The Remains of War

By Lauren Letizia ‘23

This semester, CWI Fellow Lauren Letizia ’23 is analyzing the numerous roles, cultural significance, and lasting impacts of a cross-section of Civil War photographers upon American society. While some may be familiar to avid readers of Civil War history, others represent lesser-known, but equally as important photographers whose methods, mediums, and end-products helped shape the way Americans understood and made meaning out of the war’s swath of destruction and those who participated in it. We are delighted to share her third and final piece in this series with you!

The CWI would like to express enormous thanks to Ron Perisho for his generosity in sharing the majority of the images featured in this mini-series, as well as the invaluable sources and insights he has provided to make this blog series possible!

The enormity of the American Civil War’s scope and toll upon humanity is nearly impossible for many to fully comprehend today. The Union military consisted of approximately three million soldiers while the Confederacy’s ranged from 750,000 to one million men. Four million former slaves were set free from bondage and began to pursue their previously forbidden American dream. And even for those not fighting on the front lines of battle or seeking their first taste of freedom, the Civil War altered the lives of all who lived through it, defining the nation and its population for generations. With 750,000 men dead and well over one million wounded, war-time suffering often became tragically anonymous. Mass graves, unknown burial sites, and collective memorials were the orders of the day. However, photography became an important mechanism to revive the names and faces of many participants and victims of the Civil War. One relatively little-known duet of images captures the toll of the conflict on a small town and its martial heroes.

New Hampshire photographer, J.F. Keniston and publisher, E. Lovejoy printed and sold numerous stereo-view photographs of the below-featured local unit, self-identified as the Lincoln Rifles. The photograph below was taken in Milford, New Hampshire, in 1861.  The subjects number about 32 soldiers.

Courtesy of Ron Perisho’s personal Civil War photograph collection.
Back of stereo view card 1861 Lincoln Rifles photograph.
Courtesy of Ron Perisho’s personal Civil War photograph collection.

Milford is a small town in south-central New Hampshire near the Souhegan River. Prior to the Civil War, it was well-known for its strong abolitionist views, with many residents openly vocalizing their dissent against slavery. Because of this abolitionist enthusiasm, the town was a vital stop on the Underground Railroad. Additionally, Milford was home to some of the largest granite quarries in the United States. Milford granite was used to build the pillars of the US Treasury Department in Washington D.C. Because of the importance of granite, Milford was nicknamed “Granite Town.” Additionally, in the 19th century, Milford followed the trend of other New English states in developing a prominent textile industry. The quarries and textile mills were the main employers for Milford residents, and thus the likely place of employment for at least some of the Lincoln Rifles.

During the war, many of Milford’s residents eagerly volunteered for the Union army. According to local researcher and historian David Nelson, 196 Milford citizens served in the military and 60 were killed; 40 of those dead were never recovered to be buried in their hometown. Keniston’s 1861 photograph of the Lincoln Rifles displays the passion and patriotism of the quaint town which has eagerly turned out an entire company of sharp-looking, fresh-faced recruits who stand at attention behind a U.S. flag, ready to fight for Union and a permanent end to the scourge of slavery. Fellow townsfolk take in the patriotic scene from the background.

Likely named in honor of their immediate reply to President Lincoln’s April 15, 1861 call for 75,000 troops to help put down the southern rebellion, the Lincoln Rifles were most likely attached to the 2nd Regiment of the New Hampshire Infantry—the longest serving New Hampshire regiment during the war. The regiment was formally organized in May, 1861 and mustered out in 1865, with the vast majority of the originally three-month enlistees quickly re-upping their contracts to serve for an additional three years. The 2nd New Hampshire  was engaged in the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861; the Battle of Seven Pines, the Second Battle of Manassas, and the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862; the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863; and the Battles of Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and Fair Oaks in 1864. In 1865, the 2nd New Hampshire occupied the trenches outside of Richmond, Virginia until the Confederate evacuation in early April of 1865. Of the approximately 1,000 men who enlisted in the 2nd New Hampshire, the regiment lost a whopping 15 officers and 163 enlisted men, either killed or mortally wounded, and 6 officers and 166 men from disease.

Attached to a unit that endured some of the bloodiest battles of the entire war, the Lincoln Rifles suffered great losses during their four years on the front lines.  Keniston’s second image of the unit’s survivors, taken a few years after the Civil War ended, and in the same spot as the 1861 picture, hauntingly captures that suffering. In the second image, the group numbers about 22 men.

Courtesy of Ron Perisho’s personal Civil War photograph collection.

The war veterans stare at the camera with their arms folded or tucked defiantly into their jacket pockets. They stand loosely grouped together in a far more causal way than in their formal unit photograph of 1861. Most starkly, they are missing nearly one-third of the soldiers photographed in the first year of the Civil War. Few civilians can be seen in the background, and those present appear merely to be going about their daily chores; none stand by in reverent awe of these former combatants.  For them, life has moved on . 

It is not known if the smaller number of men is due to a low turnout for the gathering, or if the reduced number represents the casualties that the Lincoln Rifles suffered during their service. Based on the men’s somber affect, it is most likely the latter. The men were clearly organized to re-stage their 1861 portrait, but with a specific narrative to convey.   Keniston’s photograph vividly depicts the human cost of war without displaying corpses of grievous wounds . In a way, his method of photographing the civilian-dressed veterans in the same location as their initial 1861 image–without their commander in the foreground and without many of their former comrades–makes the true cost of war that much more apparent, and the long shadows of even a victorious war effort that much more haunting. Despite the grievous death toll of the war, most soldiers who served ultimately survived, living face-to-face not only with the triumph of victory, but also with the tragedies of the conflict. One wonders what these veterans thought and felt as they once again posed in front of Keniston’s camera. Did they picture the men who were no longer by their sides? Did they ponder how the war likely changed their outlook on their military service? Did they reflect back on the early-war excitement, idealism, and romance that likely swelled the hearts of many in their 1861 portrait with sadness? Cynicism? Pride?  These questions and numerous others like them hint at the main message of the Lincoln Rifles’ stereo-view photographs. As the infamous Confederate cavalry officer, Nathan Bedford Forrest once stated, “War means fighting, and fighting means killing.” But, what far-reaching impacts did that killing have on those who had made it out alive?

