A forlorn-looking girl in a mourning dress holds a picture of her late father. An impossibly young soldier, probably prepubescent, stands at attention with his bayoneted musket. An African-American in Union uniform sits stoically with his wife and two daughters. A pair of uniformed comrades pose comically, each holding a cigar in the other’s mouth.
The U.S. Civil War was the most photographed conflict of the 19th century, despite the relative infancy of the technology and its cumbersome, laborious nature at the time. While pictures of death and destruction on American battlefields helped dispel many of the previously held romantic notions of war, images of the living also remain haunting and provocative even today, telling their stories or leaving behind tantalizing mysteries.
The Library of Congress recently acquired a remarkable collection of hundreds of portrait photographs and other materials from the Liljenquist (pronounced “LIL-lee-en-quist“) family, which will be the subject of “The Last Full Measure,” a Library of Congress exhibit opening April 12, 2011, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.
Today, the Library posted 693 photos of “Civil War Faces” on its popular Flickr page. The images are also available online at loc.gov, where you can download them in amazingly high-resolution TIF files of roughly 70 megabytes or more each.
Unfortunately, very little identifying information is known about most of the photos and the people pictured. However, as has been the goal of the Library’s Flickr project from the start, we’re hoping the community at large will help tag and comment on the pictures.
Most of the people and photographers are unidentified, and we’d love to learn more about them. Please let us know if you recognize a face from your family, a regiment, or a photographer’s painted studio backdrop! You can read some of the personal stories that did survive in notes found with the photo cases.
Information that is ultimately confirmed will help augment the pictures’ official bibliographic records.
One of the things that strikes me about the photos is how “modern” some of the subjects look, with an immediacy and vitality to their visages that contrasts with people in many other historical photos who look a bit like dated and distant inhabitants of a time long since passed.
What impressions do you get when you look at them?