Gettysburg: Artists, Photographers & Printmakers Tell the Tale

The following is a guest post by Helena Zinkham, Chief, Prints & Photographs Division.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought on July 1-3, 1863, at a small town in Pennsylvania. The fierce fighting was a major turning point in the American Civil War, with an estimated 50,000 casualties—dead, wounded, and missing Union and Confederate soldiers.

On the second day of battle, news artist Alf Waud portrayed a major Confederate attack by the Louisiana Tigers at Cemetery Hill

On the second day of battle, news artist Alf Waud portrayed a major Confederate attack by the Louisiana Tigers at Cemetery Hill. Drawing by A.R. Waud, July 2, 1863. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.21454

During the battle, special artists sketched action scenes for publication in illustrated newspapers that reached a large audience. Alf Waud, shown here, was one of the best and drew the next two pictures for Harper’s Weekly

Alf Waud, shown here, was one of the best special artists who sketched action scenes for illustrated newspapers. Photograph by Timothy H. O’Sullivan, July 1, 1863. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpb.00074

Artists, photographers, and printmakers all documented the battle, using their unique talents to help people then and now understand the conflict. Looking at all three types of visual documentation together raises appreciation for how images tell a story.  A set of pictures selected for the Flickr Commons represents:

  • The vivid immediacy of drawings by Alfred R. Waud, the newspaper artist who was on the scene for the whole battle.
  • A sense of realism  in the shots by such photographers as Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and the Tyson Brothers, even though they arrived after the battle ended.
  • The symbolic roles played by the iconic photographs of a dead sharpshooter and the commemorative prints.

Compare the two photos of a Confederate sharpshooter. Why was the body moved? What were photographer Alexander Gardner and his men trying to accomplish?

“A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep.” Compare the two photos of a Confederate killed at Gettysburg. Why was the body moved? What were photographer Alexander Gardner and his men trying to accomplish? Photograph by Alexander Gardner, July 1863. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12561

“Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter” has become an iconic representation of the cost of war. Two photos of this sharpshooter appear in the book, Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War, under different titles.

“Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter” has become an iconic representation of war. Two photos of this sharpshooter appear in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866), under different titles. Photograph by Alexander Gardner, July 1863. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12562

Photography of the battle site has remained popular for 150 years. News photographers covered the 50th anniversary reunion where both Union and Confederate veterans camped at Gettysburg in 1913. And, contemporary photographer Carol M. Highsmith has captured many famous vistas.

Clearly, Gettysburg is a landscape with ongoing meaning. (We’re hoping readers will share their photos of the battlefield with us on Flickr.)

Battle of Gettysburg

Battle of Gettysburg. Chromolithograph by Manhattan Art Co, 1898, after a painting by Paul Philippoteaux. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.02102

Learn More:

  • Look at hundreds of pictures related to the Battle of Gettysburg in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog
  • Study the ground-breaking photo history book Gettysburg: A Journey in Time, by William A. Frassanito (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975)
  • Read about the newspaper artists in Civil War Sketchbook: Drawings from the Battlefront, by Harry Katz (NY: W.W. Norton, 2012) and The Image of War: The Pictorial Reporting of the American Civil War, by W. Fletcher Thompson, Jr. (NY:  Thomas Yoseloff, 1959)
  • Visit The Civil War in America, a Library of Congress exhibition.
  • Orient yourself to the sequence of events with The Library of Congress Illustrated Timeline of the Civil War by Margaret E. Wagner (NY: Little Brown, 2011)

One Comment

  1. Carl Fleischauer
    July 3, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Thanks this this writeup and for the terrific set of selections for Flickr! As many readers know, “The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter” is famous not only as an evocative scene from the battle but also as a reminder of how the photographer Alexander Gardner staged some of his subjects. The Library’s American Memory offering includes a discussion of that (and one other photograph) in the special presentation titled “Does the Camera Ever Lie” (//memory.loc.gov/ammem/cwphtml/cwpcam/cwcam1.html). And if they didn’t see it, readers may also be interested to read the fascinating Washington Post article (Sunday, June 29, 2013) about William Frassanito, whose book is cited in the blog. Here’s a shortened link to the online version: http://wapo.st/17IwbqT. Best wishes!

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