One hundred and fifty years ago yesterday America began a war with itself. Over half a million would die. It was the bloodiest war in American history. It was a war that defined our nation - proof that goodness could triumph over oppression and evil - that common sense and justice would always prevail. We were a young, united union of proud, idealistic, and powerful Americans in the throes of a world wide industrial revolution. The first musket shots rang out on April 12th 1861. Abraham Lincoln had just become president. All the Northern States had already abolished slavery. Lincoln planned to do the same and much more down South where slavery was still mostly legal. In response, the Southern cotton growing states succeeded and created The Confederacy, seeking independence from the United States. The Civil War was not only a quagmire of differing political views - it was a fight for the protection of the old way and cheap labor - slavery. It was a fight born from stubbornness, refusal and also fear. After fours years, famous battles were fought, entire cities were razed, states were won and lost, and in the end the North had won and the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, freeing all the slaves. Now, one hundred fifty years later, we look back with intense curiosity at the thousands upon thousands of ambrotype and tintype photographs of the men who fought that fateful, hard-won battle.
The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs, now on view in Washington D.C., is a collection from the Liljenquist Family Collection. It includes stunning Civil War-era ambrotype and tintype photographs, associating the "human faces, often startlingly young, with statistics on both sides in this wrenching conflict. This exhibition features portraits of enlisted men in uniform—both Union and Confederate—and serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives during the war by displaying images of 360 Union soldiers in uniform—one for every thousand who died—and 52 rare images of Confederate soldiers—one for every five thousand casualties."
Tom Liljenquist and his sons, life long inhabitants of Virginia, had become obsessed with the Civil War after finding bits of shells, artillery, and bullets around their home. In 2010 they donated what had become the Liljenquist Family Collection of ambrotype and tintypes to the Library Congress for posterity. This exhibition is on view until August 13, 2011 at the Library of Congress. www.myloc.gov
Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper for Pas Un Autre Images Courtesy of the Library of Congress