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 Posted: Sun Sep 16th, 2007 10:04 pm
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Regina
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I'm curious about something and am wondering if anyone here has any opinions on it.  When I see the actual battlefield photographs (by Brady and Gardner, I believe) of the aftermath, there are dead men and horses, sometimes an individual, sometimes in groups.  They are often accompanied by descriptions and brought the horror of war into homes for the first time.  I agree that they are horrible images--but now that I have read about some of the battles in more detail, I am surprised that the photos are not quite a bit worse.  There are descriptions of areas with nothing left but body parts and reports of places with hundreds and even thousands of bodies.  Did the photographers just happen to miss these areas, or is there evidence that they considered these shots to be just too gruesome?  Maybe more horrible shots were taken, and exist, but are not printed.  I wouldn't want to see them, myself, since just reading about them is so unnerving to me that it borders on traumatic.  But I guess I'm just curious to learn what others think about this. 



 Posted: Mon Sep 17th, 2007 12:15 am
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Doc C
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I quess the most horrible photo of the entire war, in my opinion, was of a soldier, I believe it was in the Wheatfield or somewhere in the Confederate 1st Corp battle on the second day of Gettysburg. I've read conflicting descriptions of the open abdominal wound was due to a cannon shot or ferrel hogs. Irregardless of it's origin it's guite unnerving. I've worked in numerous ER's as a physician and seen countless trauma cases but this photograph surpasses all of my experiences. Also, the descriptions of battlefield trauma during the Wilderness Camp. are extremely unnerving, reminds me of my readings of the Verdun and Yrpes battles during WWI.


Doc C



 Posted: Mon Sep 17th, 2007 12:54 am
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PvtClewell
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There is a book (isn't there always?) called 'The Civil War In Depth' (1997) written by Bob Zeller, who was a photographer for the Greensboro Daily News years ago and has an avid interest in Civil War photography.

Most photos of the war, it turns out, were stereoscopic, which meant you could see the images in 3-D with a hand-held stereoscopic viewer, like you see in antique shops these days. The stereoscopic viewer was the 19th century form of parlor entertainment, in the way TV is for us today. His book includes a pair of 3-D glasses. I got him to come to our CW roundtable for a presentation. He projected the stereo photo images on a movie screen and we viewed them through 3-D glasses, (I know that sounds hokey) but the images — some better than others — almost leaped out at you. It was astounding.

To sort of answer one of your questions about how the photographers arrived on the scene, Zeller writes "The challenge for Brady & Co. photographers in the war's first 18 months was finding a fresh battlefield to photograph. The Union Army kept losing battles and retreating from the battlefields on which they fought.
"But the photographers kept pursuing the troops. And they began to realize they would have plenty of opportunities. The war, which many in the North believed would be over quickly, was becoming a long-term affair, and it was getting bloodier by the day."

Antietam, for example, was fought on Sept. 17, 1862, but Gardner didn't start photographing the field until the 19th. You have to figure some burials and organic changes had already taken place. I imagine the same thing happened at Gettysburg, when Alexander Gardner, James Gibson and Timothy O'Sullivan arrived two days after the battle, and Brady arrived July 15. Immediacy was no doubt a problem for photographers, who usually didn't travel with the army.

The famous Gettysburg image Doc writes about is particularly unsettling when seen as it was intended — through a 3-D viewer.

Zeller collected hundreds of stereoscopic views and published a companion piece, "The Civil War in Depth, Volume 2." Zeller's work somehow remains on the periphery of Civil War literature even though I think it is totally amazing stuff and probably should capture the imagination of more people than it has.

Here is a web site to check out:
http://www.civilwarphotography.com/

Last edited on Mon Sep 17th, 2007 12:59 am by PvtClewell



 Posted: Mon Sep 17th, 2007 12:52 pm
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javal1
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Interesting point Regina. I think what we need to keep in mind is the motivations of the photographers. Like everything else about the Civil War, we tend to romanticize this. The prime reason they were taking these photos was not to provide future generations with a documented look at the war. It was to make money, a purely commercial venture. Nothing wrong with that, but something that's often overlooked. These photos were intended to be sold to a 19th-cuntury populace, with a 19th-century sense of "decency" (for lack of a better word). Each photo took a lot of time, effort and expense. I doubt the photographers would bother expending this on a photo that would be so revolting, nobody would puchase it. So yes, I think they no doubt saw scenes much grislier than those the ended up shooting. They just realized there was no profit there.

Pvt. - I loved those Zeller books, but those glasses they came with gave me headache after more than 5 minutes.

Anyone interested in Civil War photography needs to dig into William Frasanito's books, especially "Early Photography of Gettysburg". That one has great bio info about the photographers.



 Posted: Mon Sep 17th, 2007 02:27 pm
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David White
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Regina:

Just my guess, nothing I've read, but I think it was a sensibilities issue why they did not show the more graphic corpses.  Certainly the Gettysburg shot everyone refers to is about the most graphic but the shots taken at Fort Hell near Petersburg are pretty graphic themselves too but don't get as much ciruclation, i.e. portruding entrails, bloody faces and gaping head wounds are visible.

