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Vermont Civil War portraits go online

MIDDLEBURY Do you have a Vermont ancestor who fought during the Civil War? If so, his photograph may be part of a remarkable Internet collection of historic images that the Vermont Historical Society has just unveiled. The images were scanned from the society's collection and can be viewed for free at: www.vermonthistory.org/cwofficers. The big collection of images includes the likenesses of 859 Vermont officers63 percent of the 1,363 Vermont men who served as officers during the War Between the States. Researchers as well as Civil War buffs can search for particular individuals or simply browse through the enigmatic faces of the men who served in the bloody conflict between 1861 and 1865. According to VHS officials, all of the posted images were first collected by the Vermont Officers Reunion Society in the years following the war. According to the Library of Congress, during the Civil War, the process of taking photographs was complex and time-consuming. Two photographers would mix chemicals and pour them on a clean glass plate. A library document reports that after the chemicals were given time to evaporate, the glass plate would be sensitized by being immersedin darknessin a bath solution. Placed in a holder, the plate would then be inserted in the camera, which had been positioned and focused by the other photographer. Exposure of the plate and development of the photograph had to be completed within minutes; then the exposed plate was rushed to the darkroom wagon for developing. In 1869, Sam Pingree began asking officers to donate their original photographs or copies. The work was continued by Mrs. James S. Peck, widow of a former adjutant general from Vermont. Work on the photo collection continued through 1894. According to VHS Librarian Paul Carnahan, this unusual online collection is a boon to Civil War researchers and family genealogy researchers. The Internet collection was scanned over a period of almost four years by Vermont high school students and othersall non-paid helpers. This was done without grants or other outside funding sources," Carnahan said. After the images were scanned, it was a slow process; labels in the notebooks were incomplete and contained errors. There are still a few photographs we are still trying to identify, Carnahan said. The society owns 360 photographic images of other Civil War soldiers, many of them privates, which were not part of the reunion society's collecting efforts. These photographs, along with letters, diaries, and documents from the Civil War, are available for use by the public at the society's library in Barre.

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