Wednesday, June 13th, 2012
The Museum of the Confederacy headquartered in Richmond, Virginia needs your help. They have an extensive collection of Civil War artifacts, including many period pictures, but even though they have excellent provenance records from donors, some of the pictures were found on battlefields or left behind with civilians for safekeeping so the museum has no idea who they depict. For curators to attempt to research each picture and locate potential relatives would be prohibitively expensive.
The museum is therefore releasing eight pictures, mainly of women and children, to the public on the very remote chance that someone might just recognize their great-grandmother from old family albums. Perhaps crowdsourcing can step into the void.
“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, civilian and military. “They evoke an utter and complete sentimentality.”
Museum officials can only speculate on the children and adults, including soldiers, shown in the photographs. But whether they were sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, or siblings the prospect of identifying each grows dimmer with the passage of time.
Typically they were found by another soldier and handed down through generations. Ultimately an attic would be cleared or a trunk would be emptied and the photo would be given to the museum. Some have been in the museum’s possession for 60 years or more.
Considering the circumstances behind the discovery of these photos, it’s amazing that the museum knows as much as they do know about them. Take this Ambrotype of a doll-like little girl, for instance:
This photograph was found by Confederate Private Thomas W. Timberlake of the 2nd Virginia Infantry on the battlefield at Port Republic, Virginia in 1862. It was wedged between two dead bodies, one of a Confederate soldier and one of a Union soldier. Private Timberlake couldn’t tell which soldier the picture had belonged to, so he kept it. His descendants donated the photograph to the museum and told the battlefield tale that had come down to them through the generations.
We know the picture of this little girl belonged to a Union soldier:
It was found by Confederate Private Heartwell Kincaid Adams of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry in the haversack of a Union soldier who died in the Battle of High Bridge, Virginia on April 6th or 7th, 1865. Lee would surrender at Appomattox on April 9th.
You can see all eight of the pictures on the museum website here, and higher resolution ones on the MSNBC photoblog. If by some incredible twist of fate you recognize anyone, please email the Museum, call 855-649-1861 x113, or drop them a line on Twitter or Facebook.