The Soldier-Printer

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to curate an exhibit titled African American Military Portraits from the American Civil War. The exhibit was created to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the end of the war and was hosted by the California African American Museum and  the historic main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library in Downtown Los Angeles. With its main component consisting of photographic portraits of black soldiers who fought for the Union, each image in the exhibit was accompanied by new biographical and historical research. This carte de visite from the Gladstone Collection in the Library of Congress in one such image.

John N. Sharper was born on May 21, 1841, in Herkimer, New York the son of Samuel and Jane Sharper. He was a printer by trade when he enlisted as a private in “G” Company, 14th Rhode Island (Colored) Heavy Artillery on October 3, 1863, at Providence, Rhode Island.

John Sharper

Above: The carte de visite portrait of Private John N. Sharper of the 14th Rhode Island (Colored) Heavy Artillery (later 11th Heavy Artillery Regiment, United States Colored Troops) c. 1864 Photo: Gladstone Collection of African American Photographs,
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

After his enlistment, the 14th Rhode Island (Colored) Heavy Artillery was incorporated into the regular U.S. Army and was reorganized as the 11th Heavy Artillery Regiment, United States Colored Troops. The 11th was attached to the Department of the Gulf and was stationed at Matagorda Island, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Putting his pre-war trade to good use, Sharper was appointed post printer while stationed at New Orleans, a post he held until he received a disability discharge at the Corps d’Afrique Military Hospital in New Orleans on September 11, 1865.  He returned home but possibly due to his service-related disability, John Sharper died on April 5, 1866. He was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Herkimer, New York where his much-weathered memorial can still be seen.

Sharper Grave

Above: A detail of John N. Sharper’s headstone located at Oak Hill Cemetery, Herkimer, New York. Photo: findagrave.com.

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