Retouching History:

The Modern Falsification of a Civil War Photograph

Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite, Jr.


This website discusses a Civil War-era posed studio photograph of unidentified black Union soldiers with a white officer. This photograph was the basis for a well-known poster used by the Federal army to recruit black soldiers in the Philadelphia area. The studio photograph has been deliberately falsified in recent years by an unknown person/s sympathetic to the Confederacy. This falsified or fabricated photo, purporting to be of the 1st Louisiana Native Guards (Confederate), has been taken to promote Neo-Confederate views, to accuse Union propagandists of duplicity, and to show that black soldiers were involved in the armed defense of the Confederacy. Here we provide background to the original Civil War-era photograph and discuss why we believe its modern copy is a falsification; we also detail our conjectures as to how this falsification was accomplished.

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This site was created in March 2007.

Up-date: January 2019
Jerome Handler

Not long after this website was launched in 2007, its URL was sent, without comment, to www.rebelstore.com. Clearly accepting the finding that it was selling a fraudulent photograph, within a short time rebelstore.com removed the photograph from its website and no longer offered it for sale. A recent search of the web indicates that rebelstore.com has ceased to exist as an on-line retailer; it is not known when it went out of business. However, as of the date of this writing the falsified photograph is still available for purchase on line from Celebrity Framed Art, which sells it through Amazon.com. Neither Celebrity Framed Art nor Amazon gives any indication that the photo is a fraud. Thus, the unsuspecting buyer is left with the impression that it is a legitimate photograph of Black troops. On January 8, 2019, I submitted the following “customer review” to Amazon:  

This photo is a lie. It is a doctored photo of a civil war photograph of union soldiers. The doctored photo was done in recent times with a false caption attached to it, suggesting that it actually dates to the civil war era. A full expose of this photo can be found in the website www.BlackUnionSoldiers.org.

Amazon refused to act on my notice. It responded:
Thank you for submitting a customer review on Amazon. After carefully reviewing your submission, your review could not be posted to the website. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines: http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines.

Although Amazon does not specify which guideline was not followed, I assume it is the following: “Please do not include URLs external to Amazon or personally identifiable content in your review.”

Whatever the case, the person/s responsible for the original forgery have not been discovered and the fabricated photo still appears on various websites. It is apparent, however, that no serious professional or amateur student of the Civil War, particularly of Black troops, takes the authenticity of the photo seriously. Our website seems to have had a major role in exposing this fraud.

For the most recent discussion of issues germane to this photograph and its wider context, see Kevin Levin, Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth (Univ of North Carolina Press, 2019).