Implements of Civil War Photography

By Lauren Letizia ’23

This semester, CWI Fellow Lauren Letizia ’23 is analyzing the numerous roles, cultural significance, and lasting impacts of a cross-section of Civil War photographers upon American society. While some may be familiar to avid readers of Civil War history, others represent lesser-known, but equally as important photographers whose methods, mediums, and end-products helped shape the way Americans understood and made meaning out of the war’s swath of destruction and those who participated in it. We are delighted to share her second piece in this series with you!

The CWI would like to express enormous thanks to Ron Perisho for his generosity in sharing the majority of the images featured in this mini-series, as well as the invaluable sources and insights he has provided to make this blog series possible!

With the innovative rise of photography as a means through which to document war, many aspiring 19th-century photographers flocked to infamous Civil War battlefields to capture the perfect image. Whether depicting a decimated landscape or mutilated soldiers, Civil War photography proved to have an eager audience both during and after the conflict. The photographers’ desire to display the consequences of what sometimes felt like “total” war opened a new chapter in the portrayal of death, destruction, and human suffering. However, despite these photographers’ pursuit of provocative imagery in the aftermath of a cataclysmic battle such as that at Gettysburg, many Civil War photographers manufactured scenes to better evoke the theme they sought. One such photographer was Peter S. Weaver, from Hanover, Pennsylvania, a borough located thirteen miles east of Gettysburg.

“Photographs at Gettysburg” collection by Peter S. Weaver: 11 November, 1863. (Courtesy of Ron Perisho)

The above stereo view image was taken on the Gettysburg battlefield in November of 1863. It depicts nine dead Union soldiers lying among the boulders of Little Round Top, with two Union doctors named Chamberlain (right) and Lyford (center) surveying the carnage. These “dead” soldiers, however, were very much alive. One of the “bodies” is believed to be military musician, Jacob Shenkel (lying to right of Dr. Lyford), of the 62nd Pennsylvania Infantry. During the Battle of Gettysburg, Shenkel aided the wounded and, after the battle, was ordered to serve as a hospital attendant at the famed military hospital, Camp Letterman, located just outside the Gettysburg borough. Staging scenes after pivotal battles were not unusual during the Civil War. Often, photographers moved dead bodies to distinct positions or locations. Alexander Gardner’s famous image of a dead rebel sharpshooter at Gettysburg is a perfect example of this practice. Gardner moved the body to craft a dramatic story about the romantic death of an expert sharpshooter slain at his post, killing implement still by his side.

“‘Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter’: Gettysburg 1863,” by Alexander Gardner.

Peter Weaver also subscribed to this methodology. When representing war, nothing is more impactful to a civilian audience than seeing heaps of dead young men, lying amongst rocks and dirt. This portrayal lays bare (in this instance, with dramatic exaggeration) the shocking reality that many soldiers’ deaths were not glorious, romantic, or sentimental. Rather, soldiers regularly died in ghastly positions, atop nightmarish landscapes, for the gawking eye of the public to behold. Weaver’s photograph was originally produced on large plates, but the above image was reprinted as a stereo view print, making it more suitable for consumers and mass reproduction.

To a modern viewer, the idea of staging war photographs, repositioning soldiers’ bodies, and asking living soldiers to play dead might seem extremely unethical or immoral. However, Weaver and other Civil War photographers wanted their images to convey their own view of the war, its purpose, and its consequences. Weaver’s above-shown image from his “Photographs at Gettysburg” collection was taken on November 11, 1863, long after the Union dead were initially interred, then reinterred, and just eight days before President Lincoln delivered his now iconic “Gettysburg Address” at the dedication of the new Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Although Weaver couldn’t possibly have known what Lincoln would say in the cemetery, nor anticipate the enormous staying power of those words when he initially staged this image, the photograph visually came to demonstrate the powerful message of Lincoln’s speech: Brave and devoted Union soldiers here gave their lives by the thousands in sacred sacrifice to preserve freedom and the “last best hope” for democratic government; the American people could not possibly let such sacrifices be in vain. Whether it was executed with or without artistic integrity, and even though Weaver may have initially staged the photo for mere “shock and awe” value as a “collector’s item” from the great battlefield at Gettysburg, the image became widely popular in the wake of Lincoln’s address.  Thus, Weaver’s photograph added not only to the general public’s understanding of the immense human carnage wrought by the Civil War, but also to the larger meaning of the human sacrifices made in the name of some of the most cherished political ideals over which any men, anywhere, ever fought.

Photographer William H. Tipton also played a crucial role in portraying the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg. Born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he studied photography from the early age of 12 with Charles and Isaac Tyson, both of whom were some of the first photographers to capture images of the Gettysburg battlefield. After the epic three-day collision ended on July 3, 1863, Tipton allegedly helped renowned photographer, Mathew Brady with capturing some of the most iconic images of the battlefield. Tipton became known for his landscape images, but his photographs of the battlefields of Gettysburg, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Spotsylvania remained his most famous.

“The Implements of Modern Warfare” (front), copyright 1876, by William Tipton.
(Courtesy of Ron Perisho)
Definitions of the “Implements of Modern Warfare” (back of photoprint).  (Courtesy of Ron Perisho)

This Tipton stereo view photograph card, “Implements of Modern Warfare,” stands out among Tipton’s other photographs for its unique display of 50 diverse artillery and mortar shells collected from the Gettysburg battlefield, as well as a chair used by Union General George Meade during the battle, and a musket (right of cabinet) used by local hero, John L. Burns. Burns was a veteran of the War of 1812 who, at 69 years old, became a volunteer civilian combatant at Gettysburg when he grabbed his old 1812 musket and ran to the front lines to help stave off the Confederate advance on July 1. He was wounded but survived to become both a local and national icon. On the back of the card, Tipton identified each artifact and piece of ordnance, including where it was found and its weight. The Civil War saw many advances in weaponry and manufacturing, hence its reputation for exceptionally bloody and brutal combat for that time. Muskets, rifles, and artillery became more accurate and more deadly. By highlighting many of the types of ordnances and materiel employed to facilitate such death and destruction in the neatly aligned rows of a well-organized cabinet, Tipton has transformed his war narrative from one focused on graphic human suffering to a fascinating, almost trivia-esque inventory of the tools of modern warfare. The contrast between the organized display and the bedlam caused by these implements’ bombardments and barrages evokes a jarring, yet necessary distance between the actual victims of war and passive audiences on the home front—a distance reassuringly mediated by allusions to some of the surviving, grand heroes (national and local) of the battle whose related relics sit, stoically, in the forefront of the display.

