Join 3,563 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


poignant portraits of youth at war
December 5, 2010 4:47 PM   Subscribe

In remembrance of the Confederate and Union soldiers who served in the American Civil War, the Liljenquist Family recently donated their rare collection of almost 700 ambrotype and tintype photographs to the Library of Congress. These achingly poignant portraits speak volumes.

Related essay by the young Mr. Brandon Liljenquist.
posted by flapjax at midnite (98 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite

 
Those portraits really are beautiful and heart-wrenching, especially the little girl holding the picture of her father.
posted by chatongriffes at 4:55 PM on December 5, 2010


Soldiers? Christ, those links are to pictures of kids. This is heartbreaking.
posted by rain at 5:00 PM on December 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oh my god, some of those soldiers were babies.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:01 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's with the pink cheeks on so many of the photos? I assume it must be added to the film or whatever in post processing since everything else in every photo is greyscale. Why is that done?
posted by Justinian at 5:14 PM on December 5, 2010


Why is that done?

Hand tinting of photographs had been going on since the very dawn of photography, I do believe. Aesthetic preference.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:16 PM on December 5, 2010


An aesthetic preference for weird pink cheeks in an otherwise greyscale photograph? Obviously that's why it is done but... but... why??? It's so out of place and odd.
posted by Justinian at 5:18 PM on December 5, 2010


there are 693 images in the collection set up at Flickr. i did a quick perusal via the slideshow and only found 4 with easily identifiable black people. three of those pics (1, 2, 3) are single shots of black men and boys. only one pic is of a complete black family.

i couldnt see any easily identifiable US nor Mexican First Peoples.

there are countless photographs of white soldiers who look too obviously poor to the naked eye and yet what a privilege to be one of the 688 who've been immortalized in this collection.

more than big theories, odious books or catchy manifestos, it's the little innocuous everyday things like these historical mementos that crystallize the soul of a nation.

next time someone tells you to unpack your backpack, think of this collection of images. they not only reveal beautifully what white privilege is about, but they depict as well the intersectionalities of class, gender and race privilege and oppression that founded this nation.
posted by liza at 5:18 PM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


There's a time and a place for everything liza.

As to the age of the kids, eh it was a different time, kids grew up faster back then, had to shoulder more responsibility at an earlier age.
posted by nomadicink at 5:24 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


liza, there are a few more than the four you found, plus this one of an African-American woman, but overall it's still not very many (and two of the pictures in my search are not from this collection).
posted by DiscourseMarker at 5:27 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pink cheeks are a sign of health and life. Do you remember the scene in Schindler's List where the women put blood on their cheeks so they'll be seen as healthy enough to work (rather than weak enough to earn a trip to the gas chambers?)

Also, a minor point: if you look at the set as a slideshow, you'll see lots of hand-colored American flags, some hand-colored brass buttons and buckles, and a little bit of hand-colored clothing (those people are also pretty well put-together looking.) This was a value-added service like getting an extra three poses or a sheet of wallet-size prints or added camera glare at Sears.
posted by SMPA at 5:35 PM on December 5, 2010


Liza, I get what you're going for, but did you have to coach it in language that put even my (white, liberal) hackles up? Hearts and minds.

That said, Jesus. Bunch of little kids. Plus ├ža change, and all that...
posted by notsnot at 5:35 PM on December 5, 2010


Are you seriously complaining about the lack of photographs of American/Mexican Indians or women in a set of photos which primarily depict soldiers from the American Civil War? That's not even wrong. Considering how many of the soldiers pictured in those photographs died in horror, mud, and fire while much, much too young I'm going to refrain from saying exactly what I really think.
posted by Justinian at 5:36 PM on December 5, 2010 [17 favorites]


I've always been intrigued by the Civil War. I try to imagine fighting within my own country, my state, my county, my town, against people that I possibly know and may be related to. It doesn't compute. It seems like a horrible time to have had to live through. That's what I see in those pictures. A horrible time to live through.
posted by wv kay in ga at 5:37 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Considering how many of the soldiers pictured in those photographs died in horror, mud, and fire while much, much too young I'm going to refrain from saying exactly what I really think.
And despite that, black men fought like hell to get the privilege to die in horror, mud and fire along with them. Because slavery was that bad. Because they were that desperate for the dignity that came with citizenship and for the chance to liberate themselves and their families.
posted by craichead at 5:39 PM on December 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


I'm kind of digging on the pink rosy cheeks thing.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:43 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Absolutely, craichead. To give you an idea in exactly what esteem I hold the institution of slavery, it is difficult for me to read the "In remembrance of the Confederate and Union soldiers..." bit without wanting to take a red marker and cross out "Confederate and".
posted by Justinian at 5:43 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


So here's the thing, Justinian. Liza is right. Serving in the Civil War was a perverse privilege, but it was a privilege. It was a mark of citizenship. That's why white Northerners balked at allowing African-American men to serve: it meant that black men were citizens. And that's why black men tried desperately to join the military at a time when white men were rioting against conscription. They were willing to die horribly not just to end slavery, but also to show that they deserved the same rights of citizenship as white men. (Lots of black men tried that strategy again in World War I. It didn't work then, either.) It's hard for us to wrap our heads around the fact that the worst possible military service was a privilege, but it still was, in ways that were very clear to people who were denied the right to serve.
posted by craichead at 5:49 PM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


So this was a direct positive photo process? They all seem to be flipped left to right.

