Hair & Photos of Civil War Soldiers

One of the most fascinating American historical periods was during the American Civil War – 1861-1865. Many individuals have located the names and details of military service of at least one ancestor and sometimes, several relatives. Some served for the Union (North) and some for the Confederacy (South).

During the period of American history, an important developed occurred – that of the advancement and popular use of photography. Plus the cost of photography had decreased making it more affordable. Soldiers wanted to immortalize themselves by use of a photo, plus have a photo of their wife, children or other family members. Being a soldier was and is a special status associated with manhood, bravery and honor and having the portrait were important to the men to illustrate their status as both men and soldiers at that moment, but also for posterity, as they could soon be wounded or killed at any time.

If you have such a photo of an ancestor who served, you do have a great treasure. Even if the photo was taken shortly after their military service, it still represents that important point in history.

But look closely at such a family photo, for something many people were unaware of. With the threat of death, a soldier wanted the perfect portrait. Soldiers wanted to look their best—even if it meant exaggerating certain aspects of their appearance. Enter the use of hair dyes. Yes, for the men. Since there were no color photos in the early 1860s, only black and white. Such images tended to exaggerate blonde-ish hair into looking gray or even white. To avoid accidentally aging themselves, soldiers in front of the camera may have used dyes to appear younger with darker hair locks.

Portrait studios in towns, military forts and camps and even the traveling photographers, kept a supply of hair dye in bottles. It might be difficult to tell if your ancestor used a dye on his hair, but if he was a bit older – the late 30s or in his 40s, he just might have had some gray hair he wanted to look darker.

It might an interesting aspect about your ancestor to check out. It could also apply to those not in the military service (men and women) who wanted to appear younger with dark hair, check it out.

Photos: Civil war photo of General Joshua Chamberlain (might or might not have dyed his hair) and examples of hair dye bottles from the 1860s found in former military camps.

Related Blogs:

Civil War Photos

ID Civil War Photos

Illinois – Boys in Blue

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