I acquired this fine carte-de-visite (CDV) on August 3, 1994 near Mobile, Alabama, after much excitement upon seeing the photographer’s imprint: M. B. Brady & Co. Not only was I thrilled to obtain an image from Mathew Brady’s Washington, DC studio, I was captivated by the middle-age man looking back at me and his bold autograph on the backside of the card. Lastly, the CDV had an intact blue two-cent federal Civil War revenue tax stamp, which would date this image between 1864 and 1866. The stamp appears to have been attached after Mr. Hughes signed the photograph, but before leaving Brady’s studio.
Over the years, I have often looked at this image and wondered what story would unfold from this visual time capsule taken during the waning years of our nation’s greatest internal conflict. The story that eventually revealed itself to me is one of intrigue and one that takes a journey from a lowly Confederate cavalry prisoner-of-war to the Union’s highest ranking official, Mr. Abraham Lincoln. But first, I’ll begin with an overall description of the photograph’s image and its reverse side.
The condition of the CDV is rather good, considering someone cut and rounded the bottom corners of the photograph, possibly for easier insertion into an album page. Single or double gold lines imprinted on the borders of a carte were typical of the early years of CDVs and this particular carte bears a double line gold border. Across the bottom front edge of the carte we can read Brady & Co. Washington, also imprinted in gold. Overwritten, using pen and ink, are the sitter’s initials: A. M. H. The sitter of this portrait is a mustachioed man who appears to be in his early 50s, graying hair that is slightly disheveled, and with a few days growth of beard. He wears a heavy frock coat with lapelled waistcoat, while his dark-colored cravat is tucked under the lapels.
On the backside of the carte, the observer notices three distinct visual aspects: the photographer’s imprint, the sitter’s autograph, and the federal Civil War revenue tax stamp. The photographer’s imprint reads: M. B. Brady & Co., National Photographic Portrait Galleries, No. 352 Pennsylvania Av., Washington, D.C. & New York. According John S. Craig, Brady originally set up studio operations in Washington in 1858 and subsequently moved to the Pennsylvania address in 1860.
The signature, which is boldly scrolled across nearly the entire backside of the carte, reads: A. M. Hughes, Esqr. Washington City, D.C. The abbreviated suffix after his name caught my attention when I realized he had added an “r” to the common truncation for an attorney’s title of Esquire. Although, during the 19th century and prior, the title esquire was sometimes used for gentlemen that did not hold specific social rank, yet it distinguished them from the commoner. Thus, over the years I have often wondered which denotation of esquire would apply to Mr. Hughes. Now I know and as the portending story unfolds, I will share that with you, my reader.
This is a portrait of an intense looking middle-aged man named Archelaus Madison Hughes. He ventured into Mathew B. Brady’s studio in Washington City during the winter of 1864, just prior to having an audience with President Abraham Lincoln. Archelaus was an attorney by trade and was no stranger to the legal profession. It ran deep in his family’s ancestry. In fact, politics and America’s judicial system can be traced in his family back to Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, who had signed land-grant papers for the family. One ancestor served in the administration of George Washington. Archelaus’ grandfather, Col. Archelaus Hughes, had commanded a Virginia regiment during the Revolutionary War. One of his uncles had served in the Virginia legislature, while a cousin ran for a seat in Congress against John Crockett, son of legendary Davy Crockett, according to family sources.
Archelaus Madison Hughes was born in Stokes County, North Carolina, on November 21, 1811. His parents were William Hughes (son of Col. Archelaus Hughes) and Alice Carr. He was educated at the Patrick Henry Academy in Virginia and afterwards, moved to Maury County, Tennessee. He was admitted to the Bar to practice law full-time when he was 35 years of age. Shortly afterwards, he was elected Attorney General for the Columbia, Tennessee judicial circuit and was re-elected in 1853. In total, he would serve in this capacity for 13 years. He would also serve as Circuit Judge and as U.S. District Attorney. What’s more, Archelaus would follow the steps of his family predecessors by being a Free Mason. He was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Tennessee in 1852 and 1853. During the Civil War, in 1863, he served in this capacity once again. Below is his oil painting (35”x28”) from the Grand Lodge of Tennessee—Free & Accepted Masons, Nashville, Tennessee.
