Descendants of Black Civil War heroes recreate their 19th-century ancestors in a moving photo project

Feb 13, 2024

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Descendants of Black Civil War heroes recreate their 19th-century ancestors in a moving photo project

Feb 13, 2024

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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black civil war heroes

February is Black History Month, and to honor it, Smithsonian magazine has created a stunning photo project named Tracing a Lost Ancestry: The Descendants. Created in partnership with British photographer and videographer Drew Gardner (featured here), the project features recreations of portraits of African Americans who served in the Civil War, using their direct descendants as models.

YouTube video

Photographer Drew Gardner has been on a fascinating mission since 2005: bringing history to life through portraits. He works with direct descendants of famous figures, from presidents like Jefferson to suffragettes like Pankhurst, meticulously recreating their portraits with stunning accuracy. In 2020, the Smithsonian got involved, showcasing descendants of icons like Douglass and Stanton in his project.

Gardner and his researcher, Ottawa Goodman, decided to look for descendants of Black Civil War heroes. “The starting point for these Descendants shoots is usually, ‘Are they descended from people the public would know?’” he says. “This is the first time I’ve flipped the project to say, ‘These are people you should really know about.’”

It took nearly three years to research and organize everything for the shoot. Gardner and Smithsonian worked with a team of genealogists, researchers, costumers, prop builders, museums, and historical societies. They wanted to recreate the portraits with as much accuracy as possible. And they didn’t leave anything to chance and had many props and attire made from scratch, including the uniforms for Austin Morris and Neikoye Flowers and the dress for Deanna Walz.

The new portraits include:

  • Neikoye Flowers, an elementary school student in Atlanta, and the descendant of David Miles Moore, Jr., who enlisted in the Union Army in 1863 as teenager.
  • Christopher Wilson, director of experience design at the National Museum of American History, and the descendant of Louis Troutman, a member of the 108th Regiment of the United States Colored Infantry. The unit, formed in Kentucky, was composed mainly of formerly enslaved Black men.
  • Austin Morris, a college soccer player in Alabama, who always knew he was descended from the great American writer and orator Frederick Douglass. Morris posed as Frederick Douglass’s son Lewis Douglass, a sergeant major.
  • Deanna Walz, a medical researcher, and the descendant of famed liberator and Union spy Harriet Tubman.
  • Kwesi Bowman, a college student in Houston, TX, and the descendant of Civil War hero Andrew Jackson Smith, who was awarded a posthumous medal of honor for risking his life to carry a fallen American flag during the 1864 Battle of Honey Hill.
  • Jared Miller, the descendant of Richard Oliver, a 31-year-old Black laborer from upstate New York who volunteered to join the 20th Colored Infantry the day after Christmas in 1863

“I really loved doing it,” said Drew Gardner. “Then I started to think, ‘Well, it’s all very well and good that I’m telling stories about people who are well known, but what about the people who aren’t well known but have played an amazing part in American history?’”

As the Smithsonian explains, Tracing a Lost Ancestry: The Descendants is “a photographic exploration of American identity, race and ancestry.” Enjoy more fascinating portraits below, and make sure to check out Smithsonian’s article and YouTube for more details. You can also find these photos in paper form across sixteen pages in the January/February 2024 issue of Smithsonian magazine.

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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One response to “Descendants of Black Civil War heroes recreate their 19th-century ancestors in a moving photo project”

  1. Run N Gun Photography Avatar
    Run N Gun Photography

    This is so cool!!