Shells and ammunition like the fifty implements displayed in the above image manufactured war scenes and facilitated the crafting of photographers’ own personal or cultural narratives about the war just as Weaver’s image of the fake dead soldiers did. Both seek to appeal to a curious public which consumed news, imagery, artifacts, and even their own visual “memorabilia” of the war at a sometimes-insatiable rate from which photographers such as Weaver and Tipton sought to profit. And, though Weaver’s photograph does not truly depict the dead of Gettysburg, when paired with Tipton’s image, the two images powerfully showcase, for easy commercial collectability, both the implements of modern warfare and their consequences. Furthermore, such images provided these two native sons of greater Gettysburg with a means to craft unique, individual narratives about the national meaning and cultural legacies of the battle that left lasting scars on their local community.

Works Referenced

Frassanito, William A. Early Photography at Gettysburg. Gettysburg, Pa: Thomas Publications, 1995.

 Tipton, William H., Timothy H. Smith, and William A. Frassanito. Gettysburg’s Battlefield  Photographer: William H. Tipton: Selected Images from the Collections of the Adams County Historical Society. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Pub., 2005.

“The Case of the Moved Body:  Does the Camera Ever Lie: Articles and Essays: Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints: Digital Collections: Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress. Accessed March 22, 2022.     negatives/articles-and-essays/does-the-camera-ever-lie/the-case-of-the-moved-body/

Shooting Soldiers: Civil War Medical Photography by R.B. Bontecou

By Lauren Letizia ’23

This semester, CWI Fellow Lauren Letizia ’23 is analyzing the numerous roles, cultural significance, and lasting impacts of a cross-section of Civil War photographers upon American society. While some may be familiar to avid readers of Civil War history, others represent lesser-known, but equally as important photographers whose methods, mediums, and end-products helped shape the way Americans understood and made meaning out of the war’s swath of destruction and those who participated in it. We are delighted to share her first piece in this series with you!

The CWI would like to express enormous thanks to Ron Perisho for his generosity in sharing the majority of the images featured in this mini-series, as well as the invaluable sources and insights he has provided to make this blog series possible!

On June 16, 1864, during a speech in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, President Abraham Lincoln stated to the gathered crowd, “War at the best, is terrible, and this war of ours, in its magnitude and in its duration, is one of the most terrible.” When the war drew to a bloody conclusion a little over a year later, the United States had to contend with not only 700,000 dead, but millions of wounded and maimed soldiers. As the development of weaponry progressed, soldiers had received wounds of even greater magnitude. Clinical Union photographer, Dr. Reed Brockway Bontecou captured the horrifying, grisly, and gruesome physical wounds of the war. Using a purely medical and realistic approach to his photography, Reed shared a horrid glimpse of war that was not always as directly presented by the gallery photographers of the period.

The Civil War was the first sustained conflict to be documented through photographs in American history. Famous photographers such as Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner, and Timothy O’Sullivan dropped the destruction and casualties of the war on Northern civilians’ doorsteps by publishing their photographs in newspapers, galleries, and selling prints for profit. Often, Brady and others would stage their scenes for specific cultural or political purposes by moving bodies or asking surviving soldiers to play dead. The medical photographs of R.B. Bontecou include none of these tactics. Instead, they portray the atrocities of the Civil War as plain and unfiltered as if one is in the room with these wounded soldiers.

Dr. Bontecou was the Surgeon-in-Charge of the Harewood U.S. Army General Hospital in Washington, D.C. He is credited with taking the largest number of photographs of wounded soldiers during the war. Afterward, he donated many of his photographs to the Army Medical Museum and published some of them in medical journals. For Bontecou, his personal and intimate knowledge of these patients’ maimed bodies made their grievous wounds not subjects to appease the public’s morbid curiosity about war, but rather important case studies through which other medical professionals might learn to treat, and perhaps save the lives of, future wounded soldiers. However, in disseminating his images to medical museums and journals, he joined a cadre of other medical photographers who would also, perhaps unintentionally, disperse their records and accounts to the civilian public. Many doctors took photos of their wounded soldiers, and some even sent amputated limbs to other institutions for further study and display. Although such actions were largely undertaken to further the field of medicine, the ensuing commercialization and public showcasing of those soldiers’ most private and grievous wounds would unintentionally dehumanize the young men, turning them into mere case studies and/or helpless subjects, shockingly exposed to the gawking public, rather than medical patients entitled to their privacy and dignity. The original purpose of the photos was to document the pre-and post-operative progression of Bontecou’s patients. Often, each image was labeled with the soldier’s name, regiment, wound, where the wound occurred, and his current condition. He also treated many soldiers who suffered from gangrene or other viral diseases. Bontecou wanted to use the grim photographs to teach other physicians how to care for war wounds and other camp diseases. After the war, he organized his photo into albums, categorizing each by which body part was wounded (from head to foot), and then alphabetized the patients’ names, creating a novel “catalogue” of the medical consequences of warfare.

Though Bontecou’s images were not developed as art or as a cultural statement about the Civil War intended for the gawking eyes of public consumers, they are expertly posed and positioned for a public audience. The soldier is often seated in a chair in front of a blank background while holding a chalkboard with his name and regiment. He stares directly at the viewer with a blank, sober expression. The photographs were published as cartes de visite (CdV), making them easy to produce and display multiple images at a time. Bontecou’s collection of wounded soldiers’ photographs was not replicated in accuracy and artistry until the latter years of the First World War. Because of Bontecou’s work, he transformed clinical and medical photography into an unintended but invaluable art form, one that can truly bring the grotesque consequences of war to the home front.

David R. Templeton- Co. A, 46th NY Regiment
“Age 16, was admitted to [Harewood Hospital] April 5th 1865, with gunshot wound of the head. Ball hit left temple, just back of outer angle of eye, grazing malar bone and eyeball, destroying sight; passed off producing flesh wound of the tip of the nose. Was wounded at Petersburg April 2nd 1865. He is now well, June 1st, 1865.”  -Description by R.B. Bontecou  
Charles Harris- Co. A, 31st US Colored Troops (New York)
Private Charles Harris was 24 years old when he was wounded at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg on July 30, 1864. He was shot in the right leg and the left ankle. He was a soldier in one of the specially trained USCT units ordered to attack Confederate forces after the explosion that created the infamous crater. In Harris’ regiment, the 31st NY, 54 were wounded, 31 were killed, and 13 went missing in action. He was discharged from Harewood Hospital on 1 December 1865.

