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Collection Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs

About this Collection

More than 5,000 special portrait photographs, called ambrotypes and tintypes, and small card photos called cartes de visite represent both Union and Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War (1861-1865). The portraits often show weapons, hats, canteens, musical instruments, painted backdrops, and other details that enhance the research value of the collection. Other photo topics include flags, city views, veterans, and ships. Among the most rare images are nurses, African Americans in uniform, sailors, Lincoln campaign buttons, and portraits of soldiers with their families and friends.

Retrieve highlights from the collections that show some of its strengths:

Tom Liljenquist and his sons Jason, Brandon, and Christian built this collection in memory of President Abraham Lincoln and the estimated 620,000-850,000 Union and Confederate servicemen who died in the American Civil War. For many, these photographs are the last known record we have of who they were and what they looked like. See "From the Donor's Perspective--The Last Full Measure" for the full story.

The Liljenquist Family began donating their collection to the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division in 2010 and continues to add to it. In addition to the ambrotypes and tintypes, the collection also includes several manuscripts, patriotic envelopes, photographs on paper, and artifacts related to the Civil War.

There are many ways to enjoy and learn about this collection:

Background and Scope

In 2010, Tom Liljenquist, a businessman from the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, generously donated more than 700 ambrotypes and tintypes of Civil War soldiers--both Union and Confederate--to the Library. The portraits are rich in details about uniforms, hats, guns, swords, belt buckles, canteens, and musical instruments, and include representation of African Americans, sailors, and soldiers posed with family members.

[Unidentified young soldier in Union uniform with revolver and knife in belt standing with a cigar in his mouth]

Liljenquist and his three sons, Jason (now 19), Brandon (17), and Christian (13), built the collection over fifteen years. They acquired high-quality ambrotypes and tintypes, selecting compelling portraits that draw viewers to look closely at the soldiers' faces. The family collected photographs of enlisted men, the young men who fought on the front lines, rather than the famous generals of the war. Since their initial gift, the family continues to donate and has expanded the collection scope to include albumen photographs and cartes de visite, patriotic envelopes, letters and memorabilia.

Life-long residents of Virginia, the Liljenquist family became interested in Civil War history after discovering Civil War era bullets near their home. They began to collect artifacts from the war and were particularly moved by a portrait that they purchased in Ellicott City, Maryland. They kept the photograph on their kitchen table, where they examined it often. They later returned to Ellicott City to purchase more portraits.

The family acquired their collection piece-by-piece, traveling to photography shows, antique shops, and Civil War shows, as far away as Ohio and Tennessee. They also purchased photographs at auction and on eBay. Many but not all images are in their original housing. The family sought out interesting period frames and cases to provide a fine presentation for each portrait.

Tom Liljenquist with sons Brandon, Christian, and Jason

The Liljenquist collection includes many more portraits of Union than Confederate soldiers. Not only were there fewer Confederate soldiers, but they had fewer opportunities to sit for their portraits. During the war, photographic supplies were not reliably available in the South. A few Southern photographers held on to their businesses by raising prices to compensate for the high price of photographic supplies and the inflated Confederate dollar.

Many of the soldiers are unidentified. Insignia on hats and belt buckles may provide information about the various units in which the soldiers served. (See Revealing Details.) But soldiers frequently did not wear regulation uniforms. Most of the Union and Confederate designations provided in the catalog records are based on information received with the photograph when purchased by the Liljenquist family or from information they received from the Civil War community. We'll update this information as more is learned about the diverse uniforms worn during the war.

The Liljenquist Family Collection complements the Library's extensive collection of Civil War photographs, which had lacked portraits of enlisted men prior to this acquisition.

The donor's perspective essay, by Brandon Liljenquist, provides more information about why the family decided to collect these photographs and donate them to the Library of Congress.