Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New History on an Alexandria Civil War Photograph

In Alexandria, we have a good collection of historical photos at the Alexandria Library Special Collections. There are also some great digital collections with the Library of Congress and the National Archives that have lots of photos of Alexandria during the Civil War.

This summer I came across one posted on NARA’s Flickr page that I had never seen before. It was identified as “House, Corner of Wolfe and Washington Streets, Alexandria, Virginia.” The photo was credited to Mathew Brady, and it shows a group of people assembled in front of a house on South Washington Street. The people includes military and civilian, white American and African American, adults and children. Who were these people and what was going on for them all to come together for his photo?

House, Corner of Wolfe and Washington Streets, Alexandria, Virginia
Original Caption: House. Corner of Wolfe and Washington Sts., Alexandria, Va
Coverage Dates: ca. 1860 - ca. 1865
U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 111-B-738
Series: Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes, (Record Group 111)

As the photo was capturing my imagination, it was also drawing attention from staff at Alexandria Archaeology and local historian Tim Dennee. Tim has compiled some outstanding resources for research on African Americans in Alexandria during the Civil War era (posted on the Friends of Freedmen’s Cemetery website), and he began to investigate the photo taken at “Wolfe and Washington.”

Last week I got a copy of Tim’s excellent research and fascinating conclusions about this photo. His full paper appears on the Friends of Freedmen’s Cemetery site and it explores how the double house was used, when the photo was taken and who was in the photo. I won’t give away his conclusions but I’ll share this teaser – one person in the photo had once been a fugitive from slavery and also published a book about her experiences during slavery.

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