NEW ALBANY, Ind. – A California resident is trying to find a new home for a historical photo with southern Indiana connections.
Dan Fahey, who lives in Berkeley, California, is the owner of an antique photograph of William P. Davis, a southern Indiana resident who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. After conducting some research, Fahey discovered that the soldier was born in New Albany in 1834, and he served as an officer in the 23rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Fahey has no idea how the photograph ended up in California, but he hopes to connect with descendants of the soldier or a local historical organization so the photo can return to southern Indiana.
“I just want to get it to the right home – it seems like it belongs back in New Albany,” he said.
The photo previously belonged to Fahey's friend, Archibald Wilson, who collected items from the Victorian era, including daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. Wilson, a World War II veteran who died in 2011, gave Fahey the Davis photograph along with a few other antique photos he had displayed in his San Francisco home.
Wilson did not know that the photo of Davis was of a Civil War soldier, he said, but if he had, he would have wanted it to belong to the soldier's kin. The two friends met after Fahey joined the American Legion post that Wilson co-founded. Fahey is a Navy veteran who served in the Gulf War.
Fahey came across Davis' photo recently when he started digging through the photos he received from Wilson. He is planning to sell some of the photos on eBay, but Davis' photo was different.
Of the collection, the photo of Davis was the only one with any information attached — a note on the picture says “William P. Davis, New Albany, Indiana, 18 years old.”
The photo of Davis is encased in an ornate box that remains in good condition – the thermoplastic photo case is called a “union case,” which was used for daguerreotypes in the 1850s.
He did some research using Google, and although he does not have a membership with Ancestry.com, Fahey found enough information on the website to identify Davis.
“I could see enough information, and the timeframe worked out for when these boxes were being used, which was in the 1850s,” Fahey said. “And so the fact that he was 18 years old and I saw that there was a guy from New Albany born in 1834, it made sense that this box would be made in 1852. Then I saw the other mention that he had served in the Civil War.”
A document on a website called “Civil War Index” shows William P. Davis listed with other southern Indiana soldiers in the 23rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and it shows that he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. The regiment was organized in New Albany on July 29, 1861.
The regiment fought in major battles such as the Battle of Shiloh, the Siege of Vicksburg, the Siege of Atlanta and Sherman's March to the Sea, and during its three years in service, the regiment lost 524 men, including 345 who died in battle or died of wounds from battle and 179 who died of disease.
“(Davis) probably saw a lot, and they lost quite a few men,” Fahey said. “It was quite a local unit, it looks like, with people from New Albany who were part of that unit and went off to fight on the Union side. I thought that was interesting, and it would just seem a shame that this would disappear – if there are descendants who are still in the area, I just thought it would be nice to reunite it with them.”
As he looks at the photo, Fahey is curious to know more about Davis' story.
“When I look at the photo, I see a very young guy, and it says he's 18 years old, and he had his life ahead of him,” he said. “When I look at something like this, I think what happened after and what was his experience in the Civil War and how did that shape him? I'm sure there's a lot more interesting stories to be told there, and maybe the family knows this, maybe they don't, and maybe this will open the door to learn more about him and what he did.”
To connect with Dan Fahey, contact firstname.lastname@example.org