This guy's belt buckle is upside down, too.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:50 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


This one looks like a woman passing as a man/boy.
posted by yesster at 5:51 PM on December 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


Craichead, there are a couple things wrong with that. First and most importantly it ignores the context of this thread. One can be factually correct and still be rude, inappropriate, or whatever other adjective you wish to use. Secondly, the claim that being involuntarily drafted, forced to fight in terrible conditions, and then killed horribly is an example of privilege is likely one which we could have a rather long and convoluted debate on. There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to the Civil War, conscription, and liberty.
posted by Justinian at 5:56 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Especially because many wealthy white men (both northern and southern) paid a lot of money to get poorer men to fight in their (or their son's) stead.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:02 PM on December 5, 2010


Serving in the Civil War was a perverse privilege, but it was a privilege.

The participants in New York City's draft riot would beg to differ.

(Anyone who had $300 could pay their way out of serving. It was the poor and underprivileged who had no choice but to die in the mud.)
posted by Sara C. at 6:04 PM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


So here's the thing, Justinian. Liza is right.

More like intellectually lazy and narrow minded. The collection was built by those who were clearly interested in the soldiers. To get angry about that fact and use the collection as chance to trot out preconceived notions is just dull and self absorbed.

If one is really interested in those subjects, one should spend five minutes on Google looking up information about those topics. It may not be a sexy as speaking to the choir, but it's actually useful and might capture the attention of those interested in the post.
posted by nomadicink at 6:08 PM on December 5, 2010 [14 favorites]


Not to detract from the conversation regarding the content and social/political context of these photos, but I also can't help but be captivated by the photographic process itself. The old tintype/ambrotype/daguerreotype processes have always struck me as capturing a certain luminosity and subtlety of shading that is very hard to reproduce in this "advanced" digital age.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:14 PM on December 5, 2010


This one looks like a woman passing as a man/boy.

Wouldn't have been the first time it happened.
posted by jgaiser at 6:19 PM on December 5, 2010


next time someone tells you to unpack your backpack, think of this collection of images. they not only reveal beautifully what white privilege is about, but they depict as well the intersectionalities of class, gender and race privilege and oppression that founded this nation.

I would hesitate to use a collection of historical photos as a basis for any understanding of our nation's history on just about anything. This archive has gone through several selective filters that prevent any accurate analysis: selecting for wealth, selecting for gender, selecting for population, selecting for archival interest, and so on.
posted by Think_Long at 6:19 PM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Man, woman; black, white, brown; young, old; too many died horrible deaths fighting for and against a basic human principle and right. We are all equal. This is a sad reminder that this concept itself was not always the case and that war is hell.

I cannot imagine sending my teenagers to war. For any reason.

Great post.
posted by AugustWest at 6:20 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's strange to see photos of people that you think you'd like to have met. This soldier has great mutton chops, an interesting and handsome face, and he's holding a book.

Yes, I realize how serious these photos are, and the awfulness of the war behind them - several of my ancestors died in the Civil War, including one (that my brother is named after) who they suspect burned to death after the Battle of the Wilderness, when the woods caught fire.
posted by HopperFan at 6:20 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder how much it took in the 1860's, to be an "easily identifiable black person"?
posted by timsteil at 6:25 PM on December 5, 2010


...it is difficult for me to read the "In remembrance of the Confederate and Union soldiers..." bit without wanting to take a red marker and cross out "Confederate and".

Well, the word used was "remembrance", not "glory" or "honor" or "martyrdom" or "correctness"... just "remembrance". I think the confederate soldiers are as worthy of remembrance as, say, the Japanese who fought and died in WWII, even though many would say that the japanese soldier's devotion to the emperor was misguided, that they were often guilty of brutal war crimes, etc. But we seek to remember the past, no? The bitter and the sweet. All of it: winners and losers, the fighters for and against oppression, the unlucky average guy with no real stake in the outcome either way, but who, by forces of power and fate, was made to serve, often against his will. With your red marker, then, would you seek to ignore one side of the story, to ascribe to the whole of the confederate army the status of "not worthy of remembrance"?

