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Do you recognize anyone? Library of Congress receives Liljenquist Family Civil War Photographs

2011 April 28

A complete collection of Civil War Faces can be seen at this link. Items are from between 1856 & c.1863.



In remembrance of the Union and Confederate soldiers who served in the American Civil War (1861-1865), the Liljenquist Family recently donated their rare collection of almost 700 ambrotype and tintype photographs to the Library of Congress.



Most of the people and photographers are unidentified, and we’d love to learn more about them. Please let us know if you recognize a face from your family, a regiment, or a photographer’s painted studio backdrop! You can read some of the personal stories that did survive in notes found with the photo cases.

These fascinating photographs represent the impact of the war, which involved many young enlisted men and the deaths of more than 600,000 soldiers. The photos feature details that enhance their interest, including horses, drums, muskets, rifles, revolvers, hats and caps, canteens, and a guitar. Among the rarest images are African Americans in uniform, sailors, a Lincoln campaign button, and portraits with families, women, and girls and boys.

Group portraits also feature interesting poses, including soldiers with each others’ cigars.


Why are these Civil War photographs important?
Many reasons! See Brandon Liljenquist’s eloquent essay about why the family collected these portraits.

Where can I see the original photographs?
They’ll be on exhibit in “The Last Full Measure”, April 12, 2011 through August 13, 2011, in the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building. Also online!

Why are there more Union than Confederate portraits?
The Union portraits outnumber the Confederate because the North had more photographers working during the war and more soldiers. Photographic supplies were scarce in the South.

Why are the letters backwards?
Letters on the hats and belt buckles are usually reversed because ambrotypes and tintypes are direct positives–images directly from the camera, like negatives. See the hat and buckle in this image for an example of laterally reversed letters.

What are ambrotypes?
Patented by James Ambrose Cutting in 1854 and popular through the mid-1860s, an ambrotype is an underexposed glass negative with a dark backing that creates a positive image. Photographers applied pigments to add color, often tinting cheeks and lips red and adding gold highlights to jewelry, buttons, and belt buckles. Ambrotypes were sold in either cases or ornate frames to provide an attractive appearance and also to protect the negative with a cover glass and brass mat.

What are tintypes?
Tintypes, originally known as ferrotypes or melainotypes, were invented in the 1850s and continued to be produced into the 20th century. The photographic emulsion was applied directly to a thin sheet of iron coated with a dark lacquer or enamel, producing a unique positive image. Like ambrotypes, tintypes were often hand colored. Customers purchased cases, frames, or paper envelopes to protect and display their images.

One caution: Tintypes and ambrotypes found in cases and frames can be difficult to identify. A magnet will be attracted to the iron support, but if a sheet of metal is used behind an ambrotype, you could be fooled into thinking that the image is a tintype.

What are the photo cases made of?
Cased photographs typically include the metal or glass image plate, a cover glass, and a brass mat wrapped together with a brass preserver, and placed inside of a leather or thermoplastic case for both protection and adornment. One side of the inner case often has a patterned velvet lining. The outside of a case can be plain or decorated with flowers, figures, patriotic themes, and other subjects. They’re also called union cases.

Who cataloged the photographs?
We rarely have the resources to provide much descriptive information for a single photo, but for these rare images we received great help from two summer Junior Fellows at the Library–Matthew Gross and Elizabeth Lewin. They worked with photography curator Carol Johnson and cataloging specialist Karen Chittenden to prepare the extensive descriptions using information provided by the Liljenquist Family, the reference sources cited below, and their own sharp observations. Now that the digital images are available, even more details are visible, and we welcome new discoveries!

Where can I learn more about Civil War photographs and soldiers?

Civil War Uniforms
Katcher, Philip. Civil War Uniforms: A Photo Guide. London: Arms and Armour, 1996.

Lord, Francis A. Uniforms of the Civil War. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2007.

Shaw, Antony, editor. The Civil War Catalog. Philadelphia: Courage Books, 2003.

Shep, R. L., and W. S. Salisbury. Civil War Gentlemen: 1860s Apparel Arts & Uniforms, 1994.

Service Information
Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (National Park Service)
Facts about soldiers who served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.

The Price in Blood, 2004,

Ambrotypes and Tintypes
Burgess, Nathan G. The Photograph and Ambrotype Manual: A Practical Treatise on the Art of Taking Positive and Negative Photographs on Paper and Glass New York: Hubbard, Burgess, 1861. 00burg

Carlebach, Michael L. Occupational Portraits in the Age of Tintypes. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002.

Rinhart, Floyd, Marion Rinhart, and Robert W. Wagner. The American Tintype. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1999.

Schimmelman, Janice G. The Tintype in America, 1856-1880. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2007.

Photograph Cases
Berg, Paul K. 19th Century Photographic Cases and Wall Frames. [United States]: Paul K. Berg, 2003.

Rinhart, Floyd, and Marion Rinhart. American Miniature Case Art. South Brunswick and New York: A.S. Barnes, 1969.

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