But scholars at the Library of Congress, which was given the photo last year, had no idea who he was. Like scores of Civil War portraits, his was listed as “unidentified.”
Until this week.
Last Sunday, Karen Thatcher of Martinsburg, W.Va., opened a Washington Post Civil War history supplement. She spotted the picture in a Library of Congress advertisement, and realized: “That’s Uncle Dave!”
In an instant, for posterity, the soldier was given back his name — and his story.
He was David M. Thatcher, a farmer’s son from Martinsburg, who enlisted at 17 in Company B, Berkeley Troop, First Virginia Cavalry, on April 19, 1861, a week after the war began.
At 19, he was mortally wounded in battle outside Warrenton in 1863, and he was buried in the cemetery at Martinsburg’s Tuscarora Presbyterian Church, where he rests today. Family lore has it that his parents brought his body home with a horse and wagon.
The identification thrilled Karen Thatcher, a retired federal government worker, as well as the library and the collector, Tom Liljenquist, who bought the picture several years ago and donated it in October.
“We’re just tickled to death,” Thatcher said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “There’s something very satisfying about this 19-year-old boy who died in 1863 who was [listed as] unidentified . . . that we’re able to put a name to that face.”
Liljenquist, who has given the library almost 1,000 Civil War portraits in recent months, said: “I’m just awestruck. . . . This anonymous young boy has gotten his life back.”
The identification was made when Thatcher saw that the photo in the advertisement looked almost exactly like a larger image she had of David Thatcher, an ancestor of her husband, Larry.
The larger image — which was probably copied from the photograph — is a “crayon enlargement,” said Carol Johnson, the Library of Congress’s curator of photographs.
Crayon enlargement was a common 19th-century technique in which a picture was enlarged, printed and then colored in with charcoal or chalk to make a bigger portrait.
“That way, people would have something they could hang on their walls,” she said. “Since he died in the war, they probably had this made . . . as a way to remember him.”
What happened to the original photograph is less clear. “Maybe he gave it to his girlfriend before he left for the war,” Johnson said.
Eventually, someone came into possession of it and didn’t know who he was, and it went onto the collectors market.
Johnson said experts were able to glean some information about the soldier from his uniform type and accouterments — his frock coat with the lateral, braided “frogging,” his Virginia state seal belt buckle, and the crossed sabers and the number 1 on his cap.