Capturing Chaos: The Myriad Roles and Lasting Impacts of Civil War Photographers

By Lauren Letizia, ‘23

This semester, CWI Fellow Lauren Letizia ’23 is analyzing the numerous roles, cultural significance, and lasting impacts of a cross-section of Civil War photographers upon American society. While some may be familiar to avid readers of Civil War history, others represent lesser-known, but equally as important photographers whose methods, mediums, and end-products helped shape the way Americans understood and made meaning out of the war’s swath of destruction and those who participated in it. Stay tuned for her three comparative blog profiles highlighting the lives and works of some of these fascinating individuals! 

The CWI would like to express enormous thanks to Ron Perisho for his generosity in sharing the majority of the images featured in this mini-series, as well as the invaluable sources and insights he has provided to make this blog series possible!

In his famous book, Specimen Days, Civil War field hospital assistant-turned-writer, Walt Whitman wrote that “the real war will never get into books.” After four years of bitter conflict, millions of dollars of destruction, 700,000 soldiers dead, and millions more wounded, the United States knew that theirs was an experience that was brutally new to the land of proclaimed freedom, liberty, and pursuits of happiness. Though many tried, words and written recollections or reports struggled to capture the scope of grief and horrific bloodshed stretching from south-central Pennsylvania to Texas. Partly considering this new reality, the American public turned to the newly blossoming and unique medium of war photography.

Though photography existed prior to the Civil War, the war was the first conflict in which photography was a main documentary tool to chronicle the devastating epoch. Photographers would brave the gory aftermath of grim battlefields and establish themselves within military encampments to capture the true face of the war. Many of these photographs were then translated into engravings or sketches and printed in newspapers, hung in original form in galleries, or sold for commercial benefit in small print form to a curious public. Never had images of war causalities, razed towns, or other forms of human suffering of the frontlines been distributed to the home front. Many of these photographs countered the Victorian idea of romanticized battlefield assaults or glorious charges and good deaths, stripping American society of the civilian naivete towards combat. Some of the most iconic pioneers of this new industry were Mathew Brady, Timothy O’Sullivan, and Alexander Gardner, who would ultimately gain a significant following and great acclaim for their images. Surprisingly, they were met by a largely receptive audience that desired to view the scourge of war in all its gloom and gore. (It should be noted, however, that many of the original images were often “sanitized” in their transposition into the engravings and sketches that made the major newspapers, while other images were carefully doctored to present a certain narrative of the war which, while clearly grim, still sought to fit within certain acceptable tropes of nineteenth-century sentimental culture in order to appease a paying viewership). Several photographers, most notably Alexander Gardner and Mathew Brady, also set out to capture–and succeeded with great fanfare–the official presidential portraits of Abraham Lincoln and the official military portraiture of iconic generals such as Robert E. Lee and others that still dominate that public consciousness.

Ironically, despite his own severe visual impairment, Mathew Brady’s collection of photographs from the fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania made him a household name. His images were extremely popular in metropolitan galleries in New York, and later, in Washington, D.C. His first series, “The Dead of Antietam” shocked the American public, as it was the first such visceral representation of the war dead to meet Northern civilians’ eyes. However, despite their relative popularity, his photos did not sell nearly enough for a sustainable income, and Brady was forced to eventually declare bankruptcy. In 1875, the federal government obtained Brady’s Civil War negatives for $25,000. Alexander Gardner, a Scottish-born former assistant to and protégé of Brady, likewise struggled with financial insecurities (as well as how to carve out an independent identity from his former boss), but managed to produce some of the most iconic shots of the war, including the last posed photograph of Lincoln in February of 1865, images from his funeral and the hanging of the conspirators, as well as his famed (though pricey) “Photographic Sketch Books of the War,” published in 1866.  Adding to the financial troubles of Brady, Gardner, and their peers was that fact that, both during and after the war, local photographers such as Gettysburg’s own Isaac and Charles Tyson, William Henry Tipton, and others would often supplement their own collection of self-captured negatives by copying the prints of Brady or Timothy O’Sullivan’s images and selling them to tourists and other curious Americans eager to have a memento of America’s deadliest war. These relatively inexpensive “knock-off” prints padded the pockets of local photographers but did little to sustain the fortune of the original photographer himself. Brady’s and Gardner’s financial struggles were not unique to Civil War photographers. Many of them failed to create a stable income, while others often died relatively young from long-term exposure to the chemicals used to develop their photographs.

 Interestingly, despite the seemingly genuine and realistic nature of these photographers’ wildly popular images, many Civil War battlefield photographers staged their famous images. Some even asked surviving soldiers to play dead in sunken roads or on rocks to manufacture riveting images. Other photographs, such as Gardner’s well-known image of the dead Confederate sharpshooter at Gettysburg, were shot by moving bodies to different locations or positions. However, regardless of these questionable maneuvers, these well-known images, as well as other not so famous photographs, allowed civilians to view the ramifications of war in vivid display and in copious amounts, shaping their conceptions not only of warfare but also of the evolving meanings of death, suffering, and sacrifice 

Civil War photography was also used for more practical military and medical purposes, such as the documentation of wounds and medical treatments, military engineering practices (made famous by Union engineer A.J. Russell), and the organization of topographical information. However, after the war, even some of these more “pragmatic” photographs would be released to the public and showcased in museums and galleries.  Photographers with both Union and Confederacy loyalties were active in the field. For instance, George Barnard of Mississippi and Connecticut transplant George S. Cook photographed the war from the Southern perspective starting from the beginning of the war. Yet, the most well-known images and their photographers hailed from the North, with many early apprentices and protégés of Brady and Gardner, such as John Reekie and James Gibson, blossoming during the latter part of the war.

“Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar (Broad and Legare Streets) Destroyed in the Fire of December 1861.” Charleston, SC, George Barnard
Pontoon Bridge built by USMRR in Construction Corps in Belle Plain, VA. Published in May 1864, A.J. Russell

The actual task of capturing battlefield and war photographs was not an easy endeavor. Photographers had to carry their cumbersome equipment, including their darkroom, as well as their sensitive chemistry through tough terrain by horse-drawn wagons. These challenging conditions made the actual development process of photographs exceedingly difficult, as the prints were extremely light sensitive and the dirt, debris, and weather anomalies photographers faced on the road and out into the field complicated the process at every turn. At the beginning of the war in 1861, photographers used a method called wet-plate photography, which chemically coats an image onto glass with a chemical called collodion. It was time-consuming work, as the chemicals were mixed and applied by hand. The negatives of the images needed 5 to 20 seconds of stationary light exposure. Hence, there are no action photographs of the Civil War.

