American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory, Exhibit Object Focus

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A Civil War Sailor

Supply Object Title
[Sailor holding a double case with portraits of Confederate soldiers]
Ambrotype, circa 1865
Prints & Photographs Division Purchase, 1995 (42B.2)
[ Digital ID# cph 3c32206 ]

In need of experienced sailors during the Civil War, the United States Navy recruited free blacks and contraband into its ranks. It is estimated that 18,000 African-American sailors served in the Navy during the Civil War. Blacks worked on most of the naval vessels alongside their white counterparts and received equal pay, living accommodations, medical care, and pensions.

This is an example of an ambrotype, a photographic process used for a brief period of time in the mid-1800s that placed a glass plate negative against a dark background to create a positive image.


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