The Last Full Measure: The Liljenquist Family Collection, Brandon Liljenquist, Library of Congress website
Have you ever seen a photograph of a person you knew you would never forget? Has a photograph influenced you to change your opinion on an important issue? For me, a tintype photograph of an American Civil War drummer boy turned out to be such a photograph. This young soldier would reach across time to challenge my beliefs about what makes an army great. He would lead me on a journey of discovery that would end in the vaulted halls of the Library of Congress.
My brother Jason and I acquired the photograph at a Civil War auction. The image was a tintype of a Union soldier carrying a drum. It was identified as George Weeks of the 8th Maine Infantry. The tintype was accompanied by several hand-written letters between Weeks and his mother. Weeks' story came to life for us with every word we read. In a letter dated October 12th, 1865, George wrote to his mother, "I am coming home at last. ... I have served three years in the greatest army that was ever known."
At first, Jason and I laughed at Weeks' bravado. As lifelong residents of Virginia, we'd heard all about the Civil War. Being Virginians, we certainly knew which was the greater army. What possible basis could some young Union drummer boy have for making such a claim? The bravery and fighting spirit of the Confederate army was legendary. When equally equipped, the Confederate army always outmatched the Union army. "Stonewall" Jackson's lightning troop maneuvers in the Shenandoah Valley were famous. And General Robert E. Lee is still the most admired of all American generals.
Weeks' pride, and maybe our own, drove us to investigate further. With help from the National Archives in Washington, DC, we gained access to George Weeks' military record. Weeks contracted malaria while serving with his regiment in South Carolina. Later, at Petersburg, Virginia he was severely wounded. As a disabled veteran, Weeks struggled with malaria for several years. We were saddened to learn that he lost his battle with the disease at age twenty one. In the words of President Abraham Lincoln, Weeks had given "the last full measure of devotion." It was no longer easy to dismiss his words.
The Conclusion to Brandon Liljenquist's story is at the Library of Congress website.