Photographs of veterans number in the thousands within the collections of the Library of Congress. We can see the faces of veterans of wars fought in foreign lands and in our own backyards. We have photographs of veterans who fought in wars in the last century – and the one before that – as well as men and women just returned from the scene of a conflict.
But what if we go even further back in American history – all way to the American Revolution? We know the faces of that war only through the hand of an artist, through oil paintings and engravings, right?
Not exactly. Though they were taken many decades after the Revolution, the Prints and Photographs Division does in fact have photographs of six men who fought for American independence from the British in the 18th century.
These were the Last Men of the Revolution:
Lemuel Cook (right), aged 105, reported he was present at the 1781 surrender of Lord Cornwallis to General George Washington, a pivotal moment in the Revolution. And Alexander Millener (bottom left in the above grid) recalled seeing Gen. Washington and his wife Martha while stationed at Valley Forge. The photographs were published in 1864, even as the U.S. was embroiled in another war – the American Civil War. Similar photographs as well as interviews with the men appeared in a book published by Rev. E. B. Hillard the same year. The personal accounts Hillard collected in the book are intriguing, of course, and add to the pages and pages written about the American Revolution. But there is also something powerful about having the photographs of six faces who actually saw those events unfold.
Hillard spoke of this idea in the introduction of his book:
“History lives only in the persons who created it. […] As we look upon their faces, as we learn the stories of their lives, it will live again before us, and we shall stand as witnesses of its great actions.” -Rev. E.B. Hillard, “The Last Men of the Revolution,” p. 24.
- Study the faces of the Last Men of the Revolution.
- Explore the American Revolution as it was depicted at the time and as later generations pictured it, including the surrender of Lord Cornwallis.
- See images related to American veterans in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
- The Veterans History Project (VHP) of the Library of Congress collects and preserves images, interviews and papers of American war veterans from World War I through the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. If you are a veteran or know one, consider participating in the project. Explore the VHP online database.