Back in 2007 two researchers came across a photograph often exhibited as proof of African Americans in Confederate service–a image labeled “1st Louisiana Native Guard.” An examination of the photograph revealed that the image in fact was of African Americans in Union service: one way in which the image was tampered with in order to misrepresent it was by cropping out the Union officer.
News of this find has been around for years. Blogs pick it up all the time. Last month Jubilo featured it; that blog’s author had also pointed to it in another blog in 2009 (you might want to read the comments). It’s been a subject addressed in lectures.
Not all sites where the image appears can be classified as Confederate Romantic/Apologist sites, either. Even the University of New Orleans bobbled the image. Or the site’s author seems a bit uncertain about the image. But then there’s this.
In short, this is no longer a news story, or it should not be. And yet the image’s mislabeling persists, in large part because of the imprint on the image itself. One need only look at the 37th Texas Cavalry website to see a defense — yes, a defense! — of the photograph by a group that claims to be committed to historical accuracy (“The 37th serves only the cause of historical truth”). Then again, this website does not seem to have been updated in years … indeed, it may not have been updated since the discovery of the tampering with the image.
For all the talk about the Lincoln pardon controversy, this story of doctoring a photograph seems a little more serious to me in terms of its overall import, and it suggests what can happen when someone doctors historical sources. Here we are, years after the image’s misuse has been discredited, and yet the misidentification persists.