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Civil War Mystery from an Area History?

Coming Soon from Imaging Specialists

While researching online for our upcoming book, Four Brothers in Graywe’ve found a few things we weren’t looking for. ISI is reprinting the book with permission from Wilkes Community College (who has copyrights to the 1975 work by Mary Alice Hancock.)

In it, Miss Hancock tells about the Proffit family of Wilkes County, North Carolina, and the four sons of William and Mary Proffit that left home to fight for the South in the Great Rebellion.  She uses the boys’ own words- excerpts taken from over 100 letters sent home to Lewis Fork by the boys and their cousins to trace their paths through the war.

The oldest, Andrew J. Profit, was captured twice by the Union: first at Chancellorsville and released, then at Spotsylvania, where this time, he was sent to Pt. Lookout, a Northern prison in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay.

At Chancellorsville, he was officially- and erroneously- listed by Colonel John Barry as killed in action while bearing the flag of the 18th NC Infantry. But Andy was, in fact, captured and later wrote in a letter to his father, “the Yanks… took us to Washington and kept us about 13 days… treated us with great respect, give us plenty to eat…”

The flag he was captured with is now on display at the NC Museum of History.

The 18th NC Infantry Regiment flag captured by Union forces at the Battle of Chancellorsville and now on display at the North Carolina Museum of History

While looking for images of Pt. Lookout, we found one through the Library of Congress website. The image, hosted at Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society is described as:

[Prisoners at Point Lookout taking the oath of allegiance] [Albumen print]
CREATED/PUBLISHED June 30, 1865 and a larger image is on their site here.

We also found a discussion board at Authentic Campaigner Website & Forums, discussing the NYHS image here, and whether the men were actually taking an oath or possibly just, as someone named froghunter suggested, at a “conclusion of Sunday school class with a hand holding prayer. They could be Methodists.”

Poster yeoman stated the image was also printed in The Photographic History of the Civil War: in ten volumes (1911), Volume 3 and that a low res version of the book is available online, here where the caption states, The Last Confederate Prisoners Take the Oath at Pt. Lookout.

Todd Watts said they couldn’t have been the last group, as the book says the photo was taken in, “late April” and he has, “a copy of my ancestor’s oath of allegiance taken at Point Lookout in June, 1865. So this particular group, if photographed in April is not the final group to take the oath there.”

NYHS and the Library of Congress say June 30 and the 1911 book says late April. yeoman finally replies, “As far as being free from factual error… horseshoes and hand grenades.”

We agree. Accounts from that time don’t always match up. Even from eyewitnesses like Colonel Barry and Andrew Proffit.

But, we think they are, in fact, the last group from Pt. Lookout.

Image at New-York Historical Society
Image from Photographic History of the Civil War
(From a double page spread)

Look closely at the two photos: same men, same time, same poses, down to the folds of their clothes-
Except for behind the judge’s bench. In the book, there are two men standing behind the bench and in the NYHS image, there’s only one. Two different shots. Someone stood up (or sat down) but nobody else moved. They didn’t as much as shift their weight or change their stance. Big deal?

In those days, two shots that close together in time, was a big deal- possibly requiring two cameras with two photographers or more probably one, really fast photographer wanting to get an important shot.

A shot like the last group to leave the prison.

Imaging Specialists reproduced a set of A Photographic History… in the 1990’s for a leather-bound edition by a national publisher. We dismantled two sets of original 1911 books acquired from a library in Minnesota and shot the actual pages on our cameras, so we have a little history with this historical title.

We hope to include at least one version of the Point Lookout event in this very interesting book, Four Brothers in Gray.