Author Topic: Seeing the elephant  (Read 169 times)

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Online brandm24

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Seeing the elephant
« on: January 05, 2021, 04:52:33 PM »
As a group, Civil War dog tags, those engraved on prepared blanks, are relatively common and available for a price. On the other hand counterstamped coins used to identify soldiers are extremely rare and mostly unobtainable. During all the years I've studied them i've only come across two examples that can be documented as absolutely legitimate. I've seen about a half dozen others that were almost certainly worn by soldiers in combat, but there's no historical records to verify their status. Records would include soldier's diary entries, personal letters home to family or friends, or even recollections of ancestors.

This piece is one that has been verified by historical documentation. It's an old worn Spanish 2-Reales coin stamped A.B. Miner which now resides in the collection of Civil War specialist Mike Brown.

While not a great deal is known about the life of Amos B. Miner, his military service is clearly documented in the regimental history of the 76th New York State Volunteers. The twenty two year old Pitcher, New York farmer enlisted on September, 20, 1861 and was mustered in as corporal, Co. B on October 4th. On September 12, 1862 he was discharged for disability (likely for wounds or sickness) at Washington, DC. He re-enlisted on August 31, 1863 after recovering from his disability, this time as a private but still with Co. B. He was taken prisoner on May 5, 1864 by the Confederates at the bloody battle of the Wilderness in Virginia and died seven months later at the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp in Florence, South Carolina.

Miner may have taken this tag with him when he enlisted, or simply had someone stamp it for him later... perhaps a surler. Soldiers, being superstitious by nature, realize that being killed in battle is a real possibility. To be buried as unidentified was their biggest fear. They referred to this mindset as "seeing the elephant." Perhaps Miner "saw the elephant" and thought it prudent to carry identification. We'll never know.

Bruce
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Re: Seeing the elephant
« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2021, 07:21:16 AM »
A superb piece of history, Bruce. My impression is that the US civil war did to the American psyche what the Boer war did to Western European culture: ingraining the utter ugliness of war and making separation of states unthinkable in the US case, making place for thought about the treatment of civilians in wartime in the Western Europe case.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online brandm24

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Re: Seeing the elephant
« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2021, 11:27:12 AM »
That's true, Peter. The country was left in shambles after it was over. It was protracted, bitter, and pitted not only individual states against each other but sometimes whole families and former friends. I've read accounts of brothers or fathers and sons meeting in combat. It's heartbreaking and ugly.

It did scar the American psyche without question. Over 150 years later some of the animosity still exists.

Bruce
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Re: Seeing the elephant
« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2021, 05:30:05 PM »
This is another one of the very few documented cases of a counterstamped coin being used as a dog tag by a Civil War soldier. This is perhaps the best known of any as John Hebron's family preserved over 150 of his letters, one which mentiones the tag he had made after the battle of Chicamauga, Georgia in August, 1863.

 Most of the letters were written to his mother, Lydia, but a few to his sisiter and his father, Alexander. Along with these letters, other military related items, including his dog tag, were saved by the family. The entire collection remained in the family until it was sold at auction many years later.

John L. Hebron was born in Steubenville, Ohio in January of 1842 (some sources list it as December). As a young man he was apprenticed in the granite and marble cutting trade which he continued in until his enlistment into Co G,of the 2nd Ohio Volunteers in late 1861. His unit, attached to the 9th Brigade, 3rd Division of the Army of the Ohio, fought in many engagements during his over three year enlistment. They include Ivy Mountain, Perryville, Murfreesboro, Stone River, Chicamauga, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, and  numerous other engagements and skirmishes in Tennessee and Georgia.

Hebron was discharged on October 10, 1864 in Columbus, Ohio. On his seperation he returned to work in the stone cutting trade and specialized in monumental work. It's thought that he was responsible for cutting the ornate monument that marked his own grave. He died and was buried in Union Cemetary in Steubenville on May 26, 1914.

The image of Habron was thought to have been made at Cowan's Station, Tennessee in August, 1863 shortly before Chicamauga in the following month. Unfortunately, the image of his coin is the best one I could come up with.

Bruce

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Re: Seeing the elephant
« Reply #4 on: January 29, 2021, 08:04:26 PM »
Thank you Bruce. The image of the skinny, hollow-eyed youngster, looking a bit scared really brings that counterstamp in perspective. I suppose he was an infantryman. Though at 21, he may have volunteered for the adventure, he must have seen more pain, sickness, death and destruction than others of his age in different generations. As Bob Dylan put it in "Eve of Destruction": "You're old enough to kill, but not for votin'".

The c/s looks well aligned and professionally done. While he had the skills, I wonder where he got the tools to make it. I doubt his stonemason's tools were hard and small enough and that he took them along in the army.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

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Re: Seeing the elephant
« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2021, 12:17:09 PM »
I took the time to read nearly all the letters he sent home as they're available on the internet. Most were very short...he seemed a man of few words...but over the entire run I got a pretty good feeling for him as a person. Complaining about military life and such is standard fare and his complaints to his mother about his sister not writing enough were amusing.

Hebron was an infantryman / bugler so had some varying experiences both good and bad. As far as his dog tag goes, I think he may have made it himself but I can't be sure. He mantioned in a number of letters problems he was having with receiving a set of metal stencils / stamps he'd ordered from a man in Ohio. Apparently, he planned on marking other soldier's belongings as there was money in doing so. Not quite sure what kind of "stencils" he was talking about, as punches were sometimes called stencils. In any case he finally got the set but never mentioned it again.

The dynamic between him and his mother was interesting. He durifully sent much of his pay home to her, keeping only what he thought he'd need. She in turn sent care packages to him on a regular basis. He seemed distant from his father as he only wrote to him a couple of times.

The picture was taken during one of the periods of his disabling sickness which he suffered through on and off. Normally he wasn't so sickly and thin from what I read. I've another picture of him that shows him in better health. As soon as it's resized  I'll post it.

Bruce
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Re: Seeing the elephant
« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2021, 02:14:27 PM »
Here's another undated picture of Hebron. Looks a bit healthier in this one.

Bruce
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Re: Seeing the elephant
« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2021, 03:47:34 PM »
Maybe the punches were lost in fighting.

Which reminds me of one of my bosses, an American, who served as a low-ranking officer in the Korean war. For a while, his responsibilities included empty Coca Cola bottles, on which the army could claim return deposits. They were in a trailer, hooked onto his jeep and a real pain as well as the source of constant jangling. At one point, his unit got under fire. Our quick-thinking hero immediately ordered that the trailer be unhooked and rolled into a precipitous gorge before withdrawing. It cost him some report-writing and angry questions from DC how the trailer could have been lost under enemy fire, but there really wasn't much they could do about it. As a bonus, he lost his onerous responsibility for empty bottles.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

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Re: Seeing the elephant
« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2021, 11:40:15 PM »
Probably his sole responsibility, which he took seriously. :laughing:

Bruce
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