This is a carte de visite, also known as a CDV, of a woman in mourning. During the Victorian era, mourning clothes were a display of one’s sorrow. Note the black veil she is wearing. On the back of the CDV is the photographer’s information which reveals that the photo was taken by Baird on 13 Fifth Street in Zanesville, Ohio. Based on the photo’s border of two different width lines and the square corners, as well as the fashion, I date this image as being produced in the mid to late 1860s.
Catherine was born in 1836 in Adams County, Ohio, and grew up on a farm with her parents and her twelve siblings. She married Daniel Wymer in 1855 and they settled in Union, which was about twenty miles from Zanesville.
As with the vast majority of American citizens who lived during the Civil War, Catherine’s life was greatly impacted by the sectional conflict. She was left to care for their four small children while her husband fought for the Union in 1864. She lost her brother, Samuel, to the war; he died in 1862, of Typhus, an intestinal infectious disease caused by poor hygienic conditions that were commonplace in military camps. Samuel’s regiment, the 97th, lost a total of 254 men, and 161 of those deaths were from disease.
Wartime was especially turbulent in Zanesville, due to many of the citizens’ southern loyalties. During Zanesville’s early years, the town’s connection to the South was strong owing to transportation and trade alongside the Muskingum River. According to historian Brett R. Barker, Zanesville proper was settled by Virginians and southerners, whereas the surrounding rural town of Putnam was settled by New Englanders. Naturally, Zanesville’s important connection to the southern economy, specifically a strong tie to the state of Virginia, alongside its rival New England neighbors, caused turmoil among its citizens. Catherine’s parents, John and Sarah (nee Vinsel) Briel, were born and raised in Virginia, coming to Ohio in 1834 when John was 33 years old. Virginia itself was a contested state regarding the peculiar institution. Following the secession crisis of 1860, pro-Union western counties refused to become part of the Confederacy, leading to the formation of West Virginia. Considering Catherine’s brother fought for the Union, it can be inferred that the Briel family held pro-Northern sentiments, but cannot be said with certainty. For more on the history of Zanesville during the Civil War see Brett R. Barker’s 1989 thesis “The Forgotten Majority: The Northern Homefront During the Civil War, Zanesville, Ohio, 1860-1865.”
Luckily, Catherine’s husband returned home safely. However, in 1868 she suffered another loss, that of her 19-year-old brother, John Harrison Briel, who died of cephalis, which may have been a shortened term for Encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.
Based on my dating of the photo, as well as a man’s coat draped on the chair, I am quite certain that, in this photo, Catherine is mourning the death of one of her brothers.
Catherine died of dysentery, aged 39, on August 11, 1875, just five months after her mother’s death. She left her husband, four teenage children, and a one-year-old son to mourn their loss.
Find A Grave
19th Century Card Photos Kwik Guide by Gary W. Clark
Family Search – Ohio, County Death Records
97th Ohio Infantry, compiled by Larry Stevens
Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion 1861-1866 Vol. VII, published 1888