Young men in Vermont in the final December of the Civil War (1864)

One hundred and fifty-four years ago this week, seven friends sat for a portrait at Nathaniel L. Merrill’s Photographic Gallery in Springfield, Vermont. They look young enough to be in high school, or perhaps recent graduates.  The carte-de-visite photo has a revenue stamp on the back, affixed and cancelled by the photographer on December 22, 1864.  Were these fellows about to head home for Christmas or winter break?  The end of the war was still six months away, but they had no idea how much longer it would last.

Guys in Springfield, Vermont (Dec. 1864) 3

Guys in Springfield, Vermont (Dec. 1864) 2


Revenue stamps were required by the U.S. Government on commercial photographs from August 1, 1864 until August 1, 1866, initially to raise funds to fight the Civil War, and then to pay off debts after the war ended in May 1865. Photographers were required to cancel a stamp after affixing it to the back of a photo.


23 thoughts on “Young men in Vermont in the final December of the Civil War (1864)

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    1. I think you’re right about them looking older than they are. I considered referring to them as boys, but that didn’t seem right. They’re on the cusp of adulthood. I don’t think the war would have worried them much. Being young, they probably thought of it as a great adventure, if they were required to serve at all.

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  1. I notice that each has a hand on one of his companions, except for the young man in the front row, 2nd from the left, whose hands are crossed in his lap. I wonder if the photographer posed the group that way, and this young man couldn’t find a natural way to comply, so he crossed his hands.

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    1. Today, men who are good friends might put a hand on a friend’s shoulder in a photo, but probably only if they are standing up. When sitting down, it would indicate a closer relationship, maybe family, as you suggest. By the way, Ilze, I have a new photo from Latvia which you might find interesting: Thanks for visiting! 🙂

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  2. Interesting about the revenue stamp on the back. Also, I don’t know why it is, but young men back then definitely looked older than they do today at the same age. Maybe they had more responsibilities?

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    1. I’ve always thought the same thing about young men looking older in vintage photographs than young men of the same age today. I think for me it has something to do with the clothing they’re wearing being more formal.

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    2. Clothing can certainly mature a person by several years. I find it difficult to guess a person’s age by looking at a single photo. I’ll often see a photo for sale of a young woman and think she was in her early twenties, and then read on the back that she was 16 in the photo! I find boys and men a little easier, but not much.

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