“Cuba Libre,” 1898-Union and Confederate Soldiers Shaking Hands-uniting the country against a common enemy and healing post–Civil War wounds-Photographed By Former Civil War Soldier Fitz Guerin
Guerin fought under Generals Sherman, Lyon, and Grant and won the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in combat on April 28 & 29, 1863. During the war he came into contact with photographers and developed a fascination with the art.
Published in America’s Yesterdays, p. 247, this photo, which looks opague and surreal to modern audiences, is actually a piece of propaganda for the Spanish-American War. In the late 19th century, newspapers praised this “splendid little war” for uniting the country against a common enemy and healing post–Civil War wounds. Born in Dublin, Guerin emigrated to New York as a child and became deeply patriotic; he joined the Union army at the age of 15 and fought for the duration of the war. At 17, he volunteered for what was thought to be a suicide mission aboard “a cranky little Steamer, the Cheeseman,” which broke apart in the Mississippi. He and his comrades stood on what was left of the deck, shells and grapeshot flying around them, holding their position until backup arrived. They received Medals of Honor from Congress for their bravery.
During the quarter century of Guerin’s time in business, the majority of his income came from society portraiture. He and J.C. Strauss dominated the St. Louis market. Celebrity portraiture was a sidelight to his business and an opportunity to experiment with posing. Because of the survival of trove of Guerin’s popular genre images in the Library of Congress, however, this component of his business has recently taken on a particular importance among historians of photography.