September 1, 2014

Medina
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‘History mystery’ surrounds Civil War photographs

Click here for photographs of 94 Civil War soldiers

A rare collection of 94 photographs of uniformed Civil War soldiers has been in the Medina County Historical Society’s collection for so long that no one knows where it came from — or who the soldiers are.

“We have no documentation as to when it came to the historical society,” said Joann King, society president. The photographs could have been donated as early as 1922, she said.

The Medina County Historical Society will announce a campaign Monday asking the public to help identify the soldiers in the photographs.

So far, the nonprofit has managed to identify one of the men — Edward Rettig, of Medina, who died in 1861. Rettig was part of Company H of the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

That makes King think the others might be from Medina County as well. All of the soldiers pictured served in the Union Army, but it is not clear whether they served in the same regiment.

King calls the project a true “history mystery.”

Experts have estimated that the photographs were taken between 1861 and 1863 “based on the photographic method and uniforms of what was customary in the early years of the war,” King said.

The images are either “ambrotypes” or “tintypes,” two 19th-century photographic methods. Ambrotypes are made with glass plates and tintypes use thin, iron plates.

The photographs are all contained in one large frame, with two larger ones in the center, which possibly represent officers, King said.

The society possessed the photographs when King started as a part-time curator in 1976.

“I said, ‘What’s the story with this? Who are these people?’ “ she said.

At that time, older members said they had been there as long as they could remember.

King said the society will be kicking off its “Save a Soldier” campaign Monday with the goal of restoring and preserving the photographs to prevent them from deteriorating further.

She said the society needs to raise $19,000 for the project. As part of the campaign, the nonprofit will ask for donations of $100 per photograph.

“That doesn’t cover the cost, but it will get it started,” she said.

The frame was on display last year during the society’s first “Civil War Christmas” event, but it is now being stored for safekeeping at a facility in Cleveland.

King and local collector George Rees will introduce the project at the historical society’s meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Medina Library, 210 S. Broadway St.

She is urging people who have images of their ancestors who served in the Civil War and who may have been recruited from Medina County to call the Medina County Historical Society at (330) 722-1341 or email mchs@zoominternet.net. All of the photographs can be viewed on the society’s website at www.medinahistorical.com.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.