Nathaniel K. Sawyer
February 3, 1863
Nathaniel Sawyer, of Ellsworth, wanted to help his friend, Samuel Royal, Jr.
Samuel had three brothers – Charles, Luther, and Henry. Each had volunteered for the army. Luther was in Company C of the 18th Maine Infantry Regiment, Henry in Company G of the 8th Maine Regiment, and Charles was a member of Company B of the 6th Maine Infantry Regiment.
In December, Charles had become sick and had died.
Mourning his brother's death, Samuel Royal wanted to go to battle himself, but he did not want to join his brothers and go as a soldier. He wanted to contribute in another way.
Royal was a photographer, and he sought Sawyer's help in asking Governor Abner Coburn to write to the Secretary of War in Washington so that he could be issued a "pass or permit."
Until the Civil War, battlefield pictures were hand-drawn, carved, or painted. Advances in photography were, in part, spurred by the public’s response to images captured by professionals such as Matthew Brady – and Samuel Royal.
As Sawyer informs the Governor, Royal wants to "practice his business, that of taking ambrotypes."
Ambrotypes were images captured on glass plates. The plates were coated with collodion and silver nitrate before being exposed to light. The glass plate images were less expensive and were preferred over daguerreotypes, which had a shiny and metallic image quality. Because they relied on glass instead of metal or paper, ambrotypes were easily cracked and broken.
The tintype photographic technique was introduced in 1860. Tintypes became popular because they were easier to transport and less costly to make.
The tintype technology was too new for Royal. He continued to use ambrotypes until after the War.
- What are some differences between photographs today and photographs from the Civil War?
- Do you think the camera had an impact on the war?
- In what ways?
- How does war affect the evolution of technology?
- Why do you think ambrotypes and daguerreotypes were often put in hard cases?