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Rare Id’d Sixth Plate Tintype of Wounded Union Soldier from the Medical Compendium of Dr. Reed Bontecou

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          Dr. Reed B. Bontecou                                 Priv. James McGill 61rst NY Infantry



Rare Id’d Sixth Plate Tintype of Wounded Union Soldier from the Medical Compendium of Dr. Reed Bontecou – This 1/6 plate tintype is identified by a well penciled inscription on the back of the plate which says: “J McGill, B. 61st N.Y.” The image of a fully outfitted Union private, holding his rifle, with bayonet attached, carrying his cartridge box with sling, and wearing a four button sack coat and slouch hat, is indeed that of recent enlistee, James McGill, of the 61rst NY Infantry. He enlisted into Company B of the 61rst NY, on February 17, 1864. After the arduous participation of the 61rst NY in the bloody “Overland Campaign”, McGill would be wounded, in the eye, on March 31, 1865, in the Petersburg, Va. area. McGill posed for another photo, in 1865, after receiving the bullet wound to his eye. This post-wound photo was taken by Reed B. Bontecou, M.D., the surgeon in charge of Harewood US Army Hospital, in Washington, DC. Dr. Bontecou photographed many wounded soldiers, in an effort to document their wounds and the outcome of the treatment they received. He was the first to use photography to produce wounded and healed photographs; his efforts represented the first attempt, by medical experts, to show the results of the treatment and healing in soldiers. Of his many accomplishments, Dr. Bontecou’s collection of pre- and post-operative soldier photographs remains his best known. The most prolific, pioneer contributor to the innovative Army Medical Museum, he donated hundreds of images and thousands of specimens. His photographs have been widely reproduced in various forms, including the landmark series, The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion.

This image of Private McGill, just prior to his wounding, was not taken by Dr. Bontecou, but most certainly was cataloged by him, for his collection of so-called “before and after” photographs of wounded and treated soldiers. The inscription on the back of this plate, appears to be in the hand of Dr. Bontecou; a comparison of the labeling on the back of our image to the labeling on the slates held by wounded soldiers, in the many extant images taken by Dr. Bontecou, evidences an almost exact match to the writing on the back of the McGill plate, offered here. In addition, Dr. Bontecou numbered all of his images; this plate, on the back, has a small piece of paper with the number “12792” stenciled on it; also, the plate has a small hole, approximately 1/8” in diameter, punched in its upper left corner – we presume that this hole was used to hang the plate on a wire, with many other plates, thereby allowing Dr. Bontecou to organize and catalog his images.

This image, somewhat scratched in the emulsion, is still a good, war period image of a young New York infantryman, fully equipped and armed. The image’s ID is of great significance, as James McGill was one of Dr. Bontecou’s many photographed patients. In Bontecou’s image of a post-treatment McGill, it appears that the young private lost his eye, and had a glass eye inserted, as a cosmetic replacement. The pre-wound image offered here, shows a ready to fight McGill, completely and perhaps naively unaware of what he was about to endure. The image is housed in a full case, which is in great condition. This is a rare and important photograph.




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