Another graphic shot I recall that is not seen often is a bucket full of amputated feet taken at a field hospital. 

To me one of the worst photos of the war that gets pretty wide circulation is the near skelatal survivor of Andersonville.



 Posted: Mon Sep 17th, 2007 08:01 pm
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aphill
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The most horrific seem to be the series from Fort Mahone at Petersburg.  These were actually taken by Thomas Roche of Anthony's studio rather than by Gardner or Brady like most of the earlier "death studies."  The Roche images can be seen in Frassanito's book "Grant and Lee: The Virginia Campaigns 1864-1865."  Some of the images in the series were reproduced quite a bit (for example, the barefooted "boy soldier" killed at Petersburg is a frequently seen image of the War), but many of these images fell totally out of circulation.  Perhaps the reason is with the War ending, no one wanted to look at such horrific and terrible images anymore.  The Roche series are, I think, the most disturbing and terrible pictures that were taken of the human carnage during the War.  They are on the whole much worse than the pictures Gardner captured at Gettysburg, the soldier disembowled by a shell or a hog excluded.  Unlike Gardner, who's images often show rows laid out for burial, Roche focused on the individual dead soldiers.  I haven't seen them in stereo and I do not think I ever want to, but I am sure they are much horrific when viewed that way.

I often wonder -- when you see a dead soldier like the boy at Petersburg, the "sharpshooter" at Gettysburg, the dead at the Alsop farm -- whether some family in the South (it's almost always dead Confederates in these pictures) recoiled in utter horror upon the recognition of their brother or their father or their son.  I can see where some would argue that these pictures -- which were taken for profit in many cases -- were exploitive. 

Frassanito's 1864 book also contains a disturbing set of images taken of the hanging of William Johnson by O'Sullivan.  Johnson was a black member of a Union regiment; he was convicted of attempted rape and executed.  Frassanito's book contains images of his blindfolded body hanging from the gallows.



 Posted: Wed Sep 19th, 2007 04:01 am
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Kentucky_Orphan
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when you see a dead soldier like the boy at Petersburg, the "sharpshooter" at Gettysburg, the dead at the Alsop farm -- whether some family in the South (it's almost always dead Confederates in these pictures) recoiled in utter horror upon the recognition of their brother or their father or their son.

A very interesting point aphill, and one I have always wondered about-in fact wondering if any other people had noted it as I have never seen, heard, or read of a historian discussing it. Why is it, exactly, that 90 percent of these photos are of dead confederates? Is it a recent thing with publications, or was it a deliberate attempt by those photographers at the time to capture more confederate dead. The number of federal battlefield dead is quite a bit higher than confederate battlefield dead afterall. So what then? the politics or desire of the photographers themselves, pressure on the photographers from others with their own agenda, or a more recent phenom?

Of all the topics we've discussed on this board, this is the one in which I have the least ability to determine, and I am most keen to find out some answers. There was a quote from some historian on the history channel on a special about antietam. To paraphrase, he was discussing the fact that when the "Dead of Antietam" picture gallery was unvieled to the public, the reaction was not of horror as one would have thought, but of morbid curiosity.

No wonder, I think to myself as I watch, all the dead are CONFEDERATE DEAD! Of course, as PVT states in his post, the lateness of their arrival (photographers) might help explain some of the reason for this, but what about the rest of the war?



 Posted: Wed Sep 19th, 2007 04:32 pm
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ole
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One factor, Orphan, is that there weren't that many Confederate photographers to take pictures of dead Yankees. Another factor is evident in that there are precious few photos of dead soldiers when the ANV won. Consider Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville.

The photogs showed up after the Yanks were buried and before the Rebs were. Logically, the Yanks were buried first when they won. Using that logic, you gotta wonder where are the pictures from Chickamauga or Kennesaw Mountain? Too far away from New York or Washington.

Just a thought.

ole



 Posted: Wed Sep 19th, 2007 04:45 pm
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David White
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The only dead bodies outside of the eastern theater I am aware of are the two or three taken at Corinth near Battery Robinett. Some of those are pretty graphic too.



 Posted: Sat Sep 22nd, 2007 02:36 am
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sweetea
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There is something else I've heard about the dead at Gettysburg.  Perhaps this would also apply to other instances where dead bodies were left to rot.

It wasn't just feral pigs rooting among the dead; there was, allegedly an increase in the population of vultures in the area.  A ranger once told me that the vultures returned to Gettysburg in droves for years after the battle hoping for another meal.

These birds can be expected in any area where there is considerable open ground.  However, I do feel that there is an inordinate number of vultures in the GB area.

The photographers were always looking for good photo ops.  They posed the dead bodies, then took their pictures. 

Body parts are frequently being found at the CW battlefields.  At times, they are able to id the fallen by process of elimination when checking regimental lists.  It happened at Antietam in 1990(?).

This year, a tooth (which had been left in the care of a GB family for a few generations) made its way back home.  His family was there to greet all that was left of their ancestor.  (I think a Georgia soldier.)



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