Glimpses of Soldiers’ Lives from the American Civil War

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Glimpses of Soldiers’ Lives from the American Civil War

Sgt. Cornelius V. Moore of Company B, 100th New York Volunteers, a sergeant of 39th Illinois Regiment, a corporal of 106th New York Volunteers, and a private of the 11th Vermont Regiment in camp scene poses in front of painted backdrop showing military camp (courtesy Library of Congress)

If you have Civil War soldiers in your family tree and you want to know more about what life was like for them, consider a visit to the Liljenquist Collection at the Library of Congress. Here’s some information on what you can expect to find in the online collection:

When you look at a soldier’s portrait from the American Civil War, have you ever wondered what that particular person, or his regiment, experienced?  For twenty of the Union and Confederate soldiers whose names survived with their photographs in the Liljenquist Collection, you can now get a glimpse of their lives.

You’ll find many different stories among these photos, though most of the soldiers were wounded, taken prisoner, killed by enemy or friendly fire, or died from disease, like David Colbert (shown here). A few, including John Anthony, Charles Osgood, and Charles Sherman lived long after the war, into the 1920s.

Several photographs show brothers who went to war, including the Masons from Vermont and the Moores from Virginia. Among the men who fought on opposite sides at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg are the Ellsworths from New Hampshire and George Gaither from Maryland. The youngest soldier is the 14-year old Union drummer boy, George Weeks from Maine. One of the older men is a Confederate surgeon, Dr. Alexander Harris from Virginia.

Quotations from notes and letters found with the portraits provide some of the most interesting details. Cornelius Moore of New York wrote home after enlisting in 1863 to ask, “I hope you will find out whether we got to stay 3 years or 9 months.” Taken prisoner at Drewry’s Bluff and sent to the infamous prison at Andersonville, he survived to say, “I thought I would never see you again but there is hope now.” A letter from July 1865 requests an honorable discharge after the war, explaining that he had fulfilled his duty, “I entered the service when the government needed the services of its loyal citizens, to maintain its integrity, suppress secession and ensure its permanency.”

Give the Liljenquist Collection a try – I think you’ll find it very helpful.

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”


  1. William Beale 18 November 2012 at 5:48 PM

    Excellent site,I have booked marked your latest post. Navigating the LOC’s American Memories Collection can be frustrating. You have saved me a lot of time an energy.


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