The Washington Post

Photos show how war affected the young

There were lots of beards in the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln had one. The famous Confederate general Robert E. Lee had one. But many of the average young men who served in the armies of the North and South did not.

Why? Because they were too young. It’s easy to forget that thousands of Civil War soldiers were teenagers, and many looked like boys — too young to shave.

This spring, with the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, the Library of Congress opened a new exhibit of photographs of average Civil War soldiers and their families.

The photographs were collected by a Virginia man named Tom Liljenquist, who last year gave them to the library. And one of the amazing things about the collection, which you can see online or at the exhibit in downtown Washington, is the young faces of the northern Billy Yanks and southern Johnny Rebs.

This sad little girl is thought to be holding a picture of her dead ceased father, who probably was a soldier in the war. Her identity is unknown. She is wearing “mourning ribbons” attached to the sleeves of her dress. (Library of Congress' Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs )

Sometimes, their hats are too big. Sometimes their coats look too big. Most of them look serious. They wanted to serve their country, and, maybe, find some adventure. But the war was no fun. And some of the soldier and sailor boys look a little scared.

They signed up for the Army and Navy anyhow, and before they marched away, a lot of them stopped to have their pictures taken, which was a huge deal in those days. It’s lucky for us, because now we get to see what they looked like, even though in most cases their names have been forgotten.

— Michael E. Ruane

Want to see more pictures?

What: “The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs From the Liljenquist Family Collection” features 360 Union soldiers in uniform — one for every thousand who died—and 52 rare images of Confederate soldiers, one for every 5,000 who died. Many are much smaller than you see on these pages.

Where: Library of Congress, South Gallery, second floor of the Jefferson building. The Jefferson building is at First Street SE, between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street.

When: The exhibit continues through Aug. 13. Jefferson Building is open Monday-Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cost: Free

For more information: To learn more about the exhibit or see more images, ask your parents if you can go to

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