After class today I was following up on some leads that will hopefully carry over into the next few class meetings. I was searching the Brooklyn Daily Eagle database when I came across an article about one William Patton Griffith. This led me to a search engine to find out more about the man. And that is where, among other things, I came across the photo you see here. It is the front and back of the same image. Griffith fought in the Civil War and was in his 90s when he finally died in the 1930s. Like many veterans he was actively engaged in veteran and civic affairs throughout his adult life; in his final years he was brought out for public engagements, one of those aged Civil War veteran whose symbolic power at Decoration Days and Fourths of July rested in that he survived anachronistically into the mid twentieth century. How in the 1920s or 1930s, in the wake of the Great War, the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression, could one not have been moved to meet a survivor of Gettysburg, Pea Ridge, or the Peninsula Campaign?
It is a striking images. He exudes the appearance of a man nearing the end of his life seemingly content that he has accomplished what had set out to achieve. What struck me too was his job title: patriotic instructor. Some very rudimentary digging indicated that this was a formal position within the Grand Army of the Republic, of which Griffith was a long and active member. It is tempting to scoff at such a thing, but as the saying goes the past is a foreign country and they do things differently there. I intend to talk more about Griffith in class next Tuesday.
(images/New York State Archives, Grand Army of the Republic records)