Aside from that, I'd just add that forgiveness is one of humanity's more positive and noble ideas. Of course, some can't bring themselves to embrace it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:44 PM on December 5, 2010 [30 favorites]


Think_Long makes a critically important point regarding the nature of a collection...as a person who has worked in archives for some years, I can promise you that "collection" can mean a number of things, and usually never means "exhaustive" or "comprehensive."
posted by datawrangler at 6:48 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


The participants in New York City's draft riot would beg to differ.
I'm actually not sure that they would have. There people who were most likely to participate in the draft riots were also among the people who were most likely to object strenuously to any symbol of African-American citizenship. (And in fact, you could argue that some of the targets of the draft riots, like the Colored Orphanage, were the closest things they could find to symbols of African-American citizenship.) It's possible simultaneously to object to someone else's class privilege and still assert your own racial privilege.
If one is really interested in those subjects, one should spend five minutes on Google looking up information about those topics.
You know, I don't mean to be rude, but I actually know a fair amount about this. And I wouldn't be surprised if Liza does, too.
posted by craichead at 6:58 PM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


So here's the thing, Justinian. Liza is right. Serving in the Civil War was a perverse privilege, but it was a privilege. It was a mark of citizenship. That's why white Northerners balked at allowing African-American men to serve: it meant that black men were citizens. And that's why black men tried desperately to join the military
Same reason republicans don't want to repeal DADT.
Craichead, there are a couple things wrong with that. First and most importantly it ignores the context of this thread. One can be factually correct and still be rude, inappropriate
What are you talking about? It's a thread. It's for discussion. It's not a memorial. Lighten up.
posted by delmoi at 6:59 PM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


This one looks like a woman passing as a man/boy.
posted by yesster


I see what you mean. I knew there was something about that picture that wasn't quite right. The odd proportions and kind of fake looking belly was what I noticed.
posted by amethysts at 6:59 PM on December 5, 2010


There people who were most likely to participate in the draft riots were also among the people who were most likely to object strenuously to any symbol of African-American citizenship. (And in fact, you could argue that some of the targets of the draft riots, like the Colored Orphanage, were the closest things they could find to symbols of African-American citizenship.) It's possible simultaneously to object to someone else's class privilege and still assert your own racial privilege.

Except that's not really what the Draft Riots were about. They call them "draft" riots for a reason - young men, many of whom were recent immigrants with no long-standing ties to the US (who'd been illegally registered to vote through machine politics), violently opposed being drafted into the Union army (as well as opposing a system that required them to fight while it allowed wealthier men to avoid service). The riots devolved into a pogrom, true, but to my knowledge it had little to do with the eligibility of African Americans to serve in the military alongside whites.
posted by Sara C. at 7:11 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's rude at all. Thanks, liza.
posted by muddgirl at 7:17 PM on December 5, 2010


When I first saw this, I assumed it was from some rich old family, but Jason and Brandon Liljenquist were teenagers or young adults while collecting these, it looks like. In the essay, they speak about how many people are unaware of black soldiers. So, while the photo numbers may be small, it sounds like the donors are trying to call attention to the issue.
posted by salvia at 7:21 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


wow, justinian, who said am angry?

am just pointing out the obvious. i too immediately said, "omg, there are baby soldiers!". i can't even fathom my 10 and 13 year old holding a gun, needless to say to use it in a war. yet, am also known as a culture writer and my focus has always been about the intersections or race/ethnicity/class which means:

this is a collection of pics of the civil war
slavery was at the heart of it

btw: am not a scholar of african americana; more of a life-long student. it always fascinates me to see AfAms pop-up in the most weird of historical contexts. but this is a collection of civil war portraits. am immediately curious to see how many there are.

you may think am mad at history, but i am not. history is not only made by those who are in it but those who are left out of it. there's nothing wrong in pointing to the privileges of history.

this collection is not only a fascinating AND APPROPRIATE example of exactly that; but it is beautiful and heartbreaking.
posted by liza at 7:23 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I first saw this, I assumed it was from some rich old family, but Jason and Brandon Liljenquist were teenagers or young adults while collecting these, it looks like.
The donor is listed as "Tom Liljenquist," who I assume is their father. I actually am really curious about the donors and what their story is.
posted by craichead at 7:23 PM on December 5, 2010


Yeah, my first reaction was 'oh man, those 'soldiers' are like 12!' I know it was a different time, but...man. Of course, I think it's crazy that we send kids who can't even legally drink a beer to die in our conquests in our present times.

Great post, though. Thanks.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:24 PM on December 5, 2010


next time someone tells you to unpack your backpack, think of this collection of images.

and yet they used that "privilege" to fight and perhaps die for the idea that one set of people should not own another set of people

people sacrificed years of their lives - or ALL of their lives - for those less "privileged" than them

the nobility and honor they had in their "backpacks" far outweigh anything else you might accuse them of having in there

and if they hadn't done what they did, our "backpacks" would be much heavier and much less invisible than they are

you did not think this through at all

talk about their privilege all you want, liza - but the fact is that you still owe these union soldiers a lot
posted by pyramid termite at 7:25 PM on December 5, 2010


The cases are just beautiful.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 7:31 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


"The notion that the average Confederate waged war to preserve slavery is a tenuous one at best. Only 6 percent of Southerners owned slaves, and 3 percent of those owned the majority. Recruits themselves referred to the war as "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight." Sound familiar? A rich man's war and poor man's fight. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
posted by wv kay in ga at 7:33 PM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


the youngest soldier allowed to march, but stay back during a battle was the 8-9 year old drummer boy each corp of the infantry took along as they moved from battle to battle. those kids saw ungodly sights that adults had nigjhtmares about.
posted by tustinrick at 7:37 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