“The Sick Soldier” (1863), Mathew Brady
Wounded Union Zouave soldier in Confederate hands.

However, as the years progressed, photographers began to develop new ways to view images. One of the most influential methods was the printing of photographs in stereo view. These were three-dimensional images that were captured by a twin-lens camera that shot a photograph with two separate lenses. This methodology mimicked the way in which the human eyes see the same image from different angles of the head. The images were then developed using the wet-plate process. Once this step was completed, the photographer would put the two stereo images on a viewing card, known as a stereograph or stereo view card that could be inserted into publicly available viewers to create a 3D image. Additionally, in the later years of the war, a process called albumen printing was the dominate form of photographic development. This included the soaking of paper in fermented chloride and egg white, letting it dry, then soaking the paper in a solution of silver nitrate. The paper would then be placed in a frame directly touching the negative of the image. It was then dried using sunlight.

One of the most popular forms of photographic publication and printing was the Cartes de Visite (CdVs). A CdV is a photographic print pasted on paper to a larger card (2-1/2’’ by 4’’) They were mostly used in albumen prints since the 1850s. CdVs became incredibly popular during the Civil War, as they were cheap and easy for families and soldiers to carry in pockets or purses. CdVs were used to capture both portraits and battle scenes, which gave them a universal and accessible appeal.  As the war progressed, it became possible to print larger CdVs, such as those iconic prints of Atlanta after General Sherman’s march, portraits of President Lincoln, Lee, and other known generals and their staff.

CdV print of a young Union sergeant, Johnston Brothers Studio NY

The photographic advances of the 1860s and the novel ways in which photographers captured the Civil War ignited a new age for both the art and science of photography. Civil War photography went on to inspire scores of war-time photographers during modern wars such as World War II and Vietnam. The horrific scale and scope of the Civil War was, combined with the public’s desire for a wide-scale, so-called “authentic” and “genuine” record of warfare   popularized the photographic medium throughout the war years and well beyond.   As photographers found their niche audiences, be it within the circles of wealthy purchasers of the so-called “sketchbooks,” or amongst upper class socialites who craved the stereo views of the latest battle images for their parlor guests, the middling-class visitors to urban galleries, or the readers of major newspapers or collectors of cartes-de-visites, they continued to adapt their mediums to the scope and scale of the war. In doing so, they helped, in vital ways, to set the tone for the ways in which the war was presented to the civilian public (both national and international), and thus shaped, in no small way, the cultural meanings and enduring legacies of the costliest war of the nineteenth century.

Alexander Gardner’s Photographs of the Battle of Antietam (September 1862)
Top Image: “Burial Crew at Work”
Bottom Image: Confederate Soldier remains unburied beside a buried Union Soldier

Making Photographs Speak

By James Goodman ’20, Benjamin Roy ’21, and Cameron Sauers ’21

It has often been said that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Making that picture spit out those mythical thousand words, as we can all attest, is no easy task. Over the course of the first half of the fall semester, the three of us were tasked with developing brief interpretive captions for two Civil War photographs each, with the end goal to display our work at the Civil War Institute’s 2019 Summer Conference. What initially appeared as a simple project quickly revealed itself to be a difficult, yet rewarding, challenge that taught us all important lessons concerning history, photography, and writing that we will not soon forget. Producing the photography exhibit enhanced our skills as historical writers, introduced us to the challenge of writing for a popular audience, and deepened our understanding of Civil War photography.

Benjamin – The first image I worked with was taken by Alexander Gardner on the Rose Farm a few days after the battle. In the photograph, four South Carolina officers lay in a rubbish heap, set on the edge of the Rose property, far away from the home and outbuildings. In a grotesque state of bloat and mutilation, the four bodies are unidentifiable, which highlights the importance of the headboards that lay atop and beside the dead. The haphazard nature of how the bodies and headboards have been laid out offers important insights into the struggles of civilians after the battle. After the Battle of Gettysburg, civilians had to deal with mass casualties and the challenges it posed to their ideologies about death and warfare. Primary accounts from visitors to the Rose farm after the battle reveal that these four soldiers were likely originally buried near John Rose’s well. John Rose disinterred the four corpses in the image and relocated them away from his water supply to ensure its safety. Already swamped with some 500 dead scattered about his property, Rose did not immediately rebury them, but placed them alongside the rest of the refuse to be dealt with later. This was far from the proper 19th-century burial, which was a Christian burial effected by loved ones or comrades and culminating in a quiet, unassuming funeral centered on the memory of the individual. John Rose’s discarding of these attitudes, graphically captured in Gardner’s image, is indicative of how the horrors of war, exhaustion, and pragmatism came together in the decisions of civilians like John Rose that broke from strict 19th-century traditions for treatment of the dead.

My second image was another photograph of South Carolina dead on the Rose farm. Three rebel officers lay exposed in an incomplete grave. Horse-drawn carts on a sloping hill occupy the background and the bodies are slightly hidden by the walls of the grave, but viewers’ eyes are drawn to the headboards. 19th-century beliefs about death placed heavy emphasis on personal identification and the humanization of the dead. Comrades of the fallen sought to ensure a proper battlefield burial by identifying the fallen’s remains so that they might be retrieved, or even brought home for burial with all the correct ceremonies that 19th-century sentimentalism required. Although these dead soldiers were not buried by their comrades, nor were their graves mourned over by loved ones, the headboards and Gardner’s choice to feature them speaks volumes about the resilience of sentimental attitudes about death. The headboards and the identities scrawled upon them stand like lighthouses of sentimentalism amid a sea of the impersonal destructive forces of war. A 19th-century viewer could take this horror and comfort in equal measure in the image of these three South Carolina dead, knowing that although these men had died far from home and loved ones, they would be remembered.

Frequently while developing these captions, I confronted ideas about mortality and identification after death. The South Carolina soldiers must have confronted these questions regularly in the lead-up to their fate at Gettysburg. This same morbid reflection must have consumed most Victorian Americans, soldiers and civilians alike, as images like this hasty grave became commonplace and challenged some of their most cherished cultural tenets of death, as well as the meaning and cost of war. My thoughts also turned to the families of the soldiers, and what their reactions would be if they ever saw these images. Would they be outraged that their son had become the object of a northern voyeuristic curiosity? Working on these captions left me with more questions than answers. This project illustrated to me that it is impossible to comprehend all the questions these images ask, and that I can only provide the best answers from the sources at my disposal. Similarly, I may never fully understand the overwhelming experiences of John Rose in the wake of a great battle, nor how a broader northern audience made sense of the horror they confronted in the twin images of South Carolina dead from the Rose farm.

