A tribute to Mike Winey by Mark Dunkelman
Mark Dunkelman and Mike Winey
I was a recent art school graduate who wanted to write a history of my great-grandfather’s Civil War regiment, the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry, when I happened to stop on my birthday in 1970 at the New York Historical Association in Cooperstown and discovered Mike Winey’s master’s thesis on the history of that very regiment. This serendipity led to a partnership and friendship that transformed my life.
When I contacted Mike in 1972, he readily agreed to my proposal to collaborate. When we met, we found we had little in common. I was a shaggy artist; Mike was a crew-cut curator. But we shared a deep interest in Civil War history and a passionate devotion to a particular regiment. With that as its basis, we had a positive, long-lived partnership, never letting our differences get in the way of our friendship. Mike was forthright, opinionated, exuberant, emphatic, and knowledgeable. His resolve buttressed my spirits during setbacks on the road to publication. We met our goal when our book The Hardtack Regiment was published in 1981.
Since then, Mike and I continued to share 154th New York finds, building a large archives of regimental material while engaging in a copious correspondence over four decades. For twenty-plus years Mike was a steady attendee at our annual regimental descendants’ reunion in Western New York, his camera and copy stand at the ready to record the attendees’ treasures. His vehicle was always easy to spot with its Pennsylvania license plate reading “154 NYVI.”
When I first met Mike, he was working for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in Harrisburg. In 1974 he became curator of Special Collections at the U.S. Army Military History Institute (USAMHI) at Carlisle Barracks, where he oversaw the largest collection of Civil War photographs in the country. It was there that he engaged in a project that is a great legacy to the American people.
During the heyday of Mike’s project, the USAMHI photographic collection numbered about a million images, covering all periods from the Mexican War through the present day, and it was growing by some 3,000 photographs every month. About 85,000 of the images were Civil War photographs. The richness in soldiers’ portraits inspired Mike. “I saw the potential,” he told me in 1993, “since we had about 40,000 images of individual soldiers of the Civil War, to have a central place in the United States where one could go to find a photograph of a Civil War soldier.”
So Mike copied the portraits from his personal collection, and that of his associate Randy Hackenburg, and of local friends, and it mushroomed. Collectors shared images by the hundreds. Institutions offered access to their holdings. Genealogists spread the word. Civil War Round Tables pitched in. In person and by mail, a daily average of eight Civil War soldier (or veteran) portraits arrived at the USAMHI for copying. Each image was photographed and developed professionally, with the donor receiving a complimentary 8” x 10” print. It became commonplace to find the USAMHI credited for the illustrations in Civil War books. Requests for prints of soldiers’ portraits arrived in Carlisle from around the world.
Mike’s goal was to copy a portrait of all 3.47 million men who served in the Civil War. He fell short, of course, but the thousands of images he copied in the course of his project form a collection that fittingly commemorates those depicted and will benefit the public for generations to come.
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