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Honestly Abe, is That You?

Details of Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration have come into clearer focus with the recent discovery at the Library of Congress of three glass negatives that show the large crowd gathered at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., for the president's address on March 4, 1865. These negatives had been labeled long ago as being either the Grand Review of the Armies or the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant. Carol Johnson, a curator of photography at the Library of Congress, spotted the misidentification on Friday, Jan. 4, while checking old logbooks and finding the annotation “Lincoln?” in the margin. Only two other photos of Lincoln's second inauguration were previously known, but a careful visual comparison confirmed that these three negatives portray the same event.

Abraham Lincoln, three-quarter-length-portrait, seated, facing right. 1864 Crowd at President Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration. March 4, 1865

The images are of soldiers and crowd, soldiers lining up and soldiers in formation.

Johnson was prompted to examine the negatives after a Library of Congress patron alerted her to the fact that these visually similar photos had radically different identifications in the Library's online Civil War photographic negative collection. But instead of choosing between Grant and the Grand Armies Review, she opened a new door to the past by looking closely at the images and recognizing Lincoln's second inauguration. The Library’s Prints and Photographs Division has updated the catalog records. To view the full set of photos, visit the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.

John Richter, another Library patron, uncovered images purportedly of the 16th president at Gettysburg for the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery on Nov. 19, 1863. An amateur stereo photographer and Civil War buff, Richter had found image one and image two as he was searching through the division’s digital archives. The found images show a figure believed to be Lincoln, white-gloved in his trademark stovepipe hat, in a military procession. Although not apparent to the naked eye, Richter believed to have identified the president after enhancing the image with the help of a powerful computer program that allowed him to pick out the figure deep in the crowd.

The Library's American Memory online presentation “I Do Solemnly Swear” offers a special look at Lincoln's second inauguration, including the handwritten text of the address, which is part of the Library's Abraham Lincoln Collection in the Manuscript Division.

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division has also made available a selection of images related to Lincoln’s assassination. Featured are pictures of John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators, along with other images relating to the fateful night of April 14, 1865 at Ford’s Theater. The president was shot at approximately 10 p.m., while attending a performance of “Our American Cousin” with his wife and two other guests. To discover other notable events, visit the Today in History site, which is also presented as part of the Library's American Memory collections. You can search for specific key words, by month and even a specific day of the year.

A. Abraham Lincoln, three-quarter-length-portrait, seated, facing right. 1864. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USP6-2415-A (b&w film copy neg.; Call No.: PRES FILE - Lincoln, Abraham--Portraits--Meserve Collection--No. 85 <item> [P&P]

B. Crowd at President Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration. March 4, 1865. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction Nos.: LC-DIG-cwpb-01431 (digital file from original neg. of left half) and LC-DIG-cwpb-01430 (digital file from original neg. of right half); Call No.: LC-B811- 1284[P&P]