Inscribed in period pen on reverse of this carte de visite (circa 1864) is the name “James M. Trotter.” Also inscribed, in period pen on the album page: “James M. Trotter Sergeant 55th Mass.” See image below.

There is a printed stamp on the reverse of card, which reads: “Whipple, 297 Washington Street, Boston.” Also present on reverse of card is a 3-cent tax stamp signed in pen “JAW” (John A. Whipple). See below for the back of the card.

We can date the image to the period of August 1864 to August of 1866 because the US government required the use of these stamps during that time for the collection of revenue to support the war.

According to his enlistment papers (Greg French collection), James Monroe Trotter enlisted on June 11, 1863 and was mustered into company K of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry on June 23, 1863 as a 1st Sergeant. The 55th, like the more famous 54th, was designated as a Colored regiment. Trotter was promoted to Sergeant Major on Nov. 19, 1863 and to 2nd Lieutenant on April 10, 1864.

In the photograph, Trotter wears the uniform and officer’s shoulder straps of a 2nd Lieutenant. The image is remarkable for the rarity of African Americans serving as officers in the Union armies, and the even greater rarity of this being documented in a photograph.

Trotter was born February 7, 1842 and died Feb. 26, 1892 in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. According to the muster rolls, he was born in Grand Gulf, Mississippi, and enrolled in the Union army in Readville, Massachusetts. His profession is listed as school teacher. He was wounded at the battle of Honey Hill on Nov. 30, 1864. An interesting feature of his enlistment papers is the following remark: “Letters to be directed to Robert Thomas, Parlersburg, Wood Co., Virginia (guardian).”

This image reportedly came from the personal album of the French nobleman, the Count de Gasparin, who was sympathetic to the abolitionist cause.

James A. Whipple was one of Boston’s leading photographers from 1845 to 1874.