I have discovered that to identify people in pictures, having a name is not always enough. A date, or place, or even another family member is always helpful. In these pictures, we have the name (Ambrose Jasper Fellows) and location (Hudson, New York) recorded on the back of the photos. We also have some other helpful information.
Professional photos often include the studio or photographer’s name. We can estimate the dates using this information.
Albert Lucier was a photographer in Chatham, New York in the 1905 NY State census, but is not seen in that area in the 1900 U.S. census and had moved to the West by 1910.
Volkert Whitbeck worked as a photographer in Hudson, New York beginning in 1863, but did not purchase the studio and operate under his own name until about 1891.
Notice that in the portrait, Ambrose has a salt and pepper mustache, while in the group photo he has a gray mustache and thinning hair. We can deduce the portrait was taken first, after 1890, followed several years later by the group photo, taken around 1905.
On the group picture, we have another very important hint. The reverse includes the notation “civil war veterans”. On closer examination, the two older gentlemen are wearing GAR membership medals, indicating service in the Union Army during the Civil War.
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was founded in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois. Local organizations were called Posts, organized in Departments, generally the state. Nationwide, the GAR was operated by an elected Commandery-in-chief. Rituals were similar to Free Masonry, and membership was limited strictly to union “veterans of the late unpleasantness”. Each member was awarded a membership medal of an eagle and crossed canons, connected by a flag ribbon to a five pointed star. Although each medal included a unique serial number, no nationwide records of serial numbers and veterans was ever prepared. A few local posts recorded which medal was awarded to which veteran, but few of these records survive.
Badges for Post officers replaced the eagle and cannons with a bar denoting rank. An eagle was for post commander, 2 stars for junior commander and a cross indicated the chaplain. A border was added to the flag ribbon, silver for post officers or gold for department officers. Following the term of office, past officers would often reattach the eagle and cannons with the command bar now displayed on the bordered ribbon. Notice that both of our civil war veterans are past post commanders, most likely of John A. Logan Post 539 of Chatham, NY, founded Jan 27, 1885.
For more information on the GAR, see civilwarhome.com/grandarmyofrepublic.htm or visit the website of the Sons of Union Volunteers (suvcw.org)
Ambrose Jasper Fellows was born in May 1838 in Hudson New York. At the time of the 1855 New York State Census, his mother Catherine, age 40, was head of the household in Hillsdale, New York with Ambrose age 17, Henry age 15, Ann M age 13, Aaron, age 11 and Emeline age 9.
Ambrose enlisted in Company G, 44th New York Infantry in Albany, October 1861. He was discharged in 1863 to enlist in the U. S. Army as a Hospital Steward. He was discharged 30 June 1865 for disability at Hospital #2 at Vicksburg, Mississippi.
After returning from service, Ambrose began working in a drugstore and eventually became a druggist in Chatham, Columbia County New York. (Hillsdale and Hudson are also in Columbia County) He married Martha C Wentworth in 1875. According to the 1900 census, Martha had 4 children, with only 3 living in 1900. Earle (born 1878) and Anna (born 1887) were the only children listed. Ambrose died in Hillcrest Hospital, Pittsfield, Massachusetts July 26, 1909 at the age of 71.
I originally hoped the second veteran was Henry B. Fellows, brother of Ambrose. He also enlisted in Co. G, 44th NY Infantry in Oct 1861. However, Henry was killed at the Battle of Hanover Courthouse, Virginia on May 27, 1862. It would be fun to speculate that the young man standing in the back of the group photo is Ambrose’s son Earle, but there is no indication that this is the case. In fact, it seems unlikely that the person who noted the identity of Ambrose would not have also identified his son. We may never know the identity of the other gentlemen, although any remaining records of the GAR posts in Columbia County might be helpful.
OK, time to find a home for these photos and search out a new picture to learn about!
Submitted by Alice Clark, SBAGS President, firstname.lastname@example.org