The Civil War soldier understood his identity and his mortality and channeled this awareness into his portrait photographs. Families saw the pictures as preserving the men’s bodies, and because of this, the photos upheld the men’s identities, which were comprised of their unique allegiances and beliefs. However, Reconciliation attempted to blur the men’s partisanships for the sake of union, and collection methods that emphasize quantity uphold Reconciliation.
Thus, we conflate Jeremiah Gage with Levi S. Graybill, pooling their bodies into a collective. We have the chance, however, to challenge the memories we have established because history is not a clean and cold list of established facts, but a dynamic and palpitating swarm of ideas with which we constantly interact. The divisions that caused the Civil War did not die with it, but rather, still affect American life today. The photographic portraits display, to borrow from Whitman’s poetry, “faces [that] bear testimony,” but it is our work to fully understand what those eyes hold.