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1104 Spring Garden Street — Civil War

October 25, 2009

Some buildings are like rare artworks, created by famous architects and listed on rosters of distinguished architecture.  Most buildings do not fall into this category though it doesn’t mean they are without value.  I am always fascinated to discover evidence of the people or things connected with a place in a sort of mini-museum approach to understanding how it contributes to its time and history.

I recently came across a New York Times feature on the story behind the photograph above of the three children, which was found in the hands of a dead Union soldier in the center of the fields of dead at Gettysburg.  

This article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, October 19, 1863, was the first attempt to locate the man’s family and determine his identity.  It had come into the possession of a doctor who treated wounded Gettysburg soldiers and, either out of kindness or potential for profit, he made it his mission to publicize the image.

After the battle of Gettysburg, a Union soldier was found in a secluded spot on the field, where, wounded, he had laid himself down to die. In his hands, tightly clasped, was an ambrotype containing the portraits of three small children, and upon this picture his eyes, set in death, rested.  The last object upon which the dying father looked was the image of his children, and as he silently gazed upon them his soul passed away.  How touching! how solemn!  What pen can describe the emotions of this patriot-father as he gazed upon these children, so soon to be made orphans!  Wounded and alone, the din of battle still sounding in his ears, he lies down to die.  His last thoughts and prayers are for his family. He has finished his work on earth; his last battle has been fought; he has freely given his life to his country; and now, while his life’s blood is ebbing, he clasps in his hands the image of his children, and, commending them to the God of the fatherless, rests his last lingering look upon them.

When, after the battle, the dead were being buried, this soldier was thus found.  The ambrotype was taken from his embrace, and since been sent to this city for recognition.  Nothing else was found upon his person by which he might be identified.  His grave has been marked, however, so that if by any means this ambrotype will lead to his recognition he can be disinterred.  This picture is now in the possession of Dr. Bourns, No. 1104 Spring Garden [Street], of this city, who can be called upon or addressed in reference to it.


The children, two boys and a girl, are, apparently, nine, seven and five years of age, the boys being respectively the oldest and youngest of the three.  The youngest boy is sitting in a high chair, and on each side of him are his brother and sister.  The eldest boy’s jacket is made from the same material as his sister’s dress.  These are the most prominent features of the group.  It is earnestly desired that all the papers in the country will draw attention to the discovery of this picture and its attendant circumstances, so that, if possible, the family of the dead hero may come into possession of it.  Of what inestimable value it will be to these children, proving, as it does, that the last thoughts of their dying father was for them, and them only.


Click on the link or photo above to read to entire five-part series that explores the identity of the soldier.


Dr. Bourns’ building no longer stands, but one that he would have seen every time he left his building still stands. It is a landmark that still towers over the neighborhood, but is in dire need of dollars and community support.



Church of the Assumption, 1100 block of Spring Garden Street

Church of the Assumption, 1100 block of Spring Garden Street

On the opposite side of the street, on the same block, rise the twin spires of the Church of the Assumption, designed by Irish immigrant Patrick Charles Keeley, built 1848-49.  The church was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2009 thanks to the extraordinary efforts of historic preservationist Andrew Palewski who learned that the site was being prepped for demolition.  Further details at PlanPhilly, here.

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