The three authors working with Ron Perisho, who generously provided the photographs for the project.

Cameron – For me, Civil War photography was what sparked my interest in the Civil War, so the opportunity to work on a photography-based project was truly an opportunity to relish. This project challenged me to look closer at these images and to dig deeper into the stories of the individuals photographed, both known and unidentified. The first of the two images that I worked with was from Alexander Gardner’s collection of death studies done near Devil’s Den. The image features one lone soldier lying on his back, with noticeable brain matter spilled out from his head and a posed rifle next to his side. The only background in the image is a rock. I had to piece together what I could about this individual: What unit was he from? When did he fall in the fighting? I only knew for certain that the soldier was a Confederate who died near the Slaughter Pen; everything else would have to be informed speculation based on Victorian norms.

At moments, it was emotional writing about the life of a soldier who might have been no older than myself when he fell in battle. When I finished the final draft of the caption, I went and found the location of the image. It was powerful and moving to visit the site of the image I had spent so much time with. That portion of the Slaughter Pen will never be the same for me when I visit the battlefield. Thinking about this image and all the other scenes from Gettysburg viewed by northern audiences who were so curious to catch a glimpse of the “real war” on camera, I wondered if they ever realized that the corpse captured in the image was someone’s loved one? Did they think about who this man was before the war and what led him to Gettysburg? Northern audiences may have seen the photo and thought they had experienced the war. Doubtless, the graphic image was profoundly troubling to many who held cherished ideas about the romance of war and the “Good Death.” Yet, as unsettled as these viewers may have been after gazing upon this gory image, the reality was that only those who participated in the fighting could truly understand the brutal experience of war.

The second image I worked with is a lesser known image taken by Frederick Gutekunst of a field hospital following the battle. The challenge of that image was an interesting juxtaposition to the other image. So much was already known about the numerous figures who appear in the image and who have published works about their experiences. Determining what narrative I wanted to focus on in my caption was difficult since there were numerous stories I could have honed in on. The experience of being able to explore the primary sources of individuals whom I had never previously considered, such as surgeons and nurses, provided a new depth to my understanding of the battle of Gettysburg and its impacts. The caption encouraged me to think about the experiences of those who were not traditional, rifle-carrying soldiers nor helpless civilians caught in the crossfire. They were humanitarians who willingly exposed themselves to danger to provide aid to soldiers on both sides of the battlefield. After the armies marched away, the army surgeons stayed with volunteer nurses to care for the wounded.

This photo also forced me to think more deeply about the specific message the photographer was trying to convey by depicting the hospital scene as he did, as well as the reaction he sought to provoke from his viewers. By photographing an array of tents and medical personnel milling about instead of the countless corpses lying on the battlefield, Gutekunst was trying to galvanize public support for Union soldiers and their caretakers: Many of Gutekunst’s images sought specifically to appeal to northerners’ patriotism as well as their purses in order to inspire civilians to donate money and supplies to the Union war effort. Such medical supplies and volunteers were essential to aid the brave wounded. By capturing the heroic surgeons and nurses, who stand in between the viewer and the gruesome scenes of a field hospital, Gutekunst showed the public the patriotic sacrifice of civilians, while sparing them the direct sensory affronts of the interior hospital scenes, in the hope that such an image might inspire others to similarly patriotic and self-sacrificing action.


James – This project presented a unique set of challenges for me. I tend to write in a leaner style and therefore needed to develop a more elaborate and interpretive writing style. I was also pushed to think more interpretively about my photographs, which had an extra layer of difficulty in that they were of landscapes, not people. I worked with two images photographed by Samuel Fischer Corlies, an amateur photographer from Philadelphia who did not arrive in Gettysburg until November 1863. The images I chose depicted destroyed landscapes at East Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill. In order to do justice to these photos, I needed to go beyond simply what was shown in them to what Corlies intended his audience to feel, including the pain felt by civilians and soldiers alike in the aftermath of the battle. Due to the lack of actual bodies extant on the battlefield by November of 1863, he allowed the natural landscape to speak for those impacted by war, with the scarred landscape embodying the long-lasting pain and destruction upon bodies, families, and livelihoods alike.

Corlies’s image of East Cemetery Hill depicts a war-torn, devastated landscape. The focal point was a trench dug by Federal troops, with pieces of lumber strewn haphazardly along the earthwork. The land around the trench, which was probably vibrant with healthy grass and vegetation before the battle, was desolate and trampled. Looking at the image, I could only imagine what the aftermath of the battle was like for the people of Gettysburg. The field in this photo looks as if it were completely destroyed. Huge quantities of earth were moved to create the defenses or for artillery fire. Crops were eaten or trampled by marching troops. With their homes, fields, and livelihoods ravaged and forever changed by the clashing of two great armies in July, the people of Gettysburg faced a new, somber reality. This point was even more poignant when I learned Corlies’s images were from November of 1863, four months after the battle was fought. At this point, the land was ripped apart once again as citizens of Gettysburg began exhuming the bodies of dead soldiers and relocating them to their final resting places in the National Cemetery or the South. By exhuming the soldiers’ bodies, the town essentially reopened its only recently closed wounds. It must have felt like the nightmare would never end, and yet that disruptive burial process, compounded by Lincoln’s address that same month, also sought to provide healing, comfort, and a higher meaning for the suffering endured by soldiers and civilians alike.

In the image of Culp’s Hill, Corlies again captured the battle’s long-lasting destruction. Culp’s Hill looks like a barren wasteland filled with the trunks of trees. The trees were either intentionally cut down to be used as defenses or fell victim to the Confederate attempts to take the hill. As with East Cemetery Hill, this devastation occurred on someone’s property. A private citizen was forced to clean up the carnage left behind. They saw trees that had been growing for decades cut down in mere hours. The image of bullet ridden and devastated trees on Culp’s Hill reflected a common sentiment in the Victorian Era to find human symbolism in natural landscapes, and in this case, compare the decimated trees to slain human bodies. As the trees were destroyed or felled in some way, it made sense that Corlies attempted to replace the bodies of soldiers that would have been present on the landscape months prior with these trees. It truly represented how quickly and deeply the battle’s destruction was inflicted on Gettysburg and how long it would take for the area to heal.


