Civil War Photographs

The saga of our U.S. Civil War Photographs collection spans years.

Family sitting with soldiers in front of a house. Woman slave to the left.
“Scene in Pleasant Valley, MD. Alex Gardner, Photographer, Plate 24.” Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War

The photographs which are prints made from the glass plate negatives were donated by Alice Pratt Brown in 1958 before the Woodson came into existence. A couple of decades later someone created an inventory of the images. Her goal was to find the photographs in books showcasing the work by Civil War photographers like Matthew Brady. Some of her research relied on microfilm versions of the books. There was also a complex numbering system for the prints, which referred to the page numbers in the books and/or the National Archives numbering system.

Black man standing by the remnants of a chimney.
Breaking Camp, Brandy Station, Negative by James Gardner, Positive by A. Gardner, Plate 63. Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War., 1864-05

For years, it sat upon the shelf until Dr. Rachel Hooper came along in 2018. While doing some research and planning for an upcoming course, she consulted the collection. She was flummoxed by its organization and realized that many of the photographs had been mislabeled. She scanned them all and researched them. Some of the ones that had been thought to be by Brady were not actually his. She pointed out that it mirrored a change in the understanding of his work.

Dr. Hooper’s fall 2018 course never happened, since she took a position elsewhere. Her students would have researched the photographs and were going to work on re-processing the collection.

Soldiers at a fortification
The Pulpit, Fort Fisher, N.C., Negative by T. H. O’Sullivan, Positive by Alexander Gardner, Plate 79. Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book, 1865-01

Needing a random project to do, Trevor Egerton, student archivist, took on the work of making sense of the collection last semester. He consulted books, looked up some images on the internet, and ultimately identified all but 11 of the photographs. He re-numbered all of the prints and identified the photographers, books, and page numbers where the original images could be found.

For those interested, the collection contains portraits, buildings, fortifications, prisons and hospitals, and many battle scenes with a lot of bodies. What I’ve sprinkled through this post are the more demure prints. If you want to see more gruesome prints from the collection, here’s a couple to check out: A Burial Party and A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep.

One thought on “Civil War Photographs

  1. Pingback: What’s In Woodson: “one of the joys of our collection,” 1975 | Rice History Corner

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