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Dog Tags & The Civil War

By Kaethe Maguire

Most of us probably assume that our soldiers and sailors have always worn some sort of identification issued by the government, but that is not true. Unfortunately, dog tags, as the now well-known identification pieces worn by the military, did not go into use until 1906, and not used regularly until World War I - far too late for the thousands of unknown soldiers and sailors of the Civil War.  For example, 45% of the remains from that three-day battle of Gettysburg, 309,492 are unknown. As to the name “dog tags,” we can perhaps assume that the soldier and sailors named the identification tags themselves for the similar tags worn by dogs!  Before such a universal invention, men and women sometimes sewed identification into their uniform. 

It has been established that nearly half of the Civil War dead were never identified. Most of the dead of Gettysburg are buried in surrounding hills. The last remains of the Gettysburg dead were found in 1996. I am sure there are many other unknown soldier buried in those hills.


The Civil War lasted four long terrible bloody years. By the time the war ended, 625,000 service men had lost their lives and many were buried in mass graves with no way to identify them or to properly inform their next of kin.


To put that number in perspective, it is more deaths than the total US deaths in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined. 

Sandwich did not escape the tragedies of the war. In our small town of then 4,500 people (a high population directly linked to the Sandwich Glass Works), 54 soldiers lost their lives, 13 of whom were glass workers. 

In Sandwich, 294 men volunteered. Two hundred were descendants of our early founding families. Sixty-seven were native born of the first generation of Irish glass factory workers.  Some were Native American and some were African American.  


Deming Jarves, founder of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, fully supported his workers and their families during this terrible time. Many of these families lived in housing provided by Jarves. He did not charge rent to families of volunteers during the war. Eventually there would be 76 volunteers for a three-year enlistment. 


Town meeting voted to borrow $4,000 to support families of volunteers. At the time Sandwich was the only town on Cape Cod to make this allocation. A wife received $2.00 per week plus 50 cents for each additional child. The town also voted to spend $500 to purchase uniforms for officers, and the state paid for uniforms for enlisted men. The ladies of Sandwich equipped soldiers with needles, thread, towels, undergarments, and other necessities.

Bill Daley, former Sandwich Historical Commission member, and the Civil War memorial plaque in Sandwich Town Hall, a project he spearheaded.

Perhaps the most famous of Sandwich’s Civil War dead was Major Charles Chipman, a casualty of Petersburg, Virginia. He is buried in the Freeman Cemetery at the corner of Main and Pine Streets.

A portrait of him hangs in the Sandwich Historical Society and Glass Museum. The oil painting was donated to the Museum in 1939 by the Major’s grandson, Francis E. Jones. It was part of a collection called the “Gallery of Fallen Heroes.” The painting was originally presented to Major Chipman’s wife Lizzie and her three young children in 1873.

There is a heartbreaking story from the Gettysburg battle of the death of an unidentified Union soldier. He died clutching a haunting photo of three small children which he was known to carry in his pocket, wrapped in a torn and faded piece of newspaper.  There was nothing else on his body to identify him. 

Someone removed the photo from the frozen grip of this dead soldier before he was buried in a mass grave at the battle field site. Eventually the glass plate ambrotype found its way into the hands of John Frances Bourns of Philadelphia. He was working to treat wounded soldiers on the battle field. Bourns recounted this story to a newspaper reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. In the fall of 1863 the newspaper published the photo of the children. It took some time to identify the family and thus the deceased soldier, but word spread. 

The photo of the little children was forwarded to the War Department

Three children.jpg

This photo was found clutched in their dead father's hands: Frank, Frederick & Alice Humiston

Major Charles Chapman, 1829-1864

headquarters and also sent to Philadelphia, where it was determined it had been taken by the photographer whose name and address were found on the back of the print. Sadly, after so much time had passed, the photographer was unable to identify the figures in the photo. Eventually, through some weird good luck, it was even shown to “Tom” Pendel, chief doorkeeper and an usher at the White House in Washington.


Finally,  by November 1863, it came to the attention of the soldier's widow in a place called Portville, NY. Her name was Philinda Humiston. She contacted Bourns and he in turn went to her, presenting her not only with the photo of the children, but also all the money raised by sympathetic Union soldiers who had been shown the photo. Eventually this money was used to create a Soldier's Orphan Home and Mrs. Humiston became the first matron.

The children were Frank, Frederick, and Alice. It is reported that in his last letter to his wife, Amos Humston wrote, "The likeness of the children pleased me more than anything you could have sent. How I want to see them and their mother is more than I can tell. I hope that we may all live to see each other again.”  


Amos Humiston was only one of the 23,049 Union soldiers killed at Gettysburg.

Sergeant Amos Humiston, 1830-1863

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