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3-D Viewing for Civil War Photos

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This guest post is by Photography Curator Carol Johnson of the Library of Congress.

The sesquicentennial of the Civil War coincides with renewed interest in 3-D images for movies, cameras, and television. Although 3-D technology seems new, stereo photography first became popular around the time of the Civil War. In fact, many Civil War photographs were made specifically to be viewed in 3-D.

To bring the historical and modern 3-D methods closer together, the Library of Congress is featuring images of original Civil War stereographs in Flickr along with recently acquired digital anaglyphs made from several of the stereo views. Anaglyphs are those blurry images that pop into 3-D with the help of special glasses that have one red and one blue lens. The anaglyph below to the right shows General Ulysses S. Grant leaning over a bench to examine a map held by General George G. Meade at a council of war in 1864.

Courtesy HISTORY 3D: Civil War / Matt Raymond

In addition to anaglyphs, the Flickr set features rare stereographs printed on cards and some of the Library’s unique original glass negative stereo plates. The hand-colored card at the top of the page shows wounded Union troops at Savage’s Station, Virginia, after the Battle of Gaines’ Mills in 1862.

While 19th-century photographic technology could rarely capture action shots of the war, many stereos show the careful preparation for battles, the aftermaths, and close-up scenes in camps and forts. Now through digital technology, you can zoom in to see details. So grab your 3-D glasses, or cross your eyes to free-view in 3-D, and see what you can find hidden in the depths of these detailed photos.

To see all of the Library’s Civil War stereograph glass negatives, please visit the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. We’re also adding more stereograph cards each week until the whole collection is online!

And, don’t forget to look at the new collection of Civil War soldier portraits donated by the Liljenquist Family. The exhibition, The Last Full Measure, displays the original tintype and ambrotype photographs at the Library of Congress between April 12, 2011 and August 13, 2011.

The Library’s photo collections primarily document the Union forces because views of the Confederacy are scarce. Fewer photographers were working in the South and photographic supplies were very limited and extremely costly during the war.

The 3-D anaglyphs are being created and donated to the Library by Matt Raymond, its former director of communications.

Comments (8)

  1. It would be nice if the Library of Congress could have a traveling exabition of the collection of photographs, newspapers, and artifacts from the Civil War period that the Library of Congress has.
    I know of several people that are Civil War buffs.
    Rusty Grant

  2. A link here would be great to locate the special glasses. I see quite a few on Amazon, but I think a few sources from the Library would be better appreciated.

  3. The example image you have published above (courtesy of Matt Raymond an 1864 stereoview converted to anaglyph) is incorrectly transposed from the left and right images. They need to be swapped in order for the anaglyph to work.

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