Photo in ad solves Civil War mystery

April 08, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • This photo shows the original tintype of David Thatcher from the Library of Congresss Liljenquist collection.
This photo shows the original tintype of David Thatcher from the Library of Congress¿s Liljenquist collection.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Karen Thatcher knew when she saw it that a photograph of a tintype of a young Confederate soldier was of David Miller Thatcher, her husband Larry Thatcher’s great-great uncle, who died in the Civil War in 1863.

“It was the hands,” she said, looking at an array of 10 tintypes of Civil War soldiers that appeared in an ad for the Library of Congress in the March 4 edition of The Washington Post.

Her discovery also solved a mystery for library officials who had received a private collection of more than 700 Civil War ambrotype and tintype photographs of soldiers, many of whom were unidentified.

Thatcher compared the photo in the ad with a family reproduction of David Thatcher’s tintype.

The buttons on his uniform, the revolver tucked in his belt, the belt buckle, the saber he held up high, the pose and the face. “The hands were in the same position,” she said.

David Miller Thatcher of Berkeley County, W.Va., was mortally wounded in battle on Oct. 19, 1863, in Buckland Mills, Va., near Warrenton. He was 19 years old, the oldest of seven children of Jonathan W. and Nancy Elizabeth Miller Thatcher.

David Thatcher served in the First Virginia Cavalry. He was attached to Company B, a unit “composed of area boys,” Karen Thatcher said. The fight was called The Battle of Buckland Races, named for the way the rebel cavalry raced through the Union lines, she said.

Thatcher’s family retrieved his body and brought it home in a wagon for burial in the family plot in Tuscarora Presbyterian Church graveyard near Martinsburg.

Karen Thatcher, 67, a retired U.S. government worker, said no one knows how the tintype left the family. “It might have been sold at auction or something,” she said.

Larry’s parents had a crayon reproduction in an oval frame, which his mother eventually gave to a granddaughter in Pennsylvania who was restoring a historic home. Larry has a copy of the reproduction.

The original ended up in the collection of Civil War ambrotype and tintype photographs of Thomas Liljenquist. The Liljenquist family donated the collection to the Library of Congress. Many remain unidentified.

The library put the photographs on display last year as part of its program on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Karen’s genealogy into her husband’s family showed that brothers Samuel and Stephen Thatcher, Pennsylvania Quakers, moved to the area sometime around the mid-1700s. Larry Thatcher is a descendant of Samuel.

Once Karen determined that the image in the newspaper ad was that of David Thatcher she called Library of Congress officials to tell them she could identify a Liljenquist tintype.

“They were delighted,” she said. “They said the identification makes it more valuable.”

She said that she has since learned that a member of the Liljenquist family also was pleased over the identification.

The epitaph on David Thatcher’s gravestone said he fell in battle near Warrenton in Fauquier County on Oct. 19, 1863.

An inscription on the base quotes Deuteronomy 20:1. “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemy ... be not afraid.”

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