It can be easy to see time spent on Mackinac Island as a defining moment in a vacation, a career, or even a lifetime. It can be a special place, with its unique history, architecture, and local culture. But for the officers who served at Fort Mackinac, which remained an active duty post from 1779 to 1895, often the island was but one stop in a long career. Military records and army lists illuminate the promotions and changes of station these men experienced, but these sources generally reduce a lifetime of professional service, social interactions, and personal experiences to single, brief abbreviated paragraphs.
We are fortunate, then, to have a photo album assembled over the career of one of Fort Mackinac’s officers, Edward Barton Pratt. With hand-written captions throughout, the 23rd U.S. Infantry and Scenes and events Connected with it, as it is titled on the first page, the album records Pratt’s service in the U.S. Army from 1873 to about 1902. As implied by the title, much of the album focuses on Pratt’s time with the 23rd Regiment of Infantry, two companies of which were stationed at Fort Mackinac between 1884 and 1890. Using a mixture of commercial photos and what appear to be amateur shots, the album traces Pratt’s rise from a young lieutenant to combat-veteran lieutenant colonel. Along the way, Pratt and his family traveled across the United States, with stops in Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Michigan, Texas, Louisiana, California, Georgia, and New York, as well as a combat tour in the Philippines. The album documents the posts Pratt served at, as well as the soldiers and civilians he interacted with. Pratt may have assembled the album himself, but his wife Kate and daughter Mary Louise are also potential authors. In any case, it provides a fascinating and candid window into the life of a typical late 19th-century infantry officer.