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Capturing the Civil War: The Photographic Record

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I am thoroughly impressed with the photographic record of the American Civil War. In my ongoing search for “primary sources,” I have been exploring the National Archives and The Library of Congress. The photographic collections at both are simply excellent. Long time historians in the field are no doubt quite familiar with these. For me, humble graduate student, these are a real find. And as we all know, this kind of photographic record sets the American Civil War apart from previous wars. Because I want to have easy access to photographs, I’ve created a photographs “category” on the right nav bar. The following are the best two sources I’ve found to date.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Selected Civil War Photographs[Charleston Harbor, S.C. Deck and officers of U.S.S. monitor Catskill; Lt. Comdr. Edward Barrett seated on the turret].[Charleston Harbor, S.C. Deck and officers of U.S.S. monitor Catskill; Lt. Comdr. Edward Barrett seated on the turret].
The collection includes 1,118 photographs of “scenes of military personnel, preparations for battle, and battle after-effects.” Both Confederate and Union soldiers of officer and enlisted ranks are represented. Also in the collection are albums of CDVs (carte-de-visite) – with over 200 visiting card photos representing a “who’s who” of the time of the Lincoln presidential administration.

Many of the photos have been attributed to Matthew Brady who supervised or collected them and showed – for the first time in history – the horrors of war. More on him in a future post. Amazing fellow.

The photo above was taken in Charleston Harbor, S.C. and is of the deck and officers of U.S.S. monitor Catskill; Lt. Comdr. Edward Barrett seated on the turret. It is categorized as “Photographs of the Federal Navy, and seaborne expeditions against the Atlantic Coast of the Confederacy — the Federal Navy, 1861-1865″ [Call Number: LC-B811- 3412].

The National Archives: Pictures of the Civil War
Photos in this collection are organized as follows:
Activities – Army Life, Army Units, Cavalry, Civilians, Communications and intelligence, Councils, Engineering, Foreign Observers, Generals in the Field, Medical, Morale, Navies, Ordnance, Photographers and Their Equipment, Prisoners and Prisons, Quartermaster and Commissary, RailroadsConstruction of telegraph lines 1864
Places – Battle Areas, Richmond, Va., Washington, D.C., and Environs
Portraits – Abolitionists, Artists and Authors, Confederate Army Officers, Confederate Officials, Enlisted Men, Federal Army Officers, Federal Navy Officers, Foreign Diplomats, Government Officials, Women

Lincoln’s Assassination

The photograph above captures the “Constructing of telegraph lines, April 1864.” It was photographed by Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Reference number 165-SB-62.
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Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

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The Siege of Charleston – The Stone Fleet

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“The Siege of Charleston” is a fascinating chapter in The Lost Cause: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (see previous post) by William C. Davis, and provides excellent information about naval operations in the area over the course of the war. I found of particular interest that Lincoln packed a couple of fleets of aged merchant and whaling ships with granite and floated them into the mouth of the harbor where he had them intentionally scuttled. The obvious intent was to foil those who would run the blockade. I found conflicting references as to the utility of the tactic. Davis indicated that the bottom was soft and so they sunk into the muck and accomplished little. But other sources indicate that the main channel off of Morris Island was blocked for at least some period of time. But that didn’t sufficiently slow blockade runners and so a second Stone Fleet was launched in early 1862 and its twenty ships sunk.

The good folks over at sonofthesouth.net have provided a copy of the December 14, 1861 issue of Harper’s Weekly which features a story about and a sketch of the fleet “as seen by the brig Castillian on Nov. 21.” Dubbed by Harper’s as “The Rat-Hole Squadron,” the story chronicles the sorted history of one of the whaler’s headed for the bottom.the-stone-fleet.jpg

Herman Melville’s poem titled “The Stone Fleet” published in December, 1861, names several of the ill-fated ships. You can read it in its entirety on Print Read. He wrote prolifically about the Civil War and this and other war-related works can be found in Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War.

Herman Melville

 Herman Melville

Harry Smeltzer over at Bull Runnings has pictures of the Charleston Harbor in a post on his blog that’s definitely worth a look-see.

Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree