When Your Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Is a Civil War Hero
Photographer Drew Gardner has a passion for history. His long-term project, “The Descendants,” wherein he recreates famous portraits of historical figures featuring their direct offspring, is his most visible expression of this interest. But like a lot of people who study history, Gardner has in recent years begun to contemplate more deeply the question of whose stories have been judged worthy of preservation, and whose have been allowed to fade into obscurity. That was how he decided to shift his specific focus to locating and photographing Black American descendants of Civil War veterans.
You can take a look at Gardner’s photographs and read magazine editor Jennie Rothenberg Gritz’s exploration of their meaning here.
On the latest episode of the Smithsonian podcast “There’s More to That,” I speak with Janisse Flowers and her 9-year-son, Neikoye, who are descended from the Civil War drummer boy David Miles Moore Jr. After some reflection, Janisse and her husband decided to grant Gardner’s request to photograph Neikoye dressed in a replica of Moore’s Union Army uniform. Both Janisse and Neikoye share their surprise over how this experience made them more conscious of their heritage.
I’m also joined by Gardner himself, who describes the challenges—and, he hopes, the potential benefits—of asking Black Americans to revisit one of the most painful chapters of America’s history by (almost) literally stepping into their ancestors’ shoes.
A transcript is below. To subscribe to “There’s More to That,” and to listen to past episodes on Killers of the Flower Moon; NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission; an all-Black, all-women World War II battalion; and more, find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Chris Klimek: Up until recently, Janisse Flowers hosted a radio show with her husband, Neiko.
Janisse Flowers: We had a show called Believers With Balance. It was a show where we showcased and highlighted gospel music and inspirational music that was kind of outside the norm. We like to tap into Christian hip-hop, Christian R&B, sometimes Christian jazz. And it was also a very conversational show. We might just talk about life and raising kids and your spirituality and stuff. So it was a really great place for us to express ourselves and build a name for ourselves.
Klimek: As Janisse and Neiko were building a name for themselves, their twins, Neikoye and Judah, were learning about the idea of family names in general and the concept of family legacy.
Flowers: They were learning about ancestors in school. And they came home and they’re just like, “Who are our ancestors?” And I was like, “Well, that’s kind of a complicated question. I don’t have an exact answer for that.” But I said, “You do have ancestors, I can’t lay you out a family tree of who all you’re related to.” My grandparents had passed away before I was ever born, so I don’t feel like I had that grandparent time, where they can sit down and tell you about everything. And my mom might tell us some things, but it was never really in extensive detail.
Klimek: One day, Janisse got a strange Facebook message from a man she didn’t know. His name was Drew Gardner.
Flowers: He was explaining, “I’m a photographer based out of the U.K. This is what I do.” I mean, to be honest, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a scam.
Klimek: Janisse didn’t know it at the time, but Drew was a photographer whose work centers around recreating portraits of famous historical figures.
Drew Gardner: I have recreated portraits from paintings, other photographs of Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Ada Lovelace, Napoleon Bonaparte, the Duke of Wellington, and several, several others. It’s a lot of photographs.
Klimek: To create these modern portraits, Drew tracks down direct descendants of these famous people, then dresses and poses them exactly like their ancestors, paying painstaking attention to detail.
Gardner: We think we’re so smart these days. “Oh, it’s a great photograph of X, or it’s a great photograph of Y.” But if you look carefully at the painting, it’s full of hidden meanings.
Klimek: In the past couple of years, Drew realized that his photographs shared something else in common.
Gardner: I think for about the first 13 years of the project, I just photographed white people. And I think I fell into the trap that so several other people fall into, where history tends to be portrayed pretty broadly as white. And that started a journey of exploration where I started to look and I started to find more and more diverse history around the world, but particularly in America, which has been really just forgotten. And so, I decided to recreate some portraits of people of color and their descendants.
Klimek: This is why Drew was trying to get in touch with Janisse. He discovered that one of her relatives, David Miles Moore Jr., was a decorated member of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all-Black Civil War unit. Janisse had no idea.
Flowers: It was a surprise to me, but once I started talking to other family members about it, they were like, “Oh yeah, we knew this all along.” It’s like, how come I didn’t get this information?
Neikoye Flowers: I was pretty curious because I really didn’t know what an ancestor was, or if I had one. I didn’t know anything about the tree of my family.
