Today’s blog was written by Jesse Wilinski, Archives Technician at the National Archives at Washington, D. C.
While working on RG 15 Case Files of Approved Veterans’ Pensions Application (Civil War and Later Survivor’s Certificates), 1861-1934 series, I came across a rare object in a Civil War Pension file. It was a tintype of United States Colored Infantryman, Randall Nash. A tintype is a photograph made by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel. It is a rarity to see a photograph, much less a tintype, in a pension file. When found, tintypes are generally removed from the series and stored in the specially protected vault at the National Archives at Washington, D. C.
Randall Nash’s unit was first designated as the 4th Regiment Colored Infantry of Missouri Volunteers and was soon renamed the 68th United States Colored Troops (USCT) Infantry. It was mustered in Liberty, Missouri on January 28, 1864 and mustered out on February 5, 1866. Over two hundred former enslaved men from across Missouri were enlisted in this unit. The 68th travelled to Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, and Texas, performing duties in the defense of other units.
Nash’s pension file was listed under the name of Randall Talbot, an alias. The tintype was used to identify him, because no one knew Nash by any other name in the 68th USCT. The use of aliases made it difficult for surviving family members to collect pensions. In several cases, former enslaved black men who served during the Civil War would use an alias to prevent recapture or to take on a “free” name.
When I found this tintype, I had pulled the pension file and scanned it at the Innovation HUB. The Innovation HUB is new way of capturing information for researchers in a digital format for free and gives the National Archives the ability to put the records online for the public to use. Since this tintype is now in the vault, it is no longer physically available to researchers, but can be accessed through digital images. For assistance with pension files and tintypes, please contact the reference staff at the National Archives at Washington, D.C.