We have learned much from developing these captions. Our skills as writers have been keenly developed, as we confronted and surmounted the challenges of creating attractive and digestible captions for a public audience. Furthermore, we gained a deeper appreciation for an interdisciplinary approach to history, as it allowed us to make the unspoken contents of each photograph visceral again. As we struggled to piece together the background stories for these photos, we often wondered how future generations will view our own pictures. Will they get the story 100% right? Only time will tell. Our hope is that on this project we were able to successfully capture the stories that are represented in each photograph.

The Perfect Vessel of Grief: Women and Mourning Photography

By Savannah Labbe ’19

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Unidentified girl in mourning holding a picture of her father. (photo via Library of Congress)

After her father died, the girl in the photo above went through a highly ritualized and formalized process of Victorian mourning. This process radically changed with the invention of photography in 1839. Now one could record the grieving process, which is what the photograph above accomplished. The photograph is a typical mourning portrait, depicting the mourner (the little girl in this case), with the photo of her deceased loved one in her hands. Like so many other photographs, this one recorded the grieving process, allowing loved ones to keep a piece of that person even after their death. 19th-century photographs also were often used to capture images of loved ones while they were dying. Photography was particularly apt for this kind of work as it was seen as a vessel of truth, intimately connecting the past and the present. 19th- century Americans realized that photographs told stories like few other objects could, and they used this storytelling ability to convey their emotions surrounding mourning.

Queen Victoria, after whom the Victorian era was named, went into deep mourning following the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861. Although mourning was already an important part of people’s lives before Albert’s death, it became even more so due to Queen Victoria’s highly public and drawn out mourning process, which was aided by the invention of the photograph. Mourning was such an important process because death was a constant feature of life in the 19th century. Disease, an overall lack of understanding of how to treat illnesses, and poor sanitary conditions shortened the average lifespan to about fifty years old. Due to the constant reality of death, funeral and mourning practices became an important aspect of everyday life. When someone was expected to die, their house would be draped in black crepe to let everyone know the family was expecting a death. The family would often prepare for death by taking portraits of the dying person. These portraits would later be sent out as part of memorial cards, informing one of the funeral and providing them with a keepsake to remember the dead by. In addition, the family would often take photographs with their deceased loved ones, especially infants, to further commemorate their life and passing.

After the death, women especially became vessels of grief. Women were thought to be more emotional and sensitive, so it was particularly their job to express their emotions over the loss of a loved one. They wore black, as well as jewelry specially made for mourning which would include a picture of the deceased on it. It was also common to include a lock of the deceased’s hair in the mourning jewelry. The child in the picture above is already preparing for her role as a mourner, which would only become more circumscribed as she aged. She is dressed in all black, is wearing mourning ribbons, and holds a picture of her father, who died in the Civil War. Although she is young, she is already learning how one dresses, acts, and behaves while grieving, as well as performing a central part of the mourning process.

An integral part of mourning processes like the little girl’s was the mourning portrait. These portraits did not begin with the invention of photography. In fact, many portrait companies were created to produce lithographs of the mourning process, such as the company that would come to be known as Currier and Ives. These lithographs usually depicted women in full mourning next to a tomb, which was oftentimes topped with an urn. There also was usually a weeping willow and a church in the background. These images typically showed women in exaggerated poses of sorrow, draped over the tomb next to them. Women were in these poses because mourning was very public; one had to show they were deeply aggrieved by the loss of their loved one. If women did not show their emotion, it was thought that they were cold and uncaring about the death of their loved ones. Since it was women’s jobs to mourn and be emotional, not doing so would have been considered a social faux pas. However, a woman could not be too emotional either, as that would have been unseemly for an era which also called for personal restraint in public. Not only did they have to “perform” their grief, but they also had to record it. They would hang these lithographs, and later, photographs, on the walls next to a portrait of their loved one, forever immortalizing their loved one’s death and their own grief at the dead’s passing. The photograph of the little girl is a continuation of the lithography process in a new medium. Now all at once, the girl has a picture of her father and of herself mourning her father.

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A typical mourning print done by Currier and Ives. (image via Library of Congress)

Photographs radically changed the mourning process because people saw photographs as somehow more truthful and organic than other artistic depictions, such as paintings. While it is true that the process of taking a photograph was staged, the photographer still could only capture material realities. One could not just add things into photos that were not actually there, at least not in the 19th century. In addition, by staging the photos in a certain way, people felt like they were able to convey a deeper truth and reality, unlike they could in paintings. Victorian Era Americans also believed that by looking at a photograph of someone you could see into their soul and see what they were feeling at the moment the photo was captured. A photo could therefore authenticate a moment in history, which was why photography became so important to the mourning industry, so much so that people built businesses out of traveling and taking mourning photographs. Mourning photographs served as proof of the mourner’s deep sorrow, more so than a lithograph ever could. The girl in the photograph has a haunting expression on her face and she looks much older than she actually is. The photo served to capture her emotion and the fact that she was forced to grow up by losing a parent long before any child should. Her father will always be with her though, and will never be forgotten, as is evident by the way she clasps his photograph to her.

The photograph was also important in mourning practices because it could capture the visual attributes of the deceased, either in the process of dying, or just before. On the brink of death, people were supposed to be resolute and accepting of their fate and if their face showed this in the photograph, family members would know that their loved one was going to heaven. The photograph, therefore, became a vessel for memory and a way to remember a loved one. Before the invention of photography, people only had an article of clothing or a toy to remember the deceased by. Photography now allowed loved ones to have a memento of the loved one’s appearance, which played a role in both the public and private mourning process. The girl in the photo could always remember specific details about her father’s appearance or demeanor, as she had a photograph of him. In addition, her father’s death no doubt served as a political statement and evidence that he fought and died in the name of the Union’s just cause. Such mourning photographs of Civil War dead thus played a significant role in perpetuating key, familiar tenets of 19th-century sentimentalism—that death, and familial grief for a loved one served a higher, patriotic purpose in which those who were left behind should take comfort. Therefore, not only did this specific image allow the little girl to remember her father’s death; she could also remember how she herself felt after his death, as she also had a picture of the mourning process. The photo was a way of transporting her into the past to ensure that she would never forget her father, the higher purpose for which he died, or his guiding influence.

