Little nuggets of historical importance can be found in the strangest of places. The following photograph was discovered at a local flea market for less than $20.00 US. The tintype was in terrible condition, with major flaking of the image, oxidation damage and was missing a proper case. The flea market dealer gave me the family name of the estate the photograph came from and I was content to conduct some research on the image. At first glance, it appeared to be a standard “armed” shot of a Union Army solider sporting corporal stripes and a pronounced beard. Colored tint had been added to the cheeks; coloring of images was a common addition by 1860s photographers.
Upon carefully inspecting the photograph, it became clear that the image depicted the father of a Lillian Pray; her Victorian era calling card was carefully tucked into the back of the tintype. Using the power of the internet, I was able to find the identity of her father, as well as a wealth of information related to his wartime exploits and his civilian life here in Vermont.
Please enjoy the following information regarding Sgt. Rufus M. Pray.
The following biography can be found on page 326 of:
Men of Vermont: An Illustrated Biographical History of Vermonters and Sons of Vermont
Compiled by: Jacob G. Ullery
“Rufus M. Pray, of South Woodbury, son of Thomas and Polly (King) Pray, was born in Calais, April 8th, 1844.
His father’s calling was that of a carpenter and joiner, who was a long time resident of the town, in the schools of which Rufus received his education. The latter, a mere lad of seventeen, did not resist the patriotic impulse that moved him to enter the rank of the Union army, and enlisted in the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which for three months garrisoned at old Fort Constitution on the seacoast of that state. On his journey homewards, he stopped at St. Johnsbury, where Co. J, of Calais, 3rd Regt. Vt. Volunteers were engaged in their daily drill, and such was the enthusiasm of the young volunteer, that he at once re-enlisted without bidding farewell to the loved ones at home or crossing the paternal threshold. Mr. Pray share the fortunes of the gallant third in all its numerous engagements from Lewinsville and Lee’s Mills, to the bloody Battle of the Wilderness, where he was wounded in foot and forehead, and was sent to the S.A. Douglas hospital in Washington, from thence transferred to the U.S. General Hospital at Montpelier, from which he boldly returned to active duty before his wounds were wholly healed. He then experienced the vicissitudes of Sheridan’s Shenandoah campaign, and at Cedar Creek, while on the skirmish line, received a dangerous wound in his hip, which was traversed by a minie-ball. He was carried twelve miles in an army wagon to Sheridan Hospital, then sent to Frederick, Maryland, and later to Montpelier, where he received an honorable discharge after a gallant service of four years, one month, and twenty-six days, during which time he was not excused from duty a single hour, except when wounded.
Since his return from the army, though for more than a year a cripple, he has been able to labor a little at his trade of carpentry and joiner, and to cultivate with effort a small farm.
Mr. Pray was married August 8th, 1864 to Nellie A., daughter of David and Sabrina (Chase) Whitham of Woodbury. One child has been the fruit of this wedlock: Lillian M. (Mrs. Robert B. Tassie of Montpelier).
Mr. Pray is still a member of that party for whose political principles he fought and bled. He was appointed postmaster at South Woodbury, July 12th, 1889, under President Harrison, and held that position until his resignation on being elected to the Legislature of 1892 by an unusual majority. He was town treasurer 1891-1892.”
Rufus appears in a number of Vermont newspapers for his civic duty as well as his attendance at national Civil War events. He was quite active in the local unit: