Saco Library Releases Previously Unpublished Photo of John Haley, 17th Maine

This post is appearing simultaneously in Emerging Civil War and Maine at War.

In the photo published with this post, we are seeing John Haley as we’ve never seen him before — as an old man.

Hailing from Biddeford in Maine’s York County, Haley joined the 17th Maine Infantry Regiment on August 6, 1862 and mustered out on June 19, 1865. Serving a private in Co. I, he fought wherever his regiment did, from Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville to Gettysburg, the Overland Campaign, Petersburg, and the Appomattox Campaign.

What’s remarkable about Haley is his wartime diary, edited by Ruth L. Silliker and published by Down East Books in 1985 as The Rebel Yell & the Yankee Hurrah: The Civil War Journal of a Maine Volunteer. A classic memoir, the book relates the day-to-day experiences of Haley from his enlistment to he and some comrades catching a stage to Saco, “where we arrived about 2 A.M. on Sunday, June 11th, 1865 — a happy set of mortals.”

Born on March 3, 1840, Haley would die 81 years later on April 7, 1921. He and his wife, Abbie Batchelder Haley, had a son, George, and a daughter, Adelaide. Haley worked at various jobs as the decades passed before becoming the first librarian at the new Dyer Library in Saco in 1892. He stepped down 28 years later.

Silliker’s book includes a photo of Pvt. Haley taken in January 1863. He was photographed elsewhere during his life, of course, and a previously unpublished photo “turned up” at the Dyer Library/Saco Museum in winter 2022. The photo shows an elderly Haley, a blanket wrapped about his shoulders, sitting in a rocking chair. His daughter, Adelaide, took the photograph in her home.

An elderly John Haley gazes toward a window while sitting in a rocking chair some time before his death in 1921. This photo had not been published when found at the Dyer Library/Saco Museum in winter 2022 and made available to Brian Swartz soon afterwards. (Courtesy Dyer Library/Saco Museum)

The image “is also a testament to the close relationship between Adelaide and her father,” said Anatole Brown, education and program manager at the Dyer Library/Saco Museum. “The dignified old soldier looking longingly out the window is how Adelaide saw him.

Our collection of John Haley’s writings are extensive. Haley was an obsessive writer and wrote whatever came to his mind,” Brown said. “Unfortunately we do not have much objects/artifacts related to John Haley; our Haley Collection is primarily archival.

We have several shelves of John Haley material, including manuscripts, notes, publications, letters, photos, ephemera, and more,” Brown said. “A majority of these items are scrap notes written in stream-of-consciousness fashion (no punctuation, no capitals, etc.). Some of these writings concern Haley’s involvement in the Civil War, but a large portion concerns Saco-area town history, a topic Haley was passionate about.

As Haley-chronicler Ruth Silliker noted in The Rebel Yell & Yankee Hurrah, deciphering these writings are a ‘strain on…patience’ due to his erratic writing style,” Brown said.

Adelaide’s photo of her elderly father went unnoticed for decades. “I wouldn’t say it was a discovery as much as forgetting and then recalling that we had it,” Brown explained. “The photos are from a collection of gel-print negatives that were in Adelaide Haley’s collection. The winter of 2022 is when we scanned it and saw it in more detail for the first time.

Photos of John Haley are very rare, so we are very excited to have this photo,” she said.

Almost all of our John Haley material came from his daughter Adelaide Haley, who was also a librarian at the Dyer Library,” Brown noted. “We also have an extension collection of her writings as well. Adelaide adored her father and followed his love for writing and local area history. We also have a collection of paintings from Adelaide’s brother, George Haley.”

The Dyer Library/Saco Museum “very rarely” receives inquiries about John Haley today. “In fact, we get more questions about John Haley’s writings on Saco Main Street history than on his Civil War service,” Brown said.

As to his wartime service, “our last inquiry was from Daniel Lambert, a podcaster/Youtuber on Civil War history. He wanted some Christmastime quotes from John Haley for a ‘Christmas during the Civil War’ episode he ran in December” 2023, Brown said.

We are grateful to the Dyer Library/Saco Museum for making this photo available to Emerging Civil War and Maine at War.

2 Responses to Saco Library Releases Previously Unpublished Photo of John Haley, 17th Maine

  1. The text under the picture says, “…..Haley, a blanket wrapped about his shoulders,”. If you look carefully at the edge on his left side, there appear to be button holes, and on the right side, spots where buttons may have been sewn on. It reminds me of the elbow length cape that was on Union Army greatcoats. It appears to have had the standing collar removed. I wonder if this was a repurposing of his old uniform coat.

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