On the trail of Stonewall’s Winchester photographer

Posted on August 12, 2012 by


Having spent the day out and about yesterday, on Rt. 11, in what is known as the famous (and growing) “Rt. 11 Yard Crawl”, I lucked into landing several Carte de Visite (CDVs) and cabinet cards from a number of photographers from the mid-19th century. There were several from New York, one from Philadelphia, and a handful from the Shenandoah Valley. Of those from the Shenandoah Valley, one of the photographers was none other than Nathaniel Routzahn.

Who, you may ask, was Nathaniel Routzahn?

Fair question, as I’m sure, to most, the name doesn’t ring a bell.

Prior to Stonewall Jackson’s departure from Winchester, in November 1862, he stopped-in at Routzahn’s studio for a photograph… the famous “Winchester Photograph” of Stonewall Jackson. While we know that Routzahn noticed that “old Blue Light” was missing a button… and the result was the ill-placed replacement button that stands out in his seated pose… we know little else of the interaction. More importantly, the Web seems to be rather empty when it comes to details of Routzahn and his life.

Nathaniel Routzahn was born September 25, 1822, in Frederick County, Maryland, a son of Benjamin and Catharina Herring Routzahn. He apparently started off in Frederick County as a merchant, and married Mary B. Riddlemoser, in May 1849. I haven’t quite been able to figure out the particulars, but in 1850, he was listed as a resident of the Middletown Election District (to the west of Frederick), but… as a sailor! Nonetheless, in 1855, Nathaniel and Mary relocated to Winchester… though the exact date he transitioned into the occupation of photographer remains elusive.

I think Routzahn’s obituary does a pretty good job detailing his life up until the war…

Mr. Routhzahn was a photographer and for many years he was engaged in that business in the Masonic Temple building on North Main street…

What isn’t mentioned in the obituary is that he was also a member (under the name “Nat Routzahn”) of the prewar militia that was activated in 1861. While there is nothing detailed about his service (and whether or not he was a militiaman only on paper or not) in Co. C, 31st Virginia Militia, his unit, like most of the other Valley militia, was disbanded by the spring of 1862. Later that year, in November, Stonewall Jackson entered his photography studio for a photo…

Mr. Routzahn often spoke of incident which occurred when taking the picture of the great Civil War hero. A button was missing from Jackson’s uniform and when attention was called to it he quietly turned to a little box from which he brought forth a needle and thread, and in a few minutes the button was on in as neat a condition as any woman’s hand could have done it. Rev. Dr. James R. Graham, pastor emeritis of the Presbyterian Church in Winchester, has the original photograph in the library of his home on North Braddock street.

While the obituary mentions nothing of Routzahn in the remaining war years, there are some tasty morsels in the miscellaneous Confederate papers that shed some light.

In October 1864, Phil Sheridan apparently got a tip that Routzahn was acting in a capacity that exceeded the normal activities of a photographer… as a blockade runner… and was subsequently arrested and sent to Fort McHenry. Regretfully, there’s little of detail about the accusations, but nothing could be proven. By mid December, 1864, it appears he was getting off the hook… and after December 28, there is no further record of his incarceration in Fort McHenry.

The one document that provides the most detail about Routzahn’s arrest and disposition by mid December 1864.

Perhaps, after being released from Ft. McHenry, he headed home for Winchester… we just don’t know… but, after the war, Routzahn returned to his photography business, in which he continued into the late 1880s. Some of the CDVs (two of my three) that I obtained yesterday were from his many poses (all, probably, after the war)…

The Routzahn studio stamp, seen on the backs of his photographs.

… when he retired from active business and spent most of time in reading and attending to the grounds at his beautiful suburban home. He was a lover of flowers and his lawn was the admiration of all who passed by.

In late October or early November, 1908, Routzahn “was taken sick”…

…although his condition soon became serious, it was hoped in view of his remarkable vitality, he would recover, but he suffered a stroke of paralysis, which left him practically helpless, and for the past week, and for the past week his life hung in the balance.

Nathaniel Routzahn died on November 20, 1908…

Mr. Routzahn, one of the oldest and best known residents of Winchester, died at half-past 9 o’clock this morning at his residence on South Washington street, in the eighty-seventh year of his age. The funeral will take place at 10:30 o’clock on Monday morning from the church of the Sacred Heart of which he was a leading member. The pastor, Rev. John McVerry, will celebrate high mass over the remains, after which interment will be made in the Catholic Cemetery on South Market street.

He was a wonderfully well preserved man and appeared to be much younger than the man who had passed the eighty sixth mile post of his life.

Mr. Routzahn was the last member of the immediate family of his parents. He came of old Maryland stock and was connected with many of the best families of Maryland. He is survived by his widow. A cousin is Mr. T.C. Harbaugh, the well-known composer and poet of Maryland.

Though few probably recall, Routzahn, without any children, appears to have left a portion of his estate to his church. On December 18, 1913, a white marble altar was consecrated at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Winchester, by the Bishop of Richmond. “The improvements, which will make the Winchester Catholic church one of the most imposing edifices of Virginia, were made possible by the liberality of the late Nathaniel Routzahn.”

The stone of Nathaniel and Mary Routzahn, at the Sacred Heart Cemetery, Winchester, Virginia.

* Thomas Chalmers Harbaugh was a first cousin to Nathaniel Routzahn. There are some interesting stories about Harbaugh and his poetry, as it relates to the Civil War, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

* As one might  guess considering the locality of his origins outside Frederick, Maryland… several of Routzahn’s first cousins served in the Civil War… wearing Union blue.