Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Faces of the Civil War: Unknown I

A 1/9-plate ambrotype of an officer in my Civil War collection.
He was someone's son, maybe somebody's brother too. Perhaps he had a wife and children who worried about him when he went off to fight the dastardly rebels. Unfortunately, we may never know the name of this Civil War soldier, who probably had the photo above taken shortly after he enlisted in the Union army. Because the photo is an ambrotype -- a photographic process that produced a negative image on a piece of glass that turned into a positive when backed with a black material -- this shot likely was taken early in the war. Ambrotypes were most popular in the early 1860s before the tintype -- a photo made by creating a direct positive on a sheet of metal -- was more in vogue. Because he has shoulder boards, the man who stared so intently for this photograph was an officer.

Civil War photographers sometimes etched the name and even the regiment of a soldier on the reverse of a tintype or on a protective mat for the photo before putting it in a decorative miniature case. Or sometimes a soldier or relative slipped a piece of paper with an ID of the subject inside the case holding the photo. In the case of this 1/9-plate ambrotype in my Civil War collection,  no such identification exists. That decreases the value of the photo to collectors, but more importantly, the soldier's name is lost to history.

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