Through the lens of war: Poignant images from U.S. Civil War show slaves, soldiers, and strife that changed the way Americans viewed combat
The Civil War holds many firsts within the pages of history – the first and only American civil war, and the first implementation of income tax to fund it.
But it was also the first war that was captured on film, with the advent of black and white cameras allowing photographers to illustrate the true carnage of the battlefield in ways that had not previously been seen.
More than 200 pictures, which are now on display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, also serve as a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made by millions of soldiers as they fought to make slaves ‘forever free.’
Through the lens: A new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art displays more than 200 poignant photographs taken during the American Civil War; this image is of Gettysburg, July 1863
Prototype: Terre-plein and Parapet, Fort Sumter, April 15, 1861; the Civil War was the first to be captured by the medium of photography
In the field: Photographer Alexander Gardner captured around 70 images from the Battle of Antietam where nearly 23,000 estimated casualties from Union and Confederate soldiers
The exhibition, called ‘Photography and the American Civil War,’ examines the medium’s evolving role in portraying the men who died in battle, the slaves they were fighting to free, and the leaders who remain part of America’s public imagination.
Daguerrotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes shot nearly 150 years ago are all displayed in the exhibit, showing everything from heart-wrenching pictures of slaves to portraits of the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.
Images of war: Hamilton's Floating Battery pictured at Fort Sumter, April 1861
Slave traders: The Price, Birch & Co Slave Pen was pictured in Alexandria, Virginia in 1863 and the photograph forms part of the collection
Will you join the barricade? The Western Barracks and Parade, Fort Sumter Charleston, South Carolina on April 15, 1861
Grim loss: Union Private John Parmenter under anesthesia on an operating table, with his amputated foot, 1865
Photographs from field operators,
including Alexander Gardner’s macabre images of the Battle of Antietam,
are part of the exhibition.
To capture images of thousands of dead soldiers lying in the dirt, Gardner had to haul his cumbersome equipment – glass plates and chemicals, not to mention his bulky camera – across the unpredictable terrain.
Gardner’s photographs were the first to depict the grim realities of battle- up until this point, those removed from the battlefield had to rely only on letters, sketches, and word-of-mouth tales of heroics and defeat, or as the New York Times said of it in an 1862 article, a remote reality, like ‘a funeral next door.’
Great Emancipator: President Abraham Lincoln, Major General John A. McClernand, right, and E. J. Allan, left Chief of the Secret Service, near Antietam
Famous faces: Mathew Brady, left, famously photographed the Civil War over the abolition of slavery. Right, Sojourner Truth escaped slavery in 1826 and campaigned for its abolition
Portrait: A solemn silver print from glass negative of Lincoln taken on February 27, 1860
Fife and drum: Left, a young boy in Zouave outfit, and right, Abraham Lincoln's presidential campaign metal from 1860, a tintype in stamped brass metal
Brothers in arms: Captain Charles A. and Sergeant John M. Hawkins, of Company E, 38th Regiment Georgia Volunteer Infantry
Political jewels: A necklace made of carved vegetable ivory shows Confederate States President Jefferson Davis, Vice President Alexander Stephens, and Secretary of War John Breckenridge
The Times said in the article that these photographs, displayed at a New York City gallery owned by photographer Matthew Brady, were able to ‘bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war.’
Also included in the exhibition are shocking portraits by Dr Reed Brockway Bontecou, depicting badly wounded and sickly soldiers near the war’s end.
The Civil War surgeon showed the maimed and broken soldiers in a humanistic – if not sobering – light.
Drafting: American Civil War-era enlistment posters, left, and Mathew B. Brady's Studio Camera and Tripod from c 1860, right, can be seen in the exhibition
Examined: People look at Dr Bontecou's Private Teaching Album of Wounded Civil War Soldiers: Primarily Chest and Mid-body Wounds, 1864-65, albumen silver prints
Pages of history: A display of three photographs of Civil War soldiers in the exhibition, Photography and the American Civil War at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
The exhibition runs through September 2, 2013, and is located in the Special Exhibition Gallery on the museum’s first floor.
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