A photo of your Civil War ancestor is a prized possession for any genealogist or family historian. If it’s a picture of your veteran in uniform it’s a double bonus! Unfortunately I don’t fall into this category. I don’t have a single photo of my Civil War great great grandfather in uniform or even later in life. I’m bummed about this but all is not lost. There are many online repositories bursting with Civil War pics. Possibly with one I’m looking for. So let’s take a look at a few.
One of the first and best places to look is the United States Army Military History Institute. Known as the MOLLUS-Massachusetts collection of Civil War photographic prints (Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States-Massachusetts chapter) this collection was gathered by former Union officers in the 1880s. With more than 23,000 images of the Civil War you can spend days browsing this collection.
Search first for your ancestor by surname. They claim 80% of the photos in their collection are identified but there’s the chance you won’t find your guy. Next you might type in the regiment your ancestor served with. I put in the 81st Pennsylvania and 20 photos came up. None of my ancestor, but I was pleasantly surprised I got that many hits. Lots of the identified photos are of prominent generals like Grant, Lee and Sherman but there were scads of less recognized officers as well.
Next I tried searching particular battles my ancestor fought as well as plugging in infantry or cavalry. There were tons of these pics to give me a better idea of what a soldier’s life was like from camp to the uniform he wore.
Another excellent resource is the Library of Congress. They have about 7,000 glass plate negatives made by Matthew Brady’s studio photographers. Brady set out to document the war with his staff of photographers and achieved much more than that. He exposed the brutality and carnage of this conflict in a way never before seen by the every day citizen.
I struck out on both surname and regiment but when I put in Virginia I got a list of all the views available and looked at numerous prints of Petersburg where my grandfather was entrenched for months. I also found photos of High Bridge where a small skirmish took place before my ancestor was shot. It was meaningful for me to see these places as he would have seen them. Continue reading