While I'm glad that more people will see these photos, I do want to point out that none of these soldiers considered themselves to be other than men, doing a man's job. It demeans them to call them babies, kids, etc..
posted by Ideefixe at 7:41 PM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


my great-great-grandfather fought for the North, all the years from 1861 to 1865, now, at Gettysburg, he was a quarter-master attached to First Ohio Light Artillery, Battery H.he was not wounded and did not lose a limb. Our extended family back on Ohio has lots of his writings, letters and related items from the War between the States.
posted by tustinrick at 7:45 PM on December 5, 2010


Neat photos, and really sad, too.
posted by Forktine at 7:46 PM on December 5, 2010


Our extended family back on Ohio has lots of his writings, letters and related items from the War between the States.

tustinrick: Perhaps you can someday collect them as digitized images and post them to the internet, or donate them to the Library of Congress!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:47 PM on December 5, 2010


...the claim that being involuntarily drafted, forced to fight in terrible conditions, and then killed horribly is an example of privilege...

I think Liza's getting at the privilege of being represented in history rather than trying to assert that individual white men were lucky in particular to have left their families and died miserably in battle. The privilege rests not entirely with the people in this collection but also with their children and the rest of us who see a familiar gender / skin color / facial structure / posture / culture in these photos. Her point is not insulting to the subjects or denigrating their personal suffering. They are privileged, though, to have been photographed and appear before us now to be admired and mourned. Anyway, that's how I see it.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:06 PM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


They are privileged, though, to have been photographed and appear before us now to be admired and mourned.

exactly.
thanks.
posted by liza at 8:11 PM on December 5, 2010


They are privileged, though, to have been photographed and appear before us now to be admired and mourned.

It seems odd that a single collection of photograghs is being used as evidence of this privilege.
posted by nomadicink at 8:20 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the rosy cheeks are simply the remnants of tinting that has otherwise faded. You see a similar effect on old advertising posters, but in those cases it's the red pigment that has faded first.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:27 PM on December 5, 2010


The cases (yt) are just beautiful.

Those distinct ornate frames are really something... from the era when every single portrait photograph was virtually one-of-a-kind.
posted by ovvl at 8:40 PM on December 5, 2010


"They are privileged, though, to have been photographed and appear before us now to be admired and mourned.

exactly.
thanks."

That could actually begin an interesting discussion, if I'm reading you correctly. If you are saying that only the rich/privileged got their photographs taken, I wonder if that's actually the case. What were the logistics of getting your photo taken? Was it costly? Were there artists/reporters who took photos for free? Did the gov't do something to get soldiers photographed (for advertising reasons)?

But, I might be reading you wrong. Maybe you are saying that they are privileged because hundreds of years later their faces are known? I guess so, but then they are as privileged as slaves who had photos taken of them. That's a "privilege" that I think most would pass on.

I guess I think you are getting push back because your post to me comes out of left field. Asking why there weren't any pictures of Native Americans, for example was just odd. I would assume that there were no pictures of Native Americans in a collection of 700 photos a couple of brothers collected and then donated because their extreme rarity of existence and the random nature of small individual collections. Google shows only 3,500 Native Americans served in the Civil War. There were alone over 600,000 casualties in the Civil War for an idea on how few there actually were to take pictures of ... and have those pictures stay around for 150+ years... and then get bought by these random two brothers...

Anyway, I hope that didn't come across as an attack, just an explanation of why I and others were confused by the posting.

I do love the look of the old photos, though. What in the hell is going on with this one?
posted by superchris at 8:51 PM on December 5, 2010


If you are saying that only the rich/privileged got their photographs taken, I wonder if that's actually the case. What were the logistics of getting your photo taken? Was it costly? Were there artists/reporters who took photos for free? Did the gov't do something to get soldiers photographed (for advertising reasons)?

At the time of the Civil War, portrait photography was mostly a luxury. Poorer people might have been able to save up for the opportunity to be photographed, but it was with the assumption that this was their one and only chance to have a portrait made. Most journalism of the time did not involve portrait photography of ordinary people. Advertisements of the time did not generally use photography.
posted by Sara C. at 9:05 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac trilogy is a superb account of the Civil War. Read any one of the books to get an introduction to the nature of the the men behind the images in the tintypes. Many of them were remarkably articulate in their letters and journals when describing the conditions under which they lived and fought. Read all three volumes if you want to really grasp the nature of the Civil War.
posted by X4ster at 9:08 PM on December 5, 2010


You know which other group is conspicuously absent from these photo? Horses. That's right. In spite of their importance to the effort, and the sacrifices they made during that struggle, our equine accomplices are sadly unrepresented in these portraits. I, for one, am outraged at this travesty, and find it a damning indictment of this collection's species-ism. Should this outright ungulate antipathy be allowed to go unremarked? Neigh, I say! A thousand times, neigh !
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:19 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Neigh

I'll give you this: you rode a long way to get to there.
posted by maxwelton at 9:32 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


wow, justinian, who said am angry?

