the mount is missing, but the corner of the image is intact. The reverse shows some minor dirt and stains, and some light rubs, but the inscription is very clear. Taliaferro was a Virginian with a forceful personality and some interesting military service that included battles with the enemy and with fellow officers in both wars, including generals Pillow and Jackson.  [sr]

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