Return to Essays The Photographic Process

In 2010, Tom Liljenquist, a businessman from the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, began donating more than 700 ambrotypes and tintypes of Union and Confederate Civil War soldiers to the Library of Congress. Life-long residents of Virginia, the Liljenquist family—including sons Jason (19), Brandon (17), and Christian (13)—became interested in Civil War history after discovering Civil War era bullets near their home. They began collecting artifacts from the war and were particularly moved by a portrait of drummer boy George Weeks of the 8th Maine Infantry. Weeks’ youth and the letters filled with pride that he wrote to his mother intrigued young Jason and Brandon Liljenquist.

The Liljenquist family frequented shops specializing in historical memorabilia and antiques, attended Civil War shows and estate sales, scoured eBay, bid at auctions, and purchased from fellow collectors. By 2009, the family’s collection had grown to include more than 600 original ambrotypes and tintypes.

Young George W. Weeks of Company D, 8th Maine Infantry Regiment with drum in front of painted backdrop showing shoreline with house and lighthouse. Half-plate, hand-colored tintype. Liljenquist Family Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
[Digital ID # ppmsca-27527]

Inspired by the newspaper publication of portraits of US service men and women killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Liljenquists wanted to create a memorial to those who had fought on both sides of the Civil War. That memorial is realized in The Last Full Measure, an installation of 379 individual photographs, some featuring soldiers with their comrades or family members and others facing the camera alone. The exhibition features five cases displaying images of Union soldiers and one case containing portraits of Confederates, photographs of whom are much more difficult to find because far fewer were made during the war. The patchwork presentation, one that Jason and Brandon envisioned, evokes memories of the past, family ties, and unity.

Before turning the collection over to the Library, Brandon described laying out the photographs one last time. “I couldn’t help but notice how similar the faces of these soldiers were to those we’d seen in the Washington Post. These were the young men who did most of the fighting and dying. In their eyes and the eyes of their loved ones, I could see the full range of human emotion. It was all here: the bravado, the fear, the readiness, the weariness, the pride, and the anguish. The loneliness in their long, distant stares overwhelmed me.”

The works in the Liljenquist Family Collection complement the Library’s already extensive holdings of Civil War images. The Library has actively acquired visual materials documenting many aspects of the war for more than one hundred years. Examples include eyewitness drawings by Alfred and William Waud and other artists working for illustrated newspapers; historical prints showing battles, camps, hospitals, and military leaders; and glass-plate negatives, stereographs (3-D views) and large-format albumen prints associated with master photographers George Barnard, Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and Andrew J. Russell. The Liljenquist Collection, notably strong in photos of enlisted soldiers, greatly enhances the Library’s coverage of this crucial turning point in American history.

Tom Liljenquist holds [Unidentified young sailor in uniform with American flag in front of backdrop showing naval scene]. Approximate half-plate, hand-colored tintype. Liljenquist Family Collection, Prints and Photographs Division. [Digital ID # ppmsca-36457]

Photo by Abby Brack

Collector Tom Liljenquist and Helena Zinkham, chief of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, 2010

Photo by Abby Brack

Christian and Brandon Liljenquist at home with the collection, 2010

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