Didn't you get the memo? Liberal multicultural are always angry!
posted by delmoi at 9:32 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Substituting "surprised" or any other adjective doesn't change the context much.

They are privileged, though, to have been photographed and appear before us now to be admired and mourned. Anyway, that's how I see it.

I dunno, that's not usually how the word "privileged" is meant in this context. Even if you're correct I'm not sure I'd agree. I bet the people in the photos and their families would have gladly passed on the opportunity to have their photographs admired if it meant they didn't have to die painfully soon after. Maybe I'm cynical, but I don't think having an anonymous (as many of them are) photograph looked at by strangers in the future would be much comfort to anyone; certainly I wouldn't care.
posted by Justinian at 9:55 PM on December 5, 2010


I do love the look of the old photos, though. What in the hell is going on with this one?

It's hard to say without being able to see it in person, but I think the photo is labeled wrong. It doesn't look like the soldier in the back is aiming the revolver at anything in particular, he's simply posing with it held up against his chest. I've seen poses like that before.
posted by Justinian at 9:58 PM on December 5, 2010


I see what you mean. I knew there was something about that picture that wasn't quite right. The odd proportions and kind of fake looking belly was what I noticed.

For me it was all in the face. It just looks very feminine. Of course, there's probably a good chance there's some rightly pissed off young gentleman who got nothing but grief for this his entire life rolling in a grave somewhere.
posted by floam at 10:33 PM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


When I was in high school in the 80's, our U.S. history book had a section that basically said the Civil War was caused by the North passing laws so the South couldn't sell their cotton directly to England. Instead they had to sell it cheap to the North who then made it into fabric in their factories and jacked up the price to sell it to England. I think it was a crime to sell or give plans for the machinery to any part of the South. It seemed to be mainly caused by each side wanting the money. Does anyone know if this is true?
From what I remember, the only reason that slaves were freed was because the North didn't have enough soldiers and promised the slaves freedom if they'd fight for the North.
I'd guess the reason there are so many young soldiers is that after so many deaths and injuries during the years of war, it was hard to find any older men left to fight.
posted by stray thoughts at 11:11 PM on December 5, 2010


Just some back of the envelope math here, based on numbers from here. There were up to 4 million soldiers involved in the civil war.

There were 3530 "Indians" who fought for the Union. If these photos were a statistically accurate depiction of the soldiers in the civil that would mean that .08% of the photos should be of "Indians". Or 1/2 of a photo (.5544 or so). So if this was an accurate sample, you could possibly see someone one could identify as being "Indian." That is if they if they were dressed and photographed appropriately, skin was dark enough to come through on a 150 year old print, etc.

There were 178,975 "Negro" soldiers listed for the Union, no numbers for the confederates. Or 4.4% of the photos should be of "Negro" soldiers. Or 31 photos.

31 photos, if the photos were selected using a scientific and methodical process, and not one collected through ebay and civil war auctions by enthusiasts. But they weren't, so to use to photo series as a some testament for or against the privilege of being white since that is us applying our own concepts of whiteness and privilege on an era that while historically related to ours is also distinct in many ways is extremely misleading.

I use the terms Negro and Indian because that is the definitions we have for the time. That is another thing we have to unpack if the conversation is really meant to go down this path, is Negro meaning 1/8th African American heritage or just physically attributable characteristics? Does Indian include Mexican First Peoples or Spanish? There could easily be 31 photos of Negro soldiers that we don't notice because we aren't using the same definition of the word Negro.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:21 PM on December 5, 2010


> When I was in high school in the 80's, our U.S. history book had a section that basically said the Civil War was caused by the North passing laws so the South couldn't sell their cotton directly to England. Instead they had to sell it cheap to the North who then made it into fabric in their factories and jacked up the price to sell it to England. I think it was a crime to sell or give plans for the machinery to any part of the South. It seemed to be mainly caused by each side wanting the money. Does anyone know if this is true?

From this book, which I've added to my to-read list, the confederates pretty much seceded over slavery, and then in the 1890's started revising their history so it was about state rights and financial independence.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:25 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow Flapjacks - normally I hate your stinking guts*, but this is a great post. Well done.

*just kidding.
posted by Pecinpah at 11:49 PM on December 5, 2010


there are 693 images in the collection set up at Flickr. i did a quick perusal via the slideshow and only found 4 with easily identifiable black people. three of those pics (1, 2, 3) are single shots of black men and boys. only one pic is of a complete black family.

i couldnt see any easily identifiable US nor Mexican First Peoples.


You know that a bunch of photographs is not necessarily a representative sample of people who fought, right? And that a collection, chosen for reasons unknown, is even less so? Almost all of these portraits are of a type- not every Civil War photo has an ebony frame and hand-tinting. It makes it likely that they were chosen for certain characteristics aside from being an accurate depiction of what kind of people were involved in the conflict. I really wouldn't make any assumptions about the demographics of the combatants based on a personal collection.