Mourning photography fulfilled similar needs for many other families of the deceased, especially during the deadly years of the Civil War. In this way, the technology of photography was able to radically and rapidly change the mourning tradition. People quickly noticed and took advantage of the capacity for photography to capture landmark moments in history by capturing “truth,” be it all natural or staged for even greater or “more truthful” effect. In addition to providing a window into 19th-century mourning practices, this photograph also serves as a testament to how technological innovations throughout history have helped to better connect past and present, and affect sweeping cultural changes.


Bedikian, Sonia A. “The Death of Mourning: From Victorian Crepe to the Little Black Dress.” Omega: Journal of Death & Dying 57, no. 1 (May 2008): 35–52. Accessed October 1, 2018.

Grootkerk, Paul. “American Victorian Prints of Mourning.” Southeastern College Art Conference Review 11 no. 4 (1989):276-283. Accessed October 1, 2018.

McConnell, Kent A. “Photography, Physiognomy, and Revealed Truth in the Antebellum South.” Southern Quarterly 52, no. 4 (Summer 2015): 32–53.

“The Custom of Mourning During The Victorian Era.” Nps.Gov. Last modified 2018. Accessed October 1, 2018.

A Beacon of Hope: Contraband Camps, Harpers Ferry, and John Brown

By Alex Andrioli ’18

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

Contraband Camp at Harpers Ferry, WV. Stereoview card. The 3-dimensional stereoview and other photography brought the reality of the Civil War into civilian homes. This stereoview shows the rag-tag conditions of a contraband camp, erected just a few yards from John Brown’s Fort in Harper’s Ferry. Courtesy of Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College.
Stereoviews were created by using a twin-lens camera that captured the same subject from two slightly different angles. The photographer then placed the two images on a stereoview card that could be inserted into a special viewer that merged the two images together and created a life-like, three-dimensional image. Stereoviews’ low cost meant they were an inexpensive way to insert one’s self into realistic three-dimensional scenes like the pictured contraband camp.

Continue reading “A Beacon of Hope: Contraband Camps, Harpers Ferry, and John Brown”

Images of Power, Images of War: Schmucker Art Gallery’s New Exhibit

By Laurel Wilson ’19

Bodies in Conflict: From Gettysburg to Iraq is a brand new exhibit in Schmucker Art Gallery at Gettysburg College. Curated by Mellon Summer Scholar Laura Bergin ’17, it features eleven depictions of bodies engaged in various conflicts in U.S. history, ranging from the Civil War to the war in Iraq. In addition to curating the physical exhibit found in Schmucker Art Gallery, Bergin also created a virtual version, which can be accessed online through the Schmucker Gallery web page. Of particular interest to those interested in the Civil War are two of the oldest pieces in the collection, a lithograph depicting Pennsylvania Bucktails engaging with “Stonewall” Jackson’s men and stenograph images that depict the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Stereoscope portraying the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
This stereoscope portraying the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg is featured in Bergin’s exhibit. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Bergin’s self-designed major, Images of Conflict, was the basis for creating the exhibit, and her interdisciplinary focus shines in the exhibit’s curation. Bergin focuses on both the artistic and historical context of each image, bringing to the forefront the emotions each image is attempting to convey to the viewers. She worked closely with her faculty mentor, Shannon Egan, director of Schmucker Art Gallery, as well as Carolyn Sautter and Molly Reynolds of Musselman Library Special Collections in order to gather pieces from the college collections for the exhibit. Bergin also wrote up short essays for each piece featured in the collection that provide historical context as well as her own interpretations of each piece’s meaning, which are installed next to each piece and featured in the exhibit catalog. Continue reading “Images of Power, Images of War: Schmucker Art Gallery’s New Exhibit”

A (Colored) Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

By Jen Simone ’18

I’ll admit it. I was the kid who always protested when my parents suggested watching a show that was in black and white, and I know I’m not the only one. When given the choice of watching a show in color or in black and white, almost everybody will choose. Why? Because it’s more realistic and relatable. For the same reasons, many photographs of the Civil War were colorized both then and now.

Photographs became increasingly popular during the Civil War and were no longer exclusive to the big shots, so many soldiers had their photographs taken for family members. To meet the need, there were an estimated five thousand photographers in the business.

In 1850 Reverend Levi L. Hill was of the first to claim that he could add natural colors to daguerreotypes, but for over five years he kept his process a secret. In the meantime, others were trying to catch onto this trend. Colorizing, though, is a difficult process to master. During the Civil War, color was added to sepia-toned and black and white images to bring them to life. The most common method for applying color to daguerreotypes was with a finely pointed camel-hair brush. One would use this brush to apply a dry powdered pigment to the surface of the photo, and then it would be coated with a solution of isinglass which made a thin, transparent sheet. Photos were hand-tinted, and therefore the process took much time. Results were often uneven, and the addition of colors could often hide the photo’s details, so the most transparent colors were most preferable. Continue reading “A (Colored) Picture is Worth A Thousand Words”

Find Your Park Friday: For the Love of Nature

By Jeff Lauck ’18

The Civil War Institute will be celebrating the National Park Service Centennial this spring with its brand new “Find Your Park Friday” series. Inspired by the NPS #FindYourPark campaign, the series will challenge our fellows to share their experiences exploring America’s national historical, cultural, and natural resources through trips and internships with the NPS. In our second post, Jeff Lauck discusses his passion for photography and the park that started it. 

Anyone who follows me on any social media will soon learn that I love to travel almost as much as I love taking pictures of the places I visit. From Chula Vista, California to Quoddy Head, Maine; Ramallah in the West Bank to the DMZ in Korea, I have been to many places in my less than 20 years of existence. Yet nothing has left more of an impression on me nor fueled my wanderlust as much as the natural beauty of America’s national parks. They are, indeed, “the best idea we ever had,” according to writer Wallace Stegner.

The author and his father at Glacier Point, overlooking Half Dome, during the author's first visit to Yosemite. Photo courtesy of Doreen Lauck.
The author and his father at Glacier Point, overlooking Half Dome, during the author’s first visit to Yosemite. Photo courtesy of Doreen Lauck.

My love of national parks began at a very young age. Lauck family vacations have always entailed some cross-country trek in the family minivan, stopping in small towns off the interstate to pitch up the tent while traveling thousands of miles from home. When I tell my friends tales of these legendary road trips, they marvel at how we kept our sanity while being cooped up in a car for 14 hours a day as we racked up miles on the odometer. While these trips were, admittedly, filled with temper tantrums and wrestling matches, the destinations–landscapes of mountains, valleys, beaches, canyons, and deserts– have made these trials all the more rewarding. Continue reading “Find Your Park Friday: For the Love of Nature”