Questions swirl around mystery Civil War photos

Posted at 6:05 PM, Jun 14, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-14 18:43:59-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - The rare photographs are handled with a lot of white gloved tender, love and care. The images remain sharp, but details remain fuzzy. The subjects are expressionless and stoic.

“Each one of them has a story attached to it," said Wait Rawls, President of the Museum of the Confederacy. "You identify much better than the pages of a book. The photograph was found on the battlefield between the body of a dead confederate and dead Yankee.”

The unidentified people in the photos, both young and old, are silently calling out over the centuries.  Each of the eight fragile unidentified photos from the Civil War sit in the original ornamental frames are shrouded in secret.

“I think they’re fascinating. Everyone loves a mystery. It would be nice to identify these photographs,” said museum senior curator Robert Hancock.

The Museum of the Confederacy houses 6,000 known photos and the largest collection of artifacts from the Confederate States of America, but the faces in the eight photographs have curators scratching their heads and looking for clues.

“Each one has a little mystery attached. ‘Who is this person? When was the picture taken?’” said Rawls.

Photographs of little girls in dresses and families taken from a dead soldier on a battlefield in Port Republic, VA or handed down over generations. The original owners could not write on the back of the glass photos nor were the photographs accompanied with a note. The identity of the people in the pictures leaves many questions. They are nameless faces with a story to tell.

“They are such unique objects,” said museum photo archivist, Drury Wellford. “I think about all of the individuals in the photos I look at.”

The chances of identifying the people in these rare photographs is remote at best, but  museum curators are hoping someone steps forward to unlock the mystery, so they photographs can be reunited with the families of the fallen.

“What so many of these soldiers were thinking about north and south was thinking about home,” said Rawls. “I wonder who that daughter is. I wonder what happened to her father. These are the stories we love to tell about the Civil War. It makes it come alive. I love wondering about the soldier by the campfire at night looking at one of these photographs.”

Since the Museum of the Confederacy released the photos people from across the nation have been inundating the museums switchboard. Phone calls from California, Indiana, Illinois and even the Library of Congress have been streaming in. People all over the nation have been offering leads in hopes of identifying who the people are. Finding information related to the photos are the proverbial needle in a haystack scenario, but one inquiry could unravel a 150-year-old mystery.

“I think it would be wonderful if people could help us identify who these people are. It would be very nice,” said Wellford.