Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Civil War Portrait Identified

Samuel Smith Family Portrait
Samuel Smith served in the 119th US Colored Infantry
(Colorized by artist Patty Smith)

From the collections of the Library of Congress, one can find a number of images of Civil War soldiers, including images of the US Colored Troops.  One of the more striking images is a family portrait, said to be the only photo of its kind-a black Union Soldier with his wife and children.

The photo appears in many brochures and on many websites, and I was thrilled to see today on Facebook the image once again, but this time with data about the soldier, and his wife and two daughters! The data on the soldier apparently appears in the November 2012 issue of Kentucky Explorer Magazine.  Thankfully an associate on Facebook shared the image with the soldier's name.

Sergeant Samuel Smith enlisted in the 119th US Colored Infantry in Camp Nelson Kentucky. His wife Molle and their daughters Mary and Maggie are pictured in this beautiful photo. Long featured on the Library of Congress website, finally the name of this man and his family are known. He lived most of his life after the war in Rockcastle County Kentucky in the town of Mount Vernon. After the Civil War, he remained in the same community and he is found in the 1870 census with his family. There were other children in the household at that time as well. Although identified as twins, the two girls appear to have been a few years apart in the census record in 1870.

1870 Federal Census, Rockcastle Kentucky, Mount Vernon Township

Samuel Smith and his wife are buried at the Walker Newcomb Cemetery in Mount Vernon, Kentucky. His grave bears a military marker reflecting his service.

Source: Image of Sgt.Smith's headstone on Find A Grave
Headstone image shared by Charles Wilton

Near the original marker, a second marker was also placed for Sgt. Smith.

Source: Image on Find A Grave

Samuel Smith's wife Mollie is also buried at Newcomb cemetery and a headstone also marks her grave.

Headstone of Mollie Smith, wife of Sgt. Samuel Smith
Image Uploaded to Find a Grave by Charles Wilton

I have since learned that the amazing image of Sgt. Smith and his family are part of a private collection that was donated to the Library of Congress. The Liljenquist Family Collection is a fairly recent acquisition to the Library of Congress, and it included the image of the Smith Family. It was donated in 2010 by this family that has been purchasing images of Civil War soldiers for many years. One has to wonder how the image of the Smith family ended up for sale, and how the identity of the soldier was found. Thankfully Sgt. Smith is no longer a nameless face and his family reflected on the image tells so much more about Smith, as a soldier and as a man. 

Needless to say that I shall be researching more about the life of this man and his family, on my next trip to the National Archives.


  1. I'm looking forward to hearing what you find out! These 'iconic' photos should never be anonymous!
    Thanks for posting.

  2. thanks for sharing. The headstones in Maryland because of the civil war. its sad. lets see what you find out

  3. A very talented redditor has colourised this picture! http://www.reddit.com/r/ColorizedHistory/comments/1q8px6/sergeant_samuel_smith_of_the_119th_us_colored/

    Is there anything on the survival of his children and their possible descendants?

  4. I would love to know what you find out. please feel free to email me with that you find. this picture was located in one of my college textbooks and the woman Mollie resembles my mother from the face down to her hands and I am trying to find out whatever I can about the the children they had I see was 5? and if they had kids. Please feel free to email me with whatever you find lashanae1995@gmail.com

  5. Amazing historical pic . Has anyone found what happened to the children and Thier children?

  6. I, too would like to know. They might be family.
    - Sylvia Smith Brady