Most of the Mexicans that fought were in New Mexico and Texas regiments, and searching those terms in his collection brings up four photographs, including this gentleman who may or may not look Mexican to you. That's not to prove anything about who fought, but to show that there's a geographic bias to these photos as well. The Mexicans of New Mexico had only been nominally Americans for like 15 years, and were pretty well occupied fighting Native Americans at the time of the Civil War. Many of them that did enlist signed up on the Union side because of their hatred for Texans. Oh yeah, and Mexico had sort of wrapped up the worst of its Civil War right before ours, so anyone with dual allegiance might well have sat this one out.

Only 20,000 Native Americans fought in the Civil War (such as those that served in the First Cherokee Mounted Rifles, and many Choctaw, who owned slaves), so all things being equal, there might be two Native Americans pictured here. At any rate, Native Americans were fighting many of their own wars at the time, mostly against Americans. They also had freedoms they were trying hard, in the face of vast odds, not to lose- and ending up on the losing side of the Civil War could easily jeopardize that. I think that fact probably supports the point you were trying to make (though to be honest, I'm not really sure what it is, exactly, except that white people are privileged in this country, a fact most people here probably already agree with to a degree), but it should also make it clear why there just aren't going to be many Indians interested in fighting with the people they were fighting against.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:44 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


and then in the 1890's started revising their history so it was about state rights and financial independence.

Well, it was always about state's rights to own slaves. The Civil War was pretty much a forgone conclusion as early the 1840s, if not earlier. There was a lot of back and forth about slavery and the balance of slave states vs non slave states in the Union. Money as mixed up in all that, the South wanted slavery so it could continue being the cotton king of the world, while northern states or interests didn't like the south having so much power.

So yeah, the war was about slavery, but remember that slavery was largely instituted for finacial reasons, ie a cheap workforce for the cotton fields.
posted by nomadicink at 1:02 AM on December 6, 2010


The other thing to keep in mind with a collection like this, is that collectors, especially serious collectors, are often most interested in purchasing the out of the ordinary, rather than the average. So given the choice between two photos to purchase they will usually select the unusual one rather than an average soldier in an average uniform.

So the collection may actually over represent young boys, soldiers who might be women, soldiers with unusual equipment and even African Americans. At least out of the possible group of soldiers wealthy enough to get their photo taken.

Photography was expensive in the 1860s. I have a lot of old family photos of my mostly working class to lower middle class ancestors but nothing from before the 1880s to 1900s when photography became more affordable.
posted by interplanetjanet at 5:41 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


It might have been about states' rights to own slaves, but it's disingenuous to suggest that it was about the larger principle of states' rights in general. The states that seceded wanted to have the right to continue slavery in their states, to be sure. But they also very much wanted the northern states not to be able to counter the Fugitive Slave Law - they were very much in favor of the primacy of the federal government when it came to that. If you go back to the debate over secession in Georgia right after Lincoln's election, you find that one of the principal short term fears was that Lincoln would allow the North to ignore the Fugitive Slave Law.

Not to mention that if it was only about states' rights, they were awful eager to export slavery to the territories - and even begin to lay the groundwork for slavery existing in the North, because the legal groundwork of Dred Scott was reframing the whole thing as property rights rather than states' rights (in other words, a person has an individual right to own property, and slaves are property). Those rights accrue to an individual, and can't be taken away by the federal government no matter where someone moves. Dred Scott opened the doors to the possibility of slavery in the North - and while the Civil War was probably inevitable long before that, it certainly sealed the deal.
posted by Chanther at 5:48 AM on December 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sorry for the derail there into arguing the Civil War. The pictures are amazing - great post. I will definitely use them in my history teaching this term.
posted by Chanther at 5:49 AM on December 6, 2010


It might have been about states' rights to own slaves, but it's disingenuous to suggest that it was about the larger principle of states' rights in general.

I may have been mistaken, naive or just plain wrong, but I was not being disingenuous.
posted by nomadicink at 5:54 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do love the look of the old photos, though. What in the hell is going on with this one?

It's pointed above the man's head, that and the odd position of the hand makes me think the guy was holding it to his chest.

Hand-tinting and other manipulation of photographs was common until the straight photographers and especially Group f/64 effectively bullied everyone else out of the field. Love for the qualities of B&W photography took a few decades to develop.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:10 AM on December 6, 2010


inre: rich/privileged

depending on the context you dont have to be rich to be privileged.

i've meant to hunt down the one family member that owns a stash of these of our ancestors. my great aunt (RIP) was a midwife/curandera, so she ended up having a collection of these with either newborn or dead family members. she was from the free-slave part of my black family; so they were the equivalent of "working poor" blue collar and faming people. she said the our family's pics were only made because the family and whole neighborhood would chip in during special ocassions --marriage, birth, death-- to have these kinds of pic taken.

these well could be the soldiers one special pic before going to war. a sort of "last will and testament"; images of themselves so their families could remember them if they were never to come back. just by looking at the majority of soldiers (looking at their uniforms, skin tone in face and hands, hats, hair, shoes, accoutrements) you can tell they saved their money to get these taken.

