Famous Civil War image now known beyond Georgia


The newly identified Confederate soldier, Stephen Pollard, with pistol. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

He is a wild-haired young man with an intense look, two pistols in his belt and what looks like a short musket in his hands. His face is familiar and has been reprinted in books and used in a famous documentary about the Civil War.

But for decades, to most people his elegant portrait, recently donated to the Library of Congress, was just one of hundreds of photographs of unidentified soldiers from the generation of the 1860s.

Last month, through a chance meeting at a Civil War memorabilia show, the old photograph was identified as that of Confederate soldier Stephen Pollard of Carroll County, Ga., who fought in and survived the war.

And it turned out that the identity had been known in Georgia but apparently not far beyond.

The photograph depicts a man clean-shaven except for a slight moustache. He is wearing a striking, light-colored outer shirt with dark trim on the cuffs and collar, a light inner shirt and a tie. He has on an unusual belt with twin buckles and two fat revolvers wedged in the waistband. He is holding a long-barrel, muzzle-loading 1855 pistol with a musketlike stock.

His image is a Civil War classic and is well known among collectors and historians.

“He was even in Episode One of Ken Burns’s series on the Civil War,” said Tom Liljenquist, the McLean collector who bought the photograph about two years ago and donated it, along with hundreds of others, to the Library of Congress in 2010. “They actually used him for about 10 seconds on-air.”

“He’s been around a long time, probably published four or five times,” he said. “Very famous photograph. . . . A lot of people kind of liked his look. He’s just an interesting looking character.”

But “no identity was ever associated with him — none,” he said. At least in the broader historical community. “When I bought it, it was unidentified.”

However, the picture had been identified in Georgia. Liljenquist said that when he attended a collectors’ show there last month, he met Steve and Patricia Mullinax, noted Civil War collectors from Villa Rica, Ga.

Liljenquist told them about the collection of Civil War photographs he had donated to the library, which can be viewed on the library’s Web site.

Later, as “Trish” Mullinax was browsing the site, she spotted the photo of Pollard and was amazed to see it listed as unidentified. She knew the photo as that of her great-great-grandfather, who had been identified in a book she had by a local historian.

“I was confused, because [the library entry] said unidentified,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday. She called Liljenquist, telling him: “I can identify one of your images for you.’ I think he was more shocked than I was.”

The book, “Remembering Georgia’s Confederates,” by David N. Wiggins, credits the Fayette County, Ga., Historical Society for the information about Pollard.

Pollard served in a cavalry and an infantry unit. Mullinax said he raised eight children and lived until 1899.

Pollard was, in fact, 33 when he entered the Confederate service, said great-great-grandson Mark Pollard of McDonough, Ga. He said his family knew of the photo and had a copy.

“We did not know what happened to the original,” he said Tuesday night. “We’re thrilled that the Library of Congress has it and it’s in good hands.”

Pollard is one of only a handful of soldiers to be identified from the hundreds of portraits Liljenquist gave the Library of Congress.

The collector said this is how a picture’s identification gets lost.

“These families have multiple kids. Someone ended up with the picture in one of the previous generations. . . .They forgot who he was. Or they sold it to a dealer and the dealer didn’t pass [the identification] along, which happens.”

He said the photo has probably been moving around the broader collector’s market with no identification for 30 or 40 years.

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.
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