Monday, March 12, 2012

Tomb of the known soldier

Last summer, I mentioned the collection of daguerreotypes donated to the Library of Congress by the Liljenquist Family (on-line catalog here). Many of the names of the nearly 700 Civil War soldiers depicted are unknown. Well, thanks to the wife of a descendant, one young man has his identity back. A week ago, Karen Thatcher of Martinsburg, West Virginia, recognized his photo (2nd image) as matching a crayon enlargement (see it in slideshow here) - a 19th c. technique of making a larger colored portrait from a photo - that had been handed down in the family of her husband Larry. Now that it has been pieced together, here is the soldier's story:
David M. Thatcher was just 17 when he enlisted in the Confederate Army on April 19, 1861. The War Between the States had broken out only the week before. Thatcher left his family's farm in Martinsburg to join Company B, Berkeley Troop, of the First Virginia Cavalry. Before he went to war, the teenager sat for an ambrotype. He posed proudly in his uniform, armed with a revolver and a saber. Across his chest was braided frogging and at his waist was a belt buckle bearing the Virginia state seal. Thatcher was under the command of General J.E.B. Stuart in the Battle of Buckland Mills when he was wounded Oct. 19, 1863. The Confederacy prevailed, but Thatcher died the next day. His parents collected his body from the battlefield near Warrenton, Virgina, and brought him home in a horse and wagon. They buried him in the cemetery of their local Tuscarora Presbyterian Church, where his gravemarker (1st image) still stands. "When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, be not afraid of them, for the Lord thy God is with thee," it reads.
According to Library of Congress curator Carol Johnson, Thatcher may have given the photo to his girlfriend before he left for the war and his family may have had it reproduced to hang on the wall after he was killed. The story of the young soldier - a brother of her husband’s great-grandfather - is tragic, but reuniting him with his biography is remarkable. “I’m just awestruck," exclaims the collector. "This anonymous young boy has gotten his life back.” The Thatchers add, “We’re just tickled to death...that we’re able to put a name to that face.”

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