In 1868, David Bachrach, in the employ of stereographer William Chase, was requested by the commandant of the U. S. Naval Academy, David Porter, to photograph the graduating class.
“The people there built a studio for us,” recalled Bachrach in his 1916 memoir, Over Fifty Years of Photography, “and there I was really for the first time proprietor of a studio where only a good class of portraiture was made.”
This may be a portrait of an instructor, as the unidentified subject’s coat sleeves have the five strips of gold that indicate the rank of commander (Uniform Regulations, 1864, United States Navy).
A naval historian who was able to examine the US Naval Academy’s class of 1868 album at the US Naval Academy Archives suggests that the officer in this photograph may be Robert F. R. Lewis (b. abt. 1828, Washington, DC; d. 23 Feb 1881) .
“Lewis at the time was a senior instructor in seamanship” at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, holding the rank of commander, he says, “and towards the end of this tour at the Naval Academy, he was advisor to the Superintendent on buildings and grounds.”
Lewis was attached to the Academy from 1866 to 1868. He was promoted to commander in 1867.
In 1869, he joined the command of the Resaca, in the Pacific Squadron. At the time of his death at sea, Lewis held the rank of captain of the United States Steamship Shenandoah, part of the South Atlantic Squadron.
If this man really is Robert F. R. Lewis, then one can understand his grim expression. Lewis was appointed Midshipman in 1841, when he was about 14 years old. The boy grew to manhood in on board ships and was schooled in battle before he was 20 , distinguishing himself in the Mexican War of 1848. In 1849, he was ordered to the Academy to be examined. He passed, and immediately took up a post on the Vixen in the West Indies.
Lewis distinguished himself during the Civil War, aiding in blockades at the mouths of the Mississippi and the St. Johns River, off the coast of Texas, and at Charleston harbor.
Read more about Capt. Lewis’ career in two books available on Google Books:
The records of living officers of the US Navy and Marine Corps, 3rd edition, 1878
These excellent reference volumes were compiled by Lt. Lewis R. Hamersley, US Marine Corps, retired.
In William C. Darrah’s discussion of backmarks, this card’s reverse, with its “ornate groundwork” and “ovoid area for imprint” is located ca. 1864-1870 (Darrah, Cartes de Visite in Nineteenth Century Photography).