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Photos of US Civil War Soldiers Donated to Library of Congress

Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform with wife and two daughters between 1863 and 1865.

Almost 700 photos of U.S. soldiers who fought in the American Civil War have been donated to the Library of Congress in Washington. Many images show the innocence and idealism of the young men before they went into battle. Next year, the Library of Congress will exhibit the photos to the public, marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

They are not generals, or known war heroes, but mostly average soldiers who took part in the U.S. Civil War.

The four-year war began after 11 southern states, known as the Confederacy, split from the rest of the United States. They had differences with the north over the rights of states, including owning slaves. The northern Union Army won the war, but the casualties were high - more than 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died.

Tom Liljenquist, a businessman in the U.S. southern state of Virginia, donated the collection.

Unidentified young soldier in Confederate shell jacket, Hardee hat with Mounted Rifles insignia between 1861 and 1865.
Unidentified young soldier in Confederate shell jacket, Hardee hat with Mounted Rifles insignia between 1861 and 1865.

"One of the most striking things we've learned is how young these soldiers were. They just seem right out of boyhood and much too young to be out there on the battlefields," he said.

The photos are small and in their original frames and cases. They are either on glass, called ambrotypes, or on metal, known as tintypes.

"This soldier died of disease. We had his name and regiment and military records. About 90 percent of the collection is just photographs with no names," said Liljenquist.

Liljenquist and his sons collected the images over 15 years and found them on-line, at estate sales, and Civil War memorabilia shops. Most are Union soldiers. There are even rare photos of African-Americans. "This is the most expensive photograph in our collection. It costs $19,200. It's a black soldier with his wife and two daughters," he said.

In this photo, a young girl holds a picture of her father who died in the war. This one shows a soldier when he was a child and contains a lock of his hair. A note was put in the keepsake by his mother.

"My beloved son, Carl, taken from me on April 1st, 1865," reads Liljenquist.

The Library of Congress is displaying several hundred of the photos on its website and will add the rest later. Carol Johnson, photography curator at the library, hopes the public can help identify unknown soldiers.

"There are authors. There are people who specifically collect Civil War material or study it. These are people who may not be scholars but it's just such a passion with them. I've already begun to hear from people in the short period of time the photos have been up on the web," she said.

The photos are not copyrighted. Liljenquist wanted the public to have access to the photos, so the unsung heroes of the American Civil War would not be forgotten.