by Robert A. Waters
On June 9, 1862, the battle of Port Republic, Virginia ended with Union troops in full retreat. Stonewall Jackson’s Army of the Valley had engaged the invading Yankees in savage hand-to-hand fighting, and won. But the Federal forces had fought valiantly, leaving the battlefield strewn with blue and gray corpses.
Historians, using clinical jargon that minimizes carnage, aver that the Confederates “took the field.”
The following day, Confederate Private Thomas W. Timberlake of Co. G, Second Virginia Cavalry, walked through the bloody landscape. Was he scavenging, as soldiers often do? His company no doubt needed weapons, clothing, and shoes, and the best place to retrieve such items was from the battlefield.
At some point in his search, the glint of gold may have caught his eye. As he described it later, a gold-framed case bearing the image of a child lay on the ground between two dead soldiers. One blue, one gray. He couldn’t tell which soldier the picture belonged to.
Timberlake picked up the photo. Somehow, through the years of war and death, it survived and eventually ended up in his Virginia home. After Timberlake’s death, his descendants donated it to the Museum of the Confederacy.
Ann Drury Wellford is manager of Photographic Services for the museum, located in Richmond. She recently released copies of the image to the press, hoping that someone might recognize the child. (Seven other unidentified photos of soldiers and family members were also publicized.)
The child, her features like a fragile doll, sits in wan repose. She may have been seven or eight years old. No one knows who she was or what happened to her.
Did the Yank and Reb kill each other as the battle raged around them? Did one solider, in the last throes of a violent death, pull the photo from his pocket? As his life’s-blood leaked away, did the child offer comfort to the dying man?
Wellford stated that the little girl could have been a sister, or some other family member. That’s true. But the odds are that it’s the soldier’s daughter. If you think you know who this child might be, please contact Ann Drury Wellford at the Museum of the Confederacy.