Powerful Side-by-Side Portraits of Civil War Heroes and Their Descendants

Portrait of Civil War Descendant by Drew Gardner

Left: Private Richard Oliver of the 20th USCT (Picture courtesy of the Miller family) | Right: Jared Miller, the direct descendant of Richard Oliver

Photographer Drew Gardner has spent the last two decades on his ongoing series, The Descendants. In it, Gardner photographs people whose ancestors made an impact on history. By posing and styling them in the manner of their descendant, Gardner creates a bridge between past and present. While the series began in Europe, Gardner started focusing on North America after Smithsonian Magazine commissioned him to photograph the descendants of Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

This inspired him to delve deeply into the history of the United States and, in particular, the Civil War period. In doing so, he also aimed to balance the genders and races represented in the series. Rather than solely focusing on big names, Gardner has also started highlighting lesser-known figures, using the acclaim that his project receives to spotlight their contributions to history.

“So many families have stories to tell, and to try and bring those to the public's attention is important, I feel,” he tells My Modern Met. Many of the people featured in the Civil War series have ancestors who were members of the United States Colored Troops, or USCT. These regiments were an important part of the Union army and were mainly comprised of Black soldiers, many of whom were former slaves. By the end of the Civil War, there were 175 USCT regiments, and 16 members were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

As with all images in The Descendants, Gardner is meticulous in recreating the time period that he is capturing. Each descendant is outfitted with period-appropriate clothing and, in this case, photographed with a tintype camera to recreate the look and feel of the original photo. The results are a striking reminder of our past and an invitation to delve into our history in order to embrace both the good and the bad.

“Curiosity. Nothing more, nothing less,” states Gardner when asked what he hopes people will take away from these images. “If my work encourages others to ask questions about the past and how our society has been built, if only to themselves, then I feel that is a small success.”

Scroll down to see more Civil War descendants, as well as short videos explaining their roles in history and a behind-the-scenes look at the photo shoot.

Photographer Drew Gardner has been creating his ongoing series The Descendants, for two decades.

Portrait of Harriet Tubman's great niece

Left: Harriet Tubman | Right: Deanne Stanford Walz, great-niece of Harriet Tubman

Most recently, he's focused on highlighting Civil War descendants.

Austin Morris, direct descendant of Frederick Douglass

Left: Sgt. Major Lewis Douglass of the 54th Massachusetts USCT | Right: Austin Morris, direct descendant of Frederick Douglass (father of Lewis)

Portrait of Civil War Descendant by Drew Gardner

Left: David Miles Moore Jr., drummer boy in the 54th Mass | Right: Neikoye Flowers, direct descendant of David Miles Moore

The tintype photography mimics the original images, with Gardner focused on the contributions of lesser-known figures in history.

Portrait of Civil War Descendant by Drew Gardner

Left: Andrew Jackson Smith, who was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor | Right: Kwesi Bowman, the direct descendant of Andrew Jackson Smith

The Descendants by Drew Gardner

Left: Private Louis Troutman of the 108th USCT (Image courtesy of Drew Gardner and used with permission of the Thomas Harris Collection) | Right: Christopher W. Wilson, the direct descendant of Louis Troutman

Through short videos, he shares a bit more about these people from the past and shows his creative process.

Drew Gardner: Website | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Drew Gardner.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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