Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Museum of the Confederacy Photos

Civil War era photography is known for the subjects rigid posture, un-smiling gaze, or scenes of battle and most generally in black and white, although some of the images would sport color. That would be hand painted on the image by the photographer before its delivery. Somewhere back of all of the photos there was a living soul that was alive and well at the time and cherished by someone. Quite often these images would find their way to battlefields and camps, only to be lost by the man who carried the dear ones in pocket or pack and through death or rapid “skeedaddle”. Sometimes a soldier from the opposing army would find it and it was carried away as a memento of a distant battlefield and subject of grand stories the veteran would spin for his grandchildren. Long after the stories faded the little keepsake would end up in attic or basement, the story of the person in the picture forever lost.

The Museum of the Confederacy has listed on their site eight such photographs from the war, some picked up on battle fields. They are asking the public to help in identify these people, although they confess that the likelihood of finding relatives 150 years beyond the war is slim. This is but one image from the MoC site, and the rest can be found here:

The Associated Press story of this collection and some background as to how they came to the museum can be found here:;_ylt=A2KJ3CcNItZPj2MAKGfQtDMD
If you can help send them an email.

This story dovetails pretty well with my interest in Civil War photos in general. Hand painting was common then and today there seems to be a rush to “colorize” the old pictures and I must confess I am not overly thrilled with the idea. For 150 years the old black and white images were just fine when used in a book to show the generals, soldiers, and yes, the carnage of the war. Do we really need them to be in color? If the idea behind coloring an old photo is to bring out details that are otherwise lost in a black and white image then I say great! Go for it! And I would also recommend going to if you have never visited that site. (click the link in the sidebar) There is a regular poster there that does some amazing things with photographs. His forte' is enlarging the photos to bring out the details and he can zoom in on areas that are obscured for whatever reason. He also has started the colorizing of photos and from what I have seen it is nice work. I also am confident his sole reason for colorizing is research. Just go to the photography forum and browse. There is a lot to see.

As for me I still like the black and white images, but if the photographers in 1862 hand colored some of their pictures, who am I to argue against someone doing the same thing in 2012?

The Picket

Photo from The Museum of the Confederacy, retrieved June 13, 2012

As an aside to civil war photos and hand coloring, I have a photo portrait of my grandmother, circa 1910 or 1911 and taken when she was maybe two years old. It is in black and white, and she is standing with her hand resting on a stool. What is unique about it is the photographer hand illustrated the stool and her body below the waist. No color mind you, but a tedious job and a tremendous amount of artistic talent on display.

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