After collecting Civil War photography or artifacts in general, sooner or later some of us will probably experience that elated, ecstatic, or simple floating nirvana-like feeling when one has stumbled across a great find at an antique show or an estate or yard sale. There is nothing quite like it.
After finding a grouping of CDVs of a regiment that he collects and purchasing them for a song, a friend of mine put it best when he said, "I've never done drugs, but I think I've experienced that same feeling."
Well, I can also say that I am one of the lucky ones who has also experienced this feeling, but only after an amazing chain of events. This was all the result of a young Pennsylvania soldier named Franklin Lebo who lost his identification disc on a rainy afternoon in 1864. Let me explain further.
My passion for 19th Century photography is only equaled by my passion for finding Civil War relics with my metal detector. On October 6, 1993, I was finishing a day of relic hunting on a farm outside of Berryville, Virginia.
The Union VI and XIX Corps were camped in this area September 4-19, 1864, and reports of their activities can be found in The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 43, Part 1. The Battle of Berryville on September 3 had been just a small foreshadowing of Sheridan's 1864 Valley Campaign that would ultimately end in the destruction of a Confederate army as well as leave the "breadbasket of the Confederacy" in Union hands.
In the meantime, the two armies squared off several miles apart and licked their wounds for several cold and rainy weeks. The Union Army ended up setting up camp around the area of the recent fight. A great description of this time period can be found in Wilber Fisk's Hard Marching Every Day.
I was tired and content as my pockets were full of artifacts left behind by these soldiers almost exactly 129 years before. I decided to make one more pass before calling it quits and making the long ride home. Luckv for me that I did.
As I walked over the ground that had become very familiar to me, my headphones sang out with a small but strong signal that indicated an object made from good metal that was fairly deep. I was excited because of the amount ofartifacts already found close by.
I slowly removed the plug of cow pasture and there it was, a circular object about six or eight inches from the bottom of my hole. At first I thought it was a large penny often seen from the first or second quarter of the 19th Century. After lifting it out of the dirt, though, my heartbeat quickened as I noticed a small attachment loop near the top of this dirt-encrusted object. Carefully wiping some dirt away, my heart jumped as I saw the letters and realized at once that I was holding in my hands a Union soldier's identification disc, a great find for anyone, but for me this had been a personal holy grail.
From this point everything gets hazy. I vaguely remember filling in the hole and flying down that hill like some demented rela.tive of Mercury's. In the car, I sped to town to find the nearest payphone to call my brother who was then just getting home from his office in Philadelphia instead of walking the beautiful Virginia landscape and touching history with me. I knew what he would rather have been doing, and it wasn't sitting behind his desk.
The disc that I had found had been lost by Private F. Lebo, of the 93rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, VI Corps.
By the fall of 1864 Lebo was still only 18 years old and had been with the regiment since it had mustered in, in his case since October 12, 1861. He must have been a tough lad because by 1864 he had four "red badges of courage." He was wounded on the left thumb and left cheek at the Battle of Williarnsburg, May 5, 1862, and was shot twice again on the scalp and the left leg, below the kneecap, at the Battle of Cold Harbor, June 12, 1864. All four wounds are documented several places in his pension records.
This disc was pictured in another great Civil War publication, North South Traders Civil War (September/October 1994). Little did I know then that this would be critical in helping realize another dream of mine, which was to see or own any existing photo of Lebo, thereby tieing in my love for Civil War photography.
I thought this dream to be impossible as I had already gone through the 93d's regimental history, as well as a great work put out by Robert Lyon in 1987 that compiled all the then known photos of the men of the 93rd. Lebo was nowhere to be found.
Bear with me, fellow "photo nuts," as this was all about to change in the summer of 1994.
One day I received a letter from Brent Musser, Jr., a name unknown to me at that time and forwarded to me from the North South Trader. Not expecting anything, I opened the letter, which included a photocopy of a Union soldier CDV. Reading on through, my interest skyrocketed. Brent was a photo collector as well and had seen the picture ofLebo's disc and the name "rang a bell."
He went through his collection of Pennsylvania-marked CDVs, and there it was. The neat notation "P.M. Lebo" with a Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, backmark, a town very close to where Lebo was from. I contacted Brent, we met, and after working out some photo trades, the prize was mine.
Prominently displayed hanging from Lebo's shell jacket is an 1.D. disc. I believe it to be the very one that I had found. I say this because of when the photo had to have been taken.
First, look closely at Lebo's left cheek. You can actually see the scarring left there from his wounding at Williarnsburg. We know then that this image from life was taken after May 1862. Second, and the most obvious clue, is the veteran's stripes on Lebo's sleeve.
In January 1864 Lebo, along with many of his fellow patriots, reenlisted, probably to see the war to its culmination. According to the 93rd's regimental history, in February of that year, these new veterans were given a month's hiatus from the war and their cold winter huts. The backmark shows that Lebo headed home sometime after receiving the honor of being a veteran. I believe that the image was made at this time.
Third: When Lebo signed on again in the winter of '64, he changed from G to H company (on January 1, 1864). The disc is stamped Co. G, showing that Lebo kept the disc from his time in Co. G up until the time he lost it in the fall of 1864, by which time he had been eight months in Co. H.
Lebo's forage cap could possibly shed more evidence if the CDV were a little clearer. As it stands now, under magnification I can see a "9" and a "3," but what is attached above the numbers only Lebo now knows. It is probably a company letter with some sort of VI Corps badge, but I'll never know for sure.
Lebo went on to see the war's end, and was mustered out with his company on June 27, 1865. He married late in life, but sadly the couple had no children, and he outlived his wife by a number of years. He died in Erie, Pennsylvania, where, according to his pension records, some of his closest friends were his nurse and his barber.
Lebo died on July 1, 1930. With the help of the Erie Historical Society and the U.S. Postal Service, I was able to obtain copies of his obituary. As well, friends of mine from the 150th Pennsylvania Volunteer Bucktail reenacting regiment located Lebo's grave while on a trip to Erie this past summer. They honored Lebo with a small ceremony and reported that his grave as well as other soldiers in the cemetery are being well cared for.
This story is not quite complete as I am still planning to make a pilgrimage to the Erie Cemetery to visit someone who now feels like an old friend. So if you read this article and are from Erie, please make sure that you stop by and visit the grave of this soldier. I'm sure that he would be happy and if we could hear him, he'd probably chuckle and tell us that his photo and I.D. disc coming back together after almost 130 years was actually not a coincidence at all.
Hard Marching Every Day
From a letter from Wilber Fisk, dated "Sept. 4, 1864, Near Berryville, Va.": "We are now about three miles from Berryville and about half way between Snicker's Gap and Winchester. We left our camp near Charlestown yesterday, and marched up the Valley, to guess at it, about ten miles, to this place. We marched over the same road that we did in going to Strasburg, and returning from there. We are beginning to get familiar with this road. This is the third time that we have been over it in as many weeks.
"During the past two weeks we moved camp but twice. We have rested six days, and marched on the seventh. This isreversingthe Scripture rule, but I am not sure but that it will have a good effect. It certainly seems better than paying no attention to the divine command whatever."
Images provided by: Paul Johnson Back To The Biographies
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