Archelaus married Sarah G. Mosley, of Bedford County, Tennessee in 1836. They had two daughters; but Sarah died in 1842. Two years later, Archelaus remarried to a young lady named Mattie B. Neill. From this marriage would come nine more children, including Archelaus M. Hughes, Jr. It is at this point that the story of the photograph becomes very interesting!
Archelaus M. Hughes, Jr., ran away from home during the early years of the Civil War, so he could join the cavalry of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who later would become the first Grand Wizard of the infamous Ku Klux Klan. Young Archelaus, Jr., was only 15 years of age when he joined the Confederate Army. He served in Company G, Ninth Tennessee Cavalry from June 1862 until July 1863. At that time, he was camped near Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Here, he was approached by a lieutenant who had orders from President Jefferson Davis, to go behind Federal lines in middle Tennessee to recruit a battalion of cavalry troopers. While on this mission, Archelaus, Jr., was captured (October 15, 1863) and imprisoned at Camp Morton, Indianapolis, Indiana. While in this prison, he shared a bunk with Confederate Gen. John P. Hickman. During the ensuing months, Archelaus, Jr., simultaneously contracted three diseases: pneumonia, erysipelas and mumps. Eventually, he became so sick at the prison’s hospital, that authorities telegraphed his father in Columbia, Tennessee, to inform him that young Archelaus, Jr., would not survive long.
Upon reading this dreadful news, Esquire Hughes immediately traveled by train to Indianapolis to be near his son. According to Archelaus, Jr., that by the time his father arrived at Camp Morton, “there I had improved somewhat and the doctors told him that if he could get me out of there I had a chance to live.” To wit, Archelaus, Sr., obtained the necessary documents from the Federal doctors at the prison hospital and made way for Washington, DC. Upon arrival at the Union capitol, Archelaus, Sr., visited with Andrew Johnson, the Tennessee senator that sided with the Federal cause. Johnson had been appointed as the military governor of Tennessee and shortly afterwards as Vice-President to Mr. Lincoln. Upon reviewing Archelaus’s request for his son’s release from prison, Johnson escorted him to the White House where he had an audience with Mr. Lincoln. According to Archelaus, Jr.’s, testimony, “Mr. Lincoln took the application and wrote on the back of it this order…‘I direct the release of this young man as a “boon” to Governor Johnson.’” Additionally, Archelaus, Jr., stated that Mr. Lincoln had dated orders for his prison release on February 13th, 1864. After his release from his Union captors, Archelaus, Jr., recovered and would eventually follow his father’s footsteps by becoming an attorney. Later, when in his 50s, he served in the U.S. Army as a Lieutenant Colonel during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
As to the subject of the carte under investigation, Archelaus, Sr., continued after the War as an attorney and judge in Tennessee. President Ulysses Grant appointed him as U.S. District Attorney, from 1873 to 1877. In 1881, as a Republican, he was voted as a candidate for governor of Tennessee. At nearly 87 years of age, Arhelaus, Sr., passed away and his internment at Rose Hill cemetery in Columbia, Tennessee, had full Masonic honors.
Thus, the story of this photograph taken during the winter of 1864 has finally revealed some of its narrative to me, and now to you, my reader. A story of one prominent Southern family deeply entwined in state and national politics and one father’s love and care for his son, became the plot of a journey that started decades earlier in England and would resolve at America’s highest officer, Abraham Lincoln. However, this photograph has not given up all its secrets. For instance, how and why did this particular image find its way to Mobile, Alabama? Why did Esquire Hughes have his likeness taken in the first place? Was it to be presented to President Lincoln? Why did he choose Matthew Brady’s studio? Was it because of his fame and notoriety as a photographer during the Civil War? The answers to these questions may never be known. But for the time being, this 19th century photograph has finally given me answers as to who the person was staring back at me through time: Archelaus Madison Hughes, Esqr.
Terry Ownby, PhD