The past is not always as distant as it seems. TIME’s Lightbox section on-line recently carried 19th-century photographs of men who were aged veterans of the American Revolution. Many of their stories are also told in brief thanks to the work of Joe Bauman, a journalist who was first prompted by the American Bicentennial to laboriously track down old daguerreotypes and collate the pictures using Revolutionary War pension records. His e-book is in part the source of the photo essay presented.
Seeing the faces is a weird experience in the original meaning of the word. Here are men from a time more legendary than real in the minds of many Americans who are outside the scholarly study of history, but their images are captured by an old technology still in regular use today: photography. The matter-of-fact explanations offered by the veterans of why they joined the fight against Britain are staggering in their simplicity. At least one of the veterans hints he was afraid not to fight the British. So, gaze on the faces that 237 years ago made it possible for the United States to become a nation rather than simply a still-born idea.