Frederick Gutekunst’s View of the Seminary

Philadelphia photographer Frederick Gutekunst captured this image within a few weeks of the Battle of Gettysburg. The name Gutekunst may be not as well known as other photographers of the battle such as Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner, but it …

By Brian Johnson ’14

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Philadelphia photographer Frederick Gutekunst captured this image within a few weeks of the Battle of Gettysburg.  The name Gutekunst may be not as well known as other photographers of the battle such as Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner, but it is Gutekunst’s photograph of the Lutheran Theological Seminary that is believed to be the first image taken of the now famous building after the battle.  It is interesting to note that when Gutekunst trained his camera on the building, there were likely several hundred wounded soldiers being cared for inside.  Sarah Broadhead, who lived nearby and tended to the wounded at the Seminary, recalled:

The work of extracting the balls, and of amputating shattered limbs, had begun, and an effort at regular cooking.  I aided a lady to dress wounds.… I found that I had only seen the lighter case, and worse horrors met my eyes on descending to the basement of the building.  Men, wounded in three and four places, not able to help themselves the least bit, lay almost swimming in water.  (We) called some nurses to help, and getting some stretchers, the work was begun.  There were somewhere near 100 to be removed to the fourth story of the building.


Besides being the first post-battle image of this prominent building, there are two things that stand out in this photograph and its print.  The first is the vantage point from which Gutekunst took his photograph.  Gutekunst positioned himself in a second story window of the Samuel K. Foulk house, located just to the south of the Chambersburg Pike.  Foulk’s home was also used as a hospital, and was reportedly filled with wounded men on July 1st.

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The second point of interest is the description Gutekunst gives just below the image. “SCENES FROM THE BATTLEFIELD AT GETTYSBURG, PA. THE SEMINARY. Being the left of our Line of Battle on the 1st of July.  In front of the Grove to the right is the spot where General Reynolds fell.”

Gutekunst correctly identified the area photographed as that where fighting took place on July 1st.  He also knew that the area surrounding the Seminary marked the left flank of the Union forces.  What is inaccurate, however, is the identification of the area as the site where Major General John Reynolds was killed directing his I Corps troops that morning.  Reynolds was killed just east of the McPherson Woods, but west of Seminary Ridge.  (The woods where Reynolds was killed were actually owned by John Herbst, but because of their location near Edward McPherson’s barn they have become known as the McPherson Woods, and are labeled as such on the map in the third image).  This area is not visible in the photograph.  Gutekunst faced west-southwest toward the Seminary for this shot.  To correctly look in the direction where Reynolds was killed, he would have had to face west-northwest from the Foulk House.  Another obstacle in capturing the place of Reynolds’s death was Seminary Ridge, which stood between the house (the house has been demolished since this photo was taken) and the McPherson Woods.

It is obvious that Gutekunst misidentifies where Reynolds was killed – but it is also understandable.  No one knew at the time.  Matthew Brady mistakenly believed that Reynolds died inside of, or in the vicinity of, the McPherson Barn (one of Brady’s photos of the barn, published a month after the battle, was actually entitled “Barn in which Reynolds Died”).  But if we look at it another way, it doesn’t matter that these men incorrectly identified their photograph.  It was their attempts to photograph the site that are important.  In the aftermath of the battle, John Reynolds, who fell at Gettysburg very soon after his Union infantry joined the battle, became symbolic of the stubborn resistance of the Federals in their great victory.  Certainly there was public interest – and a potential market – for a photograph of the site where the great hero fell.   Both Brady and Gutekunst, in attempting (albeit incorrectly) to photograph that site, captured images of the first day’s battlefield, helping to ensure the existence of  photographs so vital to our knowledge and understanding of the battle.

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For more information about this photograph, see the Gettysburg College Special Collections Civil War digital collection.

 

 

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