July 20, 1864
Early in 1864, Adjutant General John Hodsdon wrote to each Maine regiment and asked that the officers within them send him – if possible – their carte de visites. The "visiting cards" were photographs of the soldier, printed, about the size of a modern business or playing card, which could be easily carried in a jacket, shirt, or pants pocket.
Hodsdon’s request did not spell out what he intended to do with the photographs, but their value to him and to the officers was clear. Hundreds of officers responded quickly to the Adjutant General, and he dutifully gathered the carte de visites and include them within the collection of Civil War records.
Hodsdon was a former officer in the Maine militia, and he knew many of the men whose pictures he collected.
Some, such as Brigadier General James Carleton, were Hodsdon’s fellow officers and neighbors. Born in Castine in 1814, Carleton moved to Bangor as a boy and met Hodsdon at school. He and Hodsdon joined the militia and participated in the 1839 Aroostook War that resolved Maine’s northern boundary. Carleton joined the federal, or Regular Army, was sent to the Southwest, and Hodsdon remained in Maine.
When the Civil War began, Carleton was serving as a Major in the First Dragoons, a U.S. Army cavalry unit that served in California, New Mexico and Utah. In September, 1862, Carleton was appointed Commander of the 9th Military Department, and set up his headquarters in Santa Fe. By the time he sends his picture to Hodsdon, he has been promoted to Brigadier General and has been ordered to enlist 1,500 men into the California Volunteers and to take them to New Mexico to join with other federal troops to ward off a Confederate insurgency.
His photograph informs Hodsdon of his whereabouts: "Head Quarters Department of New Mexico, Santa Fe, N.M. July of 1864."
To that information, Carlton adds a personal note: "This is sent to my old friend and schoolmate John L. Hodsdon, Adjutant General of the State of Maine with sincere wishes for his health and happiness."
Although Carleton was not part of a Maine regiment over which the Adjutant General would have had some influence, Hodsdon kept Carleton’s carte de visite.
- How many ways might carte de visites have been useful?