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Virginia museum seeks public help in identifying Civil War photos

The names of the two little girls are a mystery, their images found among crumpled bodies on Civil War battlefields. Each is posed primly on a chair, ringlets of hair cascading past the rouged cheeks of one, the other dressed in a frilly hoop dress.

But no one knows the identities of the girls in the photographs, or the stories they might tell.

The photograph of one girl was found between the bodies of two soldiers -- one Union, one Confederate -- at Port Republic, Va., 150 years ago this month.

The other was retrieved from a slain Union soldier's haversack in 1865 on a Virginia farm field days before the war would end with a surrender signed not far away at Appomattox.

Though photography was in its infancy when the war broke out in 1861, its use was widespread. Many soldiers carried photographs of loved ones into battle, and for the first time, photographic images of war were available. The Museum of the Confederacy has its own vast collection of images today, many of them identified.

But now museum officials are releasing the unidentified images of the two girls, along with six other enigmatic photographs, on the remote chance someone might recognize a familial resemblance or make a connection to a battlefield where they were found.

There is no writing on the backs of these photographs. No notes tucked inside their wallet-sized frames. For a museum that prides itself on knowing the provenance of its holdings, the photographs offer few clues.

"We don't know who they are, and the people who picked them up did not know who they were," said Ann Drury Wellford, curator of 6,000 Civil War images at the Richmond museum that has the largest collection of artifacts of the Confederate states, civilian and military. "They evoke an utter and complete sentimentality."

Museum officials can only speculate on the children and adults, including soldiers, shown in the photographs. But whether they were sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, or siblings, the prospect of identifying each grows dimmer with the passage of time.

Typically they were found by another soldier and handed down through generations. Ultimately an attic would be cleared or a trunk would be emptied and the photo would be given to the museum. Some have been in the museum's possession for 60 years or more.

Pvt. Thomas W. Timberlake of the 2nd Virginia Infantry found the portrait of the girl with the ringlets and hand-colored pink cheeks on the battlefield of Port Republic between the bodies of two dead soldiers.

Fought in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's forces turned back Northern troops led by Brig. Gen. James Shields, who lost 67 men. The Union troops hailed from Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The photo of the other girl, who had short hair parted down the middle, was found by Pvt. Heartwell Kincaid Adams of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry in the haversack of a Union soldier's body at the battle of High Bridge in Virginia, only days before the war ended at Appomattox in 1865.