for example, there are a lot of soldiers who look like they could have been farm-hands (not plantation owners, btw) by looking at their hands and the leathery tan (as opposed to sunburnt) faces.

i was particularly intringued by the black family because the wife's hands do not look like they were the hands of a woman who worked the fields day in and day out. she looks --by her clothes, her hair and hands-- that she was maybe a servant. i come from (on my white/mestiza side of the family) indentured servant cooks. so i want to say she has the hands of a cook, but i may be wrong. the point being i was struck at how "well-put" they looked as a family (and how comandeering the dad/soldier looks) compared to others.

again, most likely, especially with the children soldiers, it wasnt disposable income they had; but money they saved to have an image of themselves their families could remember them by.

which brings me to the issue of the subjects on these images: please remember that even at the time these photographs were rare. i wouldn't wage Liljenquist had a vast supply to pick and choose from. unless there are other collections out there skewing to a particular Civil War soldier demographic, we can pretty much assume this is representative of those who were able to get their pictures taken.

which, again, given the rarity of these images even at the time, makes they painfully highlight these people know they were making history. these are special records of their future sacrifice to be treasured by at the least for their families if not for their nation.

which is why this is such an amazing collection. these people didnt have their pictures taken because they were witnesses to history. they had their pictures taken because they new they were making history.
posted by liza at 7:14 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Photography was expensive in the 1860s.

Tintypes were often referred to as "the penny picture that elected a president". It was very affordable generally costing between ten and twenty five cents depending on the size of the tintype and, they got even cheaper when multiplying cameras were introduced. Those lovely gilt cases were the most expensive part, but it was also possible to mount the tintype between two sheets of card stock which brought the price down considerably. Its more likely there just wasn't a itinerant photographer who came through town, or a carnival nearby to go to which were the more common ways someone could have their photo taken back then.
posted by squeak at 7:17 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


ugh. too early to be writing. apologies for the litany of spelling errors. i need more coffee.
posted by liza at 7:17 AM on December 6, 2010


omg, tustinrick. that is unimaginable.
posted by msconduct at 7:39 AM on December 6, 2010


When I was in high school in the 80's, our U.S. history book had a section that basically said the Civil War was caused by the North passing laws so the South couldn't sell their cotton directly to England.
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.
-- "Cornerstone Speech," Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy

Declarations of the causes of secession by Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and South Carolina. (Spoiler: there's not a lot of complaining about tariffs.)

Regarding states' rights, the South Carolina declaration specifically complains about northern states exercising states' rights:
But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution.
The Confederate states had no problem with the primacy of the federal Fugitive Slave Act or the Dred Scott decision overriding the state laws of free states.

I try to imagine fighting within my own country, my state, my county, my town, against people that I possibly know and may be related to.

One of the many tragedies of the Civil War is that most of the men in town would enlist and be put into one unit. Then they'd fight in a battle and take 50-75% casualties, and there weren't any men in the town any more.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:53 AM on December 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


This collection seems to be Union soldiers only. This site has an extensive collection of Civil War photos, including Confederate soldiers (scroll down to #138). There is a photo of a young drummer included.

And, surprisingly, Black Confederates in the Civil War.
posted by misha at 8:01 AM on December 6, 2010


Soldiers? Christ, those links are to pictures of kids.

Infantry - Child soldiers. This is not a phenomenon left to the past.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:10 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


nomadicink

In my post that followed yours, I was responding based on my frustrations about the way that some politicians and historians are trying to rewrite the history of the South to minimize the complicity of the south in slavery and present the southern cause as basically noble. Those folks are absolutely being disingenuous.

I can completely understand that no one else could understand that my target was modern apologists for the Confederacy rather than you personally, as all of that thinking was in my head. I should not have written a post that implied that you were being disingenuous, and I apologize.

Not only that, but it was a derail. I think I will need to remind myself to think before posting.
posted by Chanther at 8:18 AM on December 6, 2010


This collection seems to be Union soldiers only.

It's mostly Union but there are a few Confederates in there.
posted by nomadicink at 8:22 AM on December 6, 2010


I'm about two-thirds of the way through Thomas Keneally's novel Confederates and some part of my mind is in the middle of the horror and gore and tragedy of the Second Battle of Bull Run (that's Second Manassas to Southerners.) Thank you for posting these pictures - they are pictures of the people in my head.
posted by workerant at 9:11 AM on December 6, 2010


Looking at all these vintage black and white photos of proper looking men and women framed with gold flourishes makes me feel like they're about to start telling me tips and secrets about the rise and fall of a great underwater city...
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:15 AM on December 6, 2010


And, surprisingly, Black Confederates in the Civil War.

Surprising because it's bullshit.