Klimek: Was the Civil War something that you had learned about in school before this?
Neikoye: No, it wasn’t about the Silver War …
Klimek: It’s a tricky one.
Neikoye: Civil War.
Klimek: There you go.
Neikoye: We didn’t learn about the Civil War yet. I didn’t know anything about the Civil War until the photo shoot, when they explained everything.
Klimek: Neikoye, Janisse and Drew finally met earlier this year. Neikoye might soon be dressed in a replica of his ancestor’s uniform.
From Smithsonian magazine and PRX Productions, this is “There’s More to That,” the show where family trees can unlock the history of our entire country—and the world. In this episode, In this episode, The Descendants Project: photographing relatives of Civil War heroes. I’m Chris Klimek.
One thing that made this project exciting for Drew Gardner is that the American Civil War was one of the first wars to be well documented in photographs.
Gardner: It coincides with the dawn of photography. Photographers were going out and loading their wagons up with tintypes, and heading off into the wild yonder and creating these amazing photographs. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a thrill in following in the footsteps of the great photographic pioneers. Oh, my goodness, was this an opportunity to do it!
Klimek: But while there was a lot of source material to get Drew started, there was a surprising lack of information about the Black soldiers in these photos. It seemed like this was a corner of history that had been allowed to disappear.
Gardner: Black servicemen made up a very significant proportion of the Union Army, but not that several photographs survive that are identified. These people have not had the airplay that they deserve and the memorial that they deserve. I started exhaustive research in every library and university that I can find, and I found less than 200 photographs of identified Black American Civil War combatants. And of those 200, the ones that I managed to find, with the help of the team at WikiTree, are amazing. I found the direct descendants of 25. And of those 25, we managed to encourage six people to be involved. This is difficult for me to say, but I think there are more challenges with dealing with descendants of Black history and of Black descent, because the history hasn’t really been very easy, and there are some very painful experiences that you are asking people to go through or associate with. And that has made the process, I might say, quite a bit more challenging.
Klimek: When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Black men were not allowed to enlist in the armed forces. It took nearly two years of lobbying by Black leaders like Frederick Douglass, and the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, for Black men to be allowed to participate in the battle for their own liberation. By the end of the war, Black soldiers might make up about 10 percent of the Union Army. David Miles Moore Jr. enlisted in April 1863, just a few short months after the policy change. His infantry unit, the Massachusetts 54th, was the first Black regiment to come out of the North. Moore enlisted as a private, but his surviving papers show that he was detailed as a drummer boy.
Klimek (to Gardner): How did you become aware of David Miles Moore Jr.?
Gardner: It all started off with a very haunting photograph of this very young-looking drummer boy. We found the photograph with the name of David Miles Moore on one of the photographs that I turned up. More than anything, he just looked so young. In some of the accounts, in the photograph he’s alleged to be 16. But my understanding is recruits weren’t allowed to join under the age of 16. So several of them lied about their age, and he’s thought to be as young as 12. And it’s just to see this really young boy heading off into this really shocking situation. And I was really driven to find his descendants. It was special for me somehow. And it was a great interest to me, because I thought, “We’ve always recreated descendants photographs of adults. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we recreated this portrait of a child with a child?” But you might need an awful lot of luck, because you are trying to get the descendant in roughly the same age range as their forebear. And the chances of that are very slim.
Klimek: So what’s the next step there, from finding that photograph and then tracking down Janisse Flowers?
Gardner: It’s working out the family tree from the fragments we had, piecing those together with social media and other sources, and births, deaths and marriages. Death notices are a very good place to [look] also, and that was another key point in working this out. We have mourners lists from funerals, and that was crucial.
Klimek: Oh, wow.
Gardner: We had the last person alive in a family tree, which finished, and then we were like, I think two generations out from there. And then you start to get more fragments. And you pull all of these fragments together from different sources to build a complete picture. And we worked from there, and we worked out where they lived, and then we just gave him a call out of the blue.
Klimek (narration): Neikoye’s resemblance to David Miles Moore Jr., was uncanny. Neither Drew nor Janisse can believe the 9-year-old boy’s resemblance to his ancestor in that black-and-white tintype photo.
Gardner: Neikoye was roughly in the same age range. And, notably, is the same height, I think within an inch.
