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It’s great-great-grandfather!

A widely publicized portrait of an unnamed Confederate has at last been identified, thanks to the Liljenquist collection of Civil War portraits displayed on the Library of Congress website. Tricia Mullinax, of Villa Rica, Georgia, recognized her maternal great-great-grandfather, Stephen Pollard, who served in the 7th Regiment, Confederate Cavalry (Claiborne’s Partisan Rangers). The unit was disbanded in 1864, and the men were sent to different regiments.

Mullinax and her husband Steve, who have been collecting Civil War artifacts for decades, had been talking with fellow collector Tom Liljenquist, who recently donated some 700 tintypes and ambrotypes to the Library of Congress. When Tricia began looking through the donated images, she came across her ancestor’s photo. “I was confused and puzzled when I saw it, because it said he was unidentified,” Mullinax recalled. She had already seen the photo naming Pollard in the 2005 book Remembering Georgia’s Confederates, by David Wiggins. She had also read a memoir by Pollard’s grandson in which the veteran remembered how his horse would nuzzle him when Union troops were approaching in the night, enabling his cavalry unit to elude detection six times. Pollard, who enlisted in 1862, survived the war and farmed in Haralson County, Ga., until his death in 1899. He had eight surviving children. Mullinax also happens to be related on her father’s side to John Rigby of the 35th Georgia Infantry, who died in the prisoner-of-war camp in Elmira, N.Y. Rigby’s wife is buried in the same cemetery as Stephen Pollard.

Grant Presidential Library Gets Home at Mississippi State University

Every letter by Ulysses S. Grant, as well as photographs, scrapbooks, Grant-related scholarship and memorabilia such as the opera shawl purchased by Mrs. Grant in Paris, now forms a collection at the new Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi. Is the Magnolia State an unlikely showcase for the legacy of a Buckeye State son? According to John Marszalek, executive director of the Ulysses S. Grant Association and a prominent Civil War scholar at Mississippi State, the collection has migrated over the years from Ohio State University to Southern Illinois University, where Grant scholar John Simon oversaw the collection until his death in 2008. Marszalek saw an opportunity to bring everything together— scholarly research as well as more personal Grant items—at the Mitchell Memorial Library at Mississippi State. “We realized that the collection encompasses so much we should open it up to more than researchers,” said Marszalek, and as a presidential library, “we can expand our operation and have exhibits.” A recent milestone are 31 volumes cataloging, for easy access, every one of Grant’s letters. His memoirs are next up. The new library, which is independent from the National Archives, will soon launch a fundraising campaign.

Trading Cards Spice Up National Park Visits

Put a human face on history with new trading cards distributed at 90 parks, battlefields and historic buildings operated by the National Park Service. Each of the more than 500 picture cards tells a little-known story about a particular site. According to the Park Service, each card describes a small piece of our country’s history, but collectively they depict the struggles Americans have endured on the path to freedom and equality. To get one of the free cards, a youngster can participate in a rangerled tour or answer a question about his or her visit to the park. The cards that relate to Civil War figures and events range from something as conventional as a portrait of Confederate General Stephen Dodson Ramseur, who was mortally wounded at Cedar Creek, to the surprising portrait of Dolly, the first slave owned by President Andrew Johnson, who is pictured holding a white child.

President Obama Descended from Virginia Slave

A JULY REPORT LINKING President Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, to a descendant of one of the first documented slaves in Virginia told a deeply American story of mingled ancestries and altered identities. The study, released by the for-profit, online genealogical business, traced Dunham’s connection to John Punch, whose story was documented in a 1640 Virginia court case.

 Punch was an indentured servant from Africa who escaped bondage in Virginia only to be recaptured and enslaved for life. But Punch’s offspring with a free white woman were free. After several generations, their descendants passed for white, their name changed to Bunch, and they eventually became plantation owners in Virginia. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, is descended from that family, making the president the 11th great-grandson of John Punch.

News of the link quickly drew responses from several historians, including Pearl Duncan, who is finishing a book on using DNA and genealogy. In an article on History News Network, she pointed out that while Punch may have been the first documented slave in Virginia, slavery had been well entrenched in the Americas since the early 1500s. Two other scholars, Linda Heywood and John Thornton, who teach history and African American studies at Boston University, questioned’s conclusion that Punch was from Cameroon, saying that was “extremely unlikely” because ships prior to 1640 brought only enslaved people from Angola.

A new book, American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michele Obama, by New York Times Washington bureau chief Rachel L. Swarns, traces Mrs. Obama’s family history to a Georgia slave and her owner who had a child.

The White House offered no comment on the study.


Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.