Civil War Photo Trove Celebrates Common Soldiers
The collective tragedy of the Civil War—more than 600,000 dead—can mask the individual commitment needed from those who carried out the fighting. But a recent donation of just under 700 photos to the Library of Congress that depict common soldiers, and sometimes their families, makes the personal dimension of this sacrifice all too painfully fresh-faced. One image, for example, comes with a first name but not a last. Included with the framed portrait of this young boy is a lock of blond hair and a note that reads, “My beloved Carl. Taken from me on April 1, 1865 at age 18, killed at Dinwiddie. Flights of angels wing thee to thy rest.”
The new gift was put together over the past 15 years by Tom Liljenquist and his three sons (Jason, Brandon and Christian), of McLean, Va. The family was hooked by the first photo they bought at a Maryland store, of a Union soldier cradling his rifle. “He looked like such a fine young man,” says Liljenquist who owns seven jewelry stores in the Washington, D.C., area. “His expression resonated with us.” The photos, which cost from a few hundred dollars to just over $19,000, show mostly Union soldiers in a variety of settings and uniforms. None of them were famous; in fact, the names of nearly all have been lost over time.
The Library of Congress owned only a few dozen images of ordinary soldiers, but “now we have this miraculous collection,” says LOC photography curator Carol Johnson. “Every one draws you in.” An exhibit, “The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs From the Liljenquist Family Collection,” will open at the library in April to mark the sesquicentennial of the war. Until then, nearly all the images will be online at www.loc.gov/rr/print/caption/ captionliljenquist.html.
Forgotten Lone Star State Celebrates Bicentennial
Twenty-eight years before Texas became a republic, a lone-star flag was hoisted in September 1810 above the sovereign nation of West Florida, a short-lived and little-remembered independent nation in the “toe” section of what is now Louisiana. When the bicentennial of West Florida’s beginning and end— 74 days apart—is celebrated in early 2011, it will be yet another opportunity for the world to learn that the Louisiana Purchase did not include this piece of turf. Residents of what are now eight parishes were mad as hell at their Spanish masters, who followed the English, the French and, once before, the Spanish. A small faction of rebels took control of Fort San Carlos at Baton Rouge on September 23, and despite the angry disagreement of those loyal to European governments, or no other authority at all, the territory was annexed by the United States, which took possession in mid-December. “The revolt,” says Sam Hyde, director of the Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies at Southeastern Louisiana University, “was a bloody and convoluted event.” And barely a blip—a shooting star—in American history.
Orville and Wilbur Get Short Shrift
Two Wrights suffered major wrongs in 2010. First, aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright lost out to Thomas Edison in an Ohio election to become new representatives of the Buckeye State in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. Arguments that the brothers were loyal native sons who stayed in Ohio could not overcome the Ohio-born Edison, who did his breakthrough work in the East. Edison received 30 percent of the votes; the Wrights nabbed 28 percent. Adding injury to insult, vandals in Dayton, Ohio, recently desecrated the graves of the siblings by taking flags from their plot, and breaking a flagpole.
Rap Gets Rapped in Classroom
Hip-hop and rap recently got dissed as teaching tools for history in Oklahoma City. In particular, instructors took issue with the song “Old Dead White Men”— produced by Brooklyn, N.Y.–based curriculum developers Flocabulary— that picks a beef with Andrew Jackson: “Andrew Jackson thinks he’s a tough guy/Killing more Indians than there are stars in the sky/Evil wars of Florida killing the Seminoles/Saying hello, putting Creek in the hell holes.”
While calling Flocabulary a “nationally recognized program,” schools spokesperson Tierney Cook says, “There are some parts of the curriculum that we don’t agree with, so we pulled that.” Alex Rappaport, CEO of Flocabulary, says his company will assemble a panel of administrators, teachers and parents to review lyrics in the history curriculum: “We remain committed to utilizing effective strategies to help students make meaningful connections to academic content.” Reword up.
