Can social media help solve a 150-year-old Civil War mystery?
Who is the little girl in the above photo, found on a Civil War battlefield? And how was she linked (if at all) to the fallen soldiers found nearby -- one Union, one Confederate -- 150 years ago?
The Museum of the Confederacy located in Richmond, Va., is asking for the public’s help in identifying this and a number of other Civil War-era photos in order to return them to their rightful family owners. And the public is leaping to assist.
On Monday, an Associated Press story on the effort to identify the subject in this and other photos was passed along repeatedly in social media circles throughout the day via Tweets, Facebook “likes,” blog postings, news reports and more. On Yahoo News alone, the story was “liked” nearly 2,000 times and had more than 1,700 comments.
Photography was still a relatively newfangled art form when the Civil War began, yet its popularity allowed many soldiers to carry family photos with them into battle.
The Museum of the Confederacy has its own collection of photos, many of them donated, but is turning to the public for help in identifying the subjects of eight particularly haunting images, including the one above, that were found during the Civil War era.
Everyone involved knows this is a long shot at best. And it becomes more of a quixotic quest with each passing day. Many of the photos lack basic information, such as the day or place they were taken, or the names of the subjects.
But authorities are hoping against hope that something in the images may catch someone’s eye -- such as a family resemblance, a ring, a dress -- that could help tell more.
“We don’t know who they are, and the people who picked them up did not know who they were,” Ann Drury Wellford, curator of 6,000 Civil War images at the Richmond museum, told the Associated Press. “They evoke an utter and complete sentimentality,” she said.
Bob Zeller, president of the Center for Civil War Photography, told the Associated Press that finding a photo on the battlefield without a clear connection is haunting.
“Much of it is the unknown factor that the image carries,” he told the A.P. “It’s something that everyone cherishes, a photograph of their loved ones, but there it is out on this battlefield with these seemingly nameless, faceless corpses.”
Wellford told the Associated Press that such photographs show that there was more to the war than combat and death. “You have these guys out their killing each other and all sorts of bloodshed, and he’s carrying a picture of a little girl,” Wellford said. “It shows the humanity.”
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