Flowers: I had Googled the picture of David Miles Moore, and when I saw where he was from and I saw that he was from Virginia, I was like, “Oh, that’s family.” I know that my family’s from Virginia, and I was like, “I’m related to this guy.” It was just a light bulb moment like, “Yep, that’s my family member,” that we’re descendants. Looking at the timeline of everything and where my son is, because he’s tall for his age, just seeing what he looks like now compared to what David Miles Moore looked like then, I definitely saw a resemblance.
I was like, “OK, this can work.” Because at first, they were saying that he was like 15, they claimed he was 15, and I was like, “I don’t even think he was 15.” They think realistically he was more like 12 when that photo was taken.
Flowers: But it was just the way that everything aligns. Although Neikoye is 9, he can easily pass for a 12-year-old. So it’s like the timing of everything. Had Drew reached out to us two years earlier, it mightn’t have worked. Or had he reached out to us two or three years later, it may not have turned out the same. So it was miraculous, the timing of everything.
Klimek: Who was David Miles Moore Jr., and what is the nature of his relation to you?
Flowers: So he is my great-great-grandfather. My mother was Monica Franklin. And her mom was Teresa Sandidge. And it’s pretty much Teresa’s dad’s dad, I believe.
Klimek: And where did he serve during the Civil War?
Flowers: It was in Massachusetts. It was one of the first Black infantries. When I was asking my aunt about the information, she was saying that he owned a driving company or he had a cab service. And so he did the war first. He was famously pictured for the drummer boy for that war. And then he went back and served again, out of New Orleans.
Klimek: In New Orleans, Moore served in one of six all-Black infantry regiments created by Congress after the Civil War. He later served out of Fort Clark, Texas.
Flowers: And then he wound up moving to New York and made a family in Saratoga. But he wound up getting married and having, I believe, four kids. And then one of his kids gave birth to my grandmother.
Klimek: Janisse spent her early childhood in nearby Albany, New York, another connection to this relative. She was excited to tell Neikoye about him.
Flowers: He was excited because I think it was like, “OK, I have somebody that did something pretty cool in history.” That made a mark or some type of stamp in history, where he didn’t know that before. I think for me, especially my mother’s side, there are some people in my family that have done some really historical things, like done some things out of the norm. So we go back and find that my great-great-grandfather was a famous drummer boy. And then I’ve had some other people along the line after him that have done some things.
Like my grandmother, Teresa Sandidge, we have a street named after our family. It’s called Sandidge Way, because they were the first Black family to integrate an all-white neighborhood, and it was a big backlash when they bought a house on this street. But it was monumental at that time when they did it. And she was also the first Black PTO leader for her kids’ elementary school. So I think it just kind of was another piece of the puzzle. We’re both a part of a family that has done some pretty great and historical things, so I think it just gives you a sense of pride to know that you’re a part of such a great lineage.
Klimek: Another surprise for Janisse was that some of her relatives had known about David Miles Moore Jr. all along.
Flowers: Yes, my aunt absolutely knew. My Aunt Rose, she is a spitfire. She lives up in Staten Island. And that was one of the first people I talked to when I found out about all of this. And she was immediately like, “Oh, yeah, I know who he is. I’ve got his papers and his flag sitting right here behind my couch.” And I’m like, “You cann’t say anything?” And what she gave me in the breakdown was, back then, if your family did something like that, you didn’t brag about it, because it might bring attention to yourself. It wasn’t something that you wanted to go and tell everyone about.
It was knowledge for those that were growing up in the time, and I think especially when you’re dealing with military members that might’ve had PTSD or stuff like that, you’re kind of sensitive to that. You don’t ask them all the questions about, “How was the war, and what happened, and what did you do?” So I think it just became kind of like, if you know, you know, and if you don’t, it’s OK. It’s the generational difference, and I think it’s a cultural difference, too.
When I was talking with Drew about it, he was like, “With other cultures, if they have anybody of any importance in their background, oh, everybody’s going to know about it. ‘I’m a great descendant of …’ whomever.” But that’s not how we are raised, unfortunately, in Black culture sometimes. We don’t know a lot of those things. It’s not taught to us. My aunt was saying her dad was a Tuskegee airman, and she didn’t find out until she was in her 40s. Again, I think it’s just a cultural thing. And I think because of the history of the Civil War and how everything went, it’s something that I think for Black people, it rings different. And I think especially given today, in society and the way it is, it’s still not all the way right. It still kind of hits differently for us.