Colonial-Era Steeple Yields Hidden Treasures
You know how it is—you toss stuff into the attic and then you forget about it. And St. Paul’s Chapel in New York City has one heck of an attic, a 218-foot steeple that’s been around for 216 years, long enough for the overlooking and rediscovery of a choice artifact. Recently, a business manager for Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan, which owns nearby St. Paul’s, explored the steeple and stumbled upon a bucket that likely was used by a brigade of water-tossers who saved the church in 1776 when the British torched much of the city. “It was definitely under the rafters, and she was looking in the cracks and crannies,” says Gwynedd Cannan, the Trinity Church archivist. “We’re all very excited about it.” Early reports of the high-level scavenger hunt said a pew had been discovered where George Washington worshipped from 1789 to 1790. Not true, says Cannan, but the bucket “is the genuine article.”
Colonial Infant Mortality Mystery Examined
A new study indicates why more than one-fifth of infants in some colonial communities died before their first birthdays. Documentation is generally sketchy, but one medical practitioner—John Winthrop the Younger, governor of the Connecticut colony for nearly 20 years—maintained an archive of the correspondence by which he received information and made diagnoses. In a paper published in the journal Pediatrics, Dr. Howard Pearson documents Winthrop’s philosophy of one-cure-fits-almost-all, treating a broad range of conditions by prescribing rubila, a mixture of antimony and (mostly) saltpeter that he called a “sovereigne remedy” despite—or perhaps because of—its foul taste and often violent effect on his long-distance patients.
The Montgomery County Department of Parks in Maryland has spent $2 million to purchase and renovate a house with an attached cabin purported to be the residence of Josiah Henson, the model for the title character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 antislavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But tree ring analysis shows that the cabin was built in 1850, more than a decade after Henson escaped to Canada.
Ghost of Lincoln Assassin Stalks Baseball Team
Our national pastime is full of weirdness: obsessive-compulsive batters, the designated-hitter rule and longstanding curses, to name three. And now a couple of Washington, D.C.–area fans have suggested, only semi-humorously, that the curse of Babe Ruth upon the Boston Red Sox and the curse of a billy goat upon the Chicago Cubs have been joined by a pox upon the Washington Nationals by none other than John Wilkes Booth.
Writing in the Baltimore Sun, Mark Greenbaum and David O’Leary suggested that Booth’s supernatural fury was called out by the location of the team’s home stadium, Nationals Park, along the Anacostia River, where Booth was autopsied, and near Fort McNair, where his assassination plot co-conspirators were tried and four of them were hanged. Baseball became a specific target because Abraham Lincoln and Union soldiers enjoyed baseball and its precursor, town ball. An especially nasty turn of bad luck inspired the authors this summer, when rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg made what Sports Illustrated called the “most hyped pitching debut the game has ever seen,” only to suffer a season-ending elbow injury two months later. “This was a very big moment for the franchise, and then he blows out his arm,” says Greenbaum. “It almost seemed like the team was cursed.” Wait until next year? Not if Booth has his way.
WWII Vet Repatriates Liberated Flag
An American veteran has returned a major symbol of French resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II. The soldier, who remains anonymous, felt guilty about liberating the 40-foot French flag from the Arc de Triomphe (above) on the day the Germans left Paris. French officials, who said the flag’s authenticity would be verified, were thankful and not at all snarky.
DNA Reveals Africans Sailed With Columbus
Africans may have arrived in the New World—thanks to Christopher Columbus—much earlier than previously believed, according to DNA testing by a Danish molecular anthropologist. Hannes Schroeder of the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for GeoGenetics studied samples of thigh bones and teeth from 10 remains at La Isabela in the Dominican Republic, where Columbus landed in 1494. With two of the remains Schroeder detected mitochondrial-DNA segments most frequently found in sub-Saharan Africa. “For most people the history of Africans in the Americas starts with the slave trade,” says Schroeder. “But our finds suggest that Africans arrived in the New World much earlier, and that’s quite exciting.”
Originally published in the February 2011 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.