Civil War Photographs That Make Me Smile & Wonder

One of my jobs at work is to sort through photos and figure out which ones to feature occasionally in our social media posts. Library of Congress is such an excellent resource for finding Civil War photographs and the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (digitized) is one of my favorite places to look for inspiration.

Quickly going through hundreds of photos search for a unit or just the right expression is a lot of scanning and clicking, but every once and a while something will catch my eye. Sometimes, it’s that expression that just brings a flood of thoughts and emotions (like this one). But other times, it’s “what on earth is going on there?” or some other humorous thought.

With no disrespect intended to the photographed, here are a few of my favorites from that digitized collection and some of my commentary and questions:

Two Unidentified Soldiers (https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lilj/item/2010650759/)

“Mom’s gonna love this photo!”

“This is payback for stealing my hardtack.” “Not so fast, brother.”

“It looked much better in the drill manual.”

Three unidentified Union soldiers ( https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lilj/item/2012646989/)

Are we thinking this pose was the idea of the guy on the right? I think he’s the only one looking confident getting photographed with gambling cards and drinks.

“Gamblers for the Union! Join our regiment and we’ll make sure your pay never makes it home.”

Two unidentified Union soldiers (https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lilj/item/2012649101/)

Soldier on the right: “Not comfortable with this. Not comfortable with this.”

Soldier on the left: “It was funny when we thought about it. But now I’m thinking this will not be the photo Grandma wants to show her friends and the minister back home.”

Photographer: “I just know they’re going to ask for a refund.”

Three unidentified Union soldiers (https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lilj/item/2018648155/)

“Don’t worry, boys. If soldiering doesn’t work out, we can get paid to advertise smoking pipes and this will be our press photo.”

But seriously, I want to know. Whose idea was it to have pipes, bottles and glasses, and playing cards in these photos? Soldiers or photographers? The guys with the pipes look pretty confident in themselves, but these cards and bottles poses just look awkward to me.

Yes, I know soldiers were not saints and did all kinds of things in camp and on the march, but since photographs were often made for loved ones at home, I just wonder about the choices of how they chose to “immortalize” themselves.

Unidentified members of the Richmond Light Infantry Blues (https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lilj/item/2013650295/)

“We are totally ready for war.”

“Do you think we read too many Napoleonic books?”

“Mom is going to be so proud that we won best uniform prize of 1861.”

“Are we sure the photographer is getting ALL of the plumes?”

“Do you think we should have bought the armor too?”

“Do you think anybody will re-enact us?” “Nope. We’re good!”

I hope these photos and commentary brought some gentle smiles to your day. They make me wonder and sometimes shake my head when I’m quick scrolling through the photo files. And yes, sometimes, I expect someone will do the same with my photos that I like best.

Sarah

P.S. Do you have some favorite humorous or unique photos from the Civil War era?

Published by Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, author, speaker, and researcher. Past and present, everyone has a story. What will we discover and discuss?

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