Klimek: The legacy of the Massachusetts 54th is complicated. Although it’s still celebrated as the first unit of its kind, it’s also remembered for its place on the front lines of a brutal battle over control of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. You’ve seen some of this play out if you’ve ever seen the movie Glory. Almost half of the Massachusetts 54th did not make it home from this place, Fort Wagner, alive. Which makes it all the more remarkable that David Miles Moore Jr. continued on in his career and his life.
Klimek (to Flowers): The photo that you were recreating—what did Mr. Moore look like in that original picture?
Flowers: Pretty much just a very serious kind of solemn face. You can tell he was just very poised for such a young person. He had a cap on that was kind of tilted to the side just a little bit, and the cap had a brim on it. And then he had a white shirt on underneath this blue jacket that seemed like it was a little big on him. It was tucked into these big blue military trousers with a stripe down the side, like a dark blue stripe. And he had a belt, and then he had this really large drum that was strapped over his shoulder, and he’s kind of loosely holding the two drumsticks with the drum off to the side. And he’s just staring straight at the camera.
Gardner: I’ve always wanted to work in tintype …
Klimek (narration): This is Drew Gardner again.
Gardner: … and so I thought, well, yeah, let’s do this on tintype. And it’s a late-19th-century, very early 20th-century camera. And it’s, I don’t know, the size of a fridge or something, made out of wood with big focusing wheels and cast iron. And it’s the most tremendous challenge you can have, after coming from digital. On the day, some of the exposures were up to 40 seconds long. There’s a lot of luck with tintype. And the way it records the skin, it is quite unique and it makes eyes very clear, very white. It gives certain shapes and a real feel that is quite unlike any other photography.
Klimek: The Flowers family flew to New York City for the big photo shoot.
Gardner: We wanted to make sure all of the clothes fit perfectly. And we actually made sure that his mum adjusted the trousers so they’d be exactly the right length for him before he got on the shoot. He took to the props well, he took to the drum well. We told him not to beat the drum, because even though it was a replica and not the real thing, it was still stupidly expensive.
Klimek: This was just one of several obstacles for Neikoye that day. The replica costume was also a bit of a challenge.
Neikoye: The pants were itching my knees and everywhere else. The shirt was so tight, and it was also itchy. And the hat just kept like, anytime I might shake, it might just go inside out.
Klimek: I think those uniforms are wool, right? So they’re probably very itchy.
Flowers: And hot! Can you imagine somebody being out in a field all day and having to fight in those clothes or play the drum in those clothes? Heavy clothes like that?
Klimek (to Neikoye): Do you remember feeling excited or nervous? This was probably something new for you, right? To go into a studio like that. I’m sure your mom or dad have taken your picture before, but this is very different, right? There are lights and things.
Neikoye: When I was taking the picture, I was actually really nervous. I was really nervous. It’s just like I didn’t show it.
Klimek: Had you ever seen an old camera like that before?
Neikoye: No. It was just like, the picture was hard to see because it was white and black.
Klimek: Using a camera from the 19th century for the shoot meant that Neikoye had to stand still for a long time while the camera recorded his image.
Flowers: You don’t realize how long it takes to just get that photo. And you don’t realize how heavy that drum is until you put everything back on, and you’re like, man, this was a process. It’s not like now, these days, where you take your phone out, take a selfie, and it’s done in two seconds. It was a real process to get everything done and to let the film develop. And you had to be completely still and catch the right lighting. So it was definitely a lengthy process, but I’m so glad that they did it.
Neikoye: And my legs got tired.
Flowers: Fun fact—they actually had to have somebody hold the drum up to get it in the picture, because it was too heavy for him to sit there and hold it himself. So there’s somebody behind him, holding the drum up so it’s still in the shot. And I just remember Drew was sweating bullets when we took those pictures. He was running around like a crazy person. But I think everything turned out exactly the way it was supposed to be.
Neikoye: In my head, when I was taking the picture, I was thinking, “It’s finally happening.” And I was thinking. “Now I’m recreating history!”
Klimek: At the end of the day, there was an unexpected treat.
Flowers: So Drew kept telling me, “Oh, we have this surprise. It’s just going to blow your socks off!” And I’m like, “What’s going to be the big rollout here?”
