Among all the personal effects that could survive a skirmish during the Civil War, a couple of tiny photographs seem unlikely candidates. But, that’s exactly what turned up amidst the carnage of the deadliest conflict in United States history. One picture of a young girl was found between the bodies of two soldiers following a battle in Port Royal, Virginia in June of 1862. The other photograph – also of a young girl – was located in a Virginia farm field in 1865, just before the war came to an end.
Photography was still in its infancy in the 1860’s, but it had become a rather common means of recording the events of people’s lives. Many Union and Confederate soldiers carried photos of loved ones into battle. Photographers were assigned to Northern divisions and traveling photographers were the early version of photo booths as they visited encamped troops between battles and photographed them.
Photography was evolving from daguerreotype to ambrotypes and other mediums in which images were produced through a wet emulsion on glass and were more accessible to a wider audience.
Now, the Museum of the Confederacy hopes to identify the girls in these two particular photographs. They admit their chances are remote. There is no writing on the backs of these photographs, nor were there any notes tucked inside their small frames.
“We don’t know who they are and the people who picked them up did not know who they were,” said Ann Drury Wellford, curator of 6,000 Civil War images at the Richmond museum that has the largest collection of artifacts of the Confederate states, both civilian and military. “They evoke an utter and complete sentimentality.”
Each photograph is in a hinged case with a leather or composite exterior. The cases protected the fragile images, which include early photographic processes such as tintypes and daguerreotypes.
Regardless of how one feels about the Civil War, these photographs – and the countless others collected by the Museum – speak of an intimacy among families and a sense of humanity that only comes to light after people see the horrors of a battlefield.