publications

Lost in the Mail: Soldiers’ Photographs from the Civil War

The spring of 1898 saw preparations well underway for the opening later that year of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in Omaha. The Omaha Daily Bee reported on May 2 that exhibit installation in the U.S. Government Building was “in active progress and the interior of the great building presents a most animated sight.” Of particular interest was a display of Civil War photographs planned by federal postal authorities.



The Bee said: “There is one feature of this [postal] display which will undoubtedly attract a very great amount of attention in the present excited state of the public mind over anything that pertains to war. [The Spanish American War was then raging.] This is an exhibit of photographs of soldiers taken during the rebellion which miscarried and landed in the dead letter division of the Post Office department. There are about 15,000 of these old pictures and they form a most interesting collection for a variety of reasons.



“During the civil war it was a common thing for soldiers in the northern armies who happened to be near a town to have their pictures taken to send to wives, sweethearts, parents or friends, at home. In thousands of cases the addresses were defective in some particular or became entirely separated from the picture in the course of the rough handling to which some of the mails were necessarily subjected at times and the post office authorities were unable to deliver them. They were preserved, however, and now become a very valuable collection from a historical standpoint. There were many thousands of them originally, but large numbers of them were claimed from time to time and the number has now been reduced to about 15,000. These are contained in frames holding about 100 each and are so hung that they may be examined with great ease by those caring to do so.”



“These pictures are a strange sight in the light of modern photography [in 1898]. They are all of the size known as the ‘card de visite’ and some of them are most fearful and wonderful examples of the horrors of half baked photography. All are faded and yellow with age, or imperfect treatment originally, and some of them are sadly dilapidated, but they tell the story of a generation now almost past and gone. Some of them are pictures of men high in rank in the army, as indicated by their uniform­men in the prime of life, hearty and rugged. Others are pictures of mere boys, some of them wearing their uniforms with a self-conscious pride that tells of the novelty of the experience. Some are taken ‘in camp,’ probably by a traveling photographer, but the majority are ‘interiors,’ and the crude appearance of the ‘property,’ is really painful.”



The Bee noted that the federal government had its own photographer, Charles Richards Dodge, on staff in the Government Building at the exposition “and a ‘darkroom’ with all the accessories has been fitted up for his use in the building. His duties are to take photographs of each of the departmental exhibits and these are preserved in the archives at Washington as records of the occasion.”



 



unknown civil war soldier

The name of this Civil War soldier is unknown. NSHS RG4554.PH0-6


Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society RG2955.ph).   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.
Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.