Gardner: David Miles Moore was a soldier, and when he finished his military service in the American Civil War, he was so proud of his service that he had his own medal made. The medal, I’m not sure how it came to be in the Massachusetts Historical Society collection, but that’s where it is now. And so we got in touch with them, we told them about the shoot. They were really excited. And we reunited the family with the medal on the day.
Flowers: They had this woman bring it down on a train from Boston. So they brought it out, and I was just shocked. I had never seen it. She had white gloves and took it out of this box and was like, “OK, here are the white gloves.” Then I had to put the white gloves on to touch it or whatever.
Klimek: Tell us what the pin looked like, please.
Flowers: It’s a silver pin, maybe an inch to two inches big. It’s in pristine shape. You might not imagine that it’s as old as it is. So I got to hold it, Neikoye got to hold it. We took pictures with it. I think it just connected everything together for the shoot, this badge of honor that he actually owned. So I think that was really neat.
Klimek: Neikoye, do you remember anything about getting to hold the pin?
Neikoye: I was like, “Whoa, this thing …” It didn’t look old yet. It looked brand new, because I didn’t see any rust or dust. I didn’t see anything was wrong with it. It had some words on it.
Klimek: The four sides of the pin were flanked with the names of four famous places the Massachusetts 54th fought during the war: James Island, South Carolina; Darien, Georgia; Olustee, Florida; and Fort Wagner, which you heard about earlier in the episode.
Flowers: I feel like it was a real-life history lesson. It’s finding out that your family is tied to a piece of history. I think I just feel more grounded in my history, and I think I just feel more like, wow, my family has really accomplished some pretty cool things. It just gives you a sense of pride and a little bit more confidence to be like, “I can go out here and make contributions to my world and my community, because my ancestors have done that.”
For Neikoye, when he was going through the experience, I think he just felt more connected. Like he got some answers to some questions that he had forgot that he was asking about. It’s like, “Oh, now I know who some of my ancestors are, and they actually seem to have done something pretty remarkable.”
Klimek: Well, Janisse Flowers and Neikoye Flowers, thank you so much for talking to us. This has been a lot of fun.
Flowers: No problem. Thank you, guys. We appreciate it. Anytime.
Klimek: This week’s Dinner Party Fact comes courtesy of Drew Gardner himself. He says that weird, interesting facts are part and parcel of his work. Though in this case, the fact in question may be more of a tall tale—but an amusing one, nonetheless.
Gardner: My favorite thing is to discover the hidden histories when researching the descendants.
Klimek: A while back, Drew photographed the descendant of Horatio Nelson, one of the most celebrated naval officers in British history—and, it turns out, something of a chaos agent. At least when it came to his intimate relationships.
Gardner: I try and read up, and I tried to find out a little bit more about him. Everyone thinks he’s this really amazing … he’s a war hero, he’s this, that, and the other, but people don’t really think of him as having a very complicated love life, which he did. He had a mistress, Lady Hamilton.
Klimek: Emma Hamilton was a celebrity at the time. She was also married to someone who was not Horatio Nelson.
Gardner: I don’t know what he was trying to achieve, but he took Lord and Lady Hamilton and his wife out to dinner while he was having an affair with Lady Hamilton. He took them all out to dinner in the West End of London, and it degenerated into a big row. What a surprise! And they ended up having a walnut fight; drunkenly pelting one another with walnuts. And it ended up with Horatio Nelson storming out of the restaurant drunk and wandering the streets of London on his own after a walnut fight with his mistress, his wife and her husband.
Klimek: Drew says he was told this story by a curator at England’s National Museum of the Royal Navy. But despite our best efforts, we can’t find it documented anywhere else. Regardless, you can share it at your next dinner party, but we recommend that you keep your walnuts to yourself.
“There’s More to That” is a production of Smithsonian Magazine and PRX Productions. From the magazine, our team is me, Debra Rosenberg and Brian Wolly. From PRX, our team is Jessica Miller, Genevieve Sponsler, Adriana Rozas Rivera, Ry Dorsey and Edwin Ochoa.
The executive producer of PRX Productions is Jocelyn Gonzales. Our episode artwork is by Emily Lankiewicz. Fact-checking by Stephanie Abramson. Our music is from APM Music.
I’m Chris Klimek. Thanks for listening.
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