The Library of Congress has acquired an exceptional collection of nearly 700 ambrotype and tintype photographs showing both Union and Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War.
Tom Liljenquist has generously donated the entire collection to the Library as a gift to the nation in order to ensure broad public access and long-term preservation. During the past 15 years, the Liljenquist family of McLean, Va., sought out high-quality images to represent the impact of the war, especially images of young enlisted men. The photographs often show firearms, hats, canteens, musical instruments, and other details that enhance the research value of the collection significantly.
Liljenquist and his three sons—Jason, 19; Brandon, 17; and Christian, 13—became interested in Civil War history after finding bullets and other signs of an encampment near their home in Virginia. As they began to investigate other artifacts from the war, they were especially attracted to the images captured in the photographic formats called ambrotypes (on glass) and tintypes (on metal), which were often placed in special frames and decorated cases.
Among the rarest images are African Americans in uniform, sailors, a Lincoln campaign button, and portraits of soldiers with their wives and children. A few personal stories survive in notes pinned to the photo cases, but most of the people and photographers are unidentified.
To view the photographs online, visit www.loc.gov/rr/print/caption/captionliljenquist.html. The Library has also made the images available on the Flickr Commons to help identify individuals and photographers based on such clues as painted backdrops and regimental insignia.
An exhibition of the collection, “The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection,” will commemorate the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War in April 2011 at the Library of Congress.