The myth of the black Confederates
The Myth of Black Confederate Soldiers
History gives lie to myth of black Confederate soldiers
Black Confederate Resources
Notes on the Myth of Black Confederates (includes many specific citations of the Confederate government forbidding blacks from enlisting)

Adam Serwer:
White guilt is generally characterized as a liberal phenomenon. The idea is that liberals seek to exonerate themselves from past racism rather than simply meet their obligations to their fellow citizens. To the extent that the former is an accurate description of someone's motives, the criticism is warranted. But the attempt to minimize the suffering caused by slavery and segregation, to recast the Lost Cause as one motivated by "honor" and self-determination rather than racial supremacy and the preservation of chattel slavery, arises out of the same contemptible emotional impulse. The Lost Causer insisting that the Confederacy was not built on racism because of the presence of black soldiers isn't any less mired in guilt than the liberal quietly mouthing the names of their black friends as they count them on their fingertips. In both cases, the individual trying to free themselves from history ends up drowning in a bottomless pit of self-pity and self-deception that, over time, can only ferment into rage over inability to find an absolution that will be forever beyond their reach.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:36 AM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


kirkaracha, I did find that "historian"'s account a bit hard to believe. Sounded possible it was an apologist looking for excuses. Thanks for providing the needed background information to verify this.
posted by misha at 10:31 AM on December 6, 2010


re. unpacking backpacks:

Everyone alive today is a beneficiary not only of their own unearned advantages but also of the unearned advantages of their ancestors going back to the days of Australopithicus. It's a big backpack.

There were few privileges that came with being a member of the group "American Negro slaves" but a significant one was belonging to a group that was not subject to conscription as Civil War soldiers and and killed. Considering the casualty rate among poor white conscripted cannon fodder on both sides, it's quite certain there are many descendants of slaves alive today who owe their privilege of existing to this particular group-based privilege of their ancestors. It's inconceivable that there were not also, throughout history and prehistory, many other group-based privileges like this one that account for the existence of every individual now alive because their ancestral line did not die out.
posted by jfuller at 11:36 AM on December 6, 2010


Sure, I'll buy the idea that the millions of young men who died in the American Civil War were not especially privileged.

But I, as a lilly-white American, am privileged by the fact that historians and politicians have spent millions more words idolizing the white Americans who fought the American Civil War than the millions who suffered as victims of the slave-trade holocaust. The fact that White soldiers are overrepresented in historical collections isn't at all surprising.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:58 AM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's a time and a place for everything liza.

If a Metafilter post on the tragedies of the Civil War isn't the right time and place to discuss Civil War-era race relations, nomadicink... WTF?
posted by IAmBroom at 2:02 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


1. the post wasn't on the tragedies of the Civil War.

2. Liza's comment wasn't so much about race relations but a complete damning of the nation, IMO and wildly inappropriate and axe grindy. It was just using the photos as jumping off point to push a certain view point, which I personally found distasteful and WTF, hence my objections.
posted by nomadicink at 2:13 PM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


As a family, we would like to dedicate this photographic memorial, "The Last Full Measure," to George Weeks, Union soldier and drummer boy of the 8th Maine Infantry; and to all U.S. servicemen and women throughout time, each of whom has taken us one step closer to that distant, elusive horizon. -Collection donor, Brandon Liljenquist
2. Liza's comment wasn't so much about race relations but a complete damning of the nation, IMO and wildly inappropriate and axe grindy.

Which is funny, because Liza's offered some gracious and well balanced commentary on the problems with collections like these. You're the one whose apparently grinding an axe.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:31 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks!
posted by nomadicink at 2:33 PM on December 6, 2010


some politicians and historians are trying to rewrite the history of the South to minimize the complicity of the south in slavery and present the southern cause as basically noble. Those folks are absolutely being disingenuous.

I wrote a song related to this idea. The impetus for it was actually a comment here at Mefi by BitterOldPunk. I posted it to Mefi Music a while back. It's called Fighting the Civil War.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:12 PM on December 6, 2010


nomadicink: 1. the post wasn't on the tragedies of the Civil War.

This FPP actually begins: In remembrance of the Confederate and Union soldiers who served in the American Civil War, ...

FAIL.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:24 PM on December 6, 2010


Then we're seeing this in two different ways, IAmBroom. "In remembrance" doesn't necessarily mean tragedy, simply that people died. It seemed like a more reverent treatment, based on the essay, which is probably why I found liza's initial comment so disagreeable.

PASS, with the addition of the bonus essay question?
posted by nomadicink at 4:20 PM on December 6, 2010


I highly recommend This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, which dwells on photographs, both before and after death in a variety of ways, among a variety of issues, specifically how we dealt with so much dying, both on a logistical level and, how it really changed the way Americans mourned.
But I don't recommend reading it before going to sleep. I generally can read gory fiction and watch scary movies and then go straight to bed, but this baby gave me some wacky-ass dreams.
posted by atomicstone at 8:17 PM on December 6, 2010


Agreed then, nomadicink.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:28 PM on December 6, 2010


liza's subsequent comments clarified her position a lot more, and I think have been quite valuable to the thread overall, but I agree that her very first comment in the thread seemed like axe-grinding. I'm glad the thread took a turn for the better in the end.
posted by misha at 8:45 PM on December 6, 2010


« Older Fast food - ads vs. reality...  |  Haruki Murakami talks about fi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments