This Union officer sporting stylish spectacles with tinted glass and a second pair of lenses is Captain Thomas Bartlett Griffith, a prosperous furnace manufacturer from Carver, Massachusetts. Griffith’s striking supplementary lenses could have been used for extra sun protection, as bifocals, or simply for decoration. Because a postwar portrait shows him wearing traditional glasses, this set was probably prescription eyewear.
In September 1862, Griffith and fellow members of his hometown militia company mustered into federal service as Company K of the 3rd Massachusetts Infantry, in which they would spend a largely uneventful nine-month enlistment along the North Carolina coast. He survived his term and returned to Massachusetts, where he resumed his business, embraced the Republican Party, and—due to his belief in communicating with the spirits of the dead—converted to Spiritualism.
Griffith went on to invest heavily in the Boston Fruit Company, which became a dominant player in the global banana trade and lives on today as Chiquita Brands International. Upon his death in 1897 at age 63, Griffith’s considerable fortune passed to his wife and a daughter, Hannah. The young woman eventually married Benjamin Shaw and lived comfortably as a philanthropist until she passed away in 1933. One legacy of the Griffith money is the Hannah B.G. Shaw Home, a senior living community that was established in Middleboro, Massachusetts, in 1941 and is still thriving today.
Ronald S. Coddington is publisher of Military Images (militaryimagesmagazine.com), a magazine dedicated to showcasing and preserving photos of Civil War soldiers and sailors.
This article appeared in the Summer 2019 (Vol. 9, No. 2) issue of The Civil War Monitor.