President Lincoln on Battle-Field of Antietam, October 1862
From Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the American Civil War
Albumen silver print
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
The American Civil War attracted many photographers, especially on the Union side. Yet making photographs at the time was so slow and cumbersome that depiction of battlefield action was impossible; the photographers used view cameras and glass negatives that had to be sensitized and developed at the time each image was made. Therefore, although Alexander Gardner's albums include a few gruesome, and now famous, scenes of battlefield dead, much of the imagery presents views of significant buildings and landscapes where battles occurred. Interspersed are occasional camp scenes, like this one of President Lincoln meeting with General George McClellan at Antietam just two weeks after the historic battle there.
Alexander Gardner, the albums' author, began photographing the Civil War when he was working for the famous portrait photographer Mathew Brady (ca. 1823–1896), but a falling out over attribution induced him to set up his own competing business. In 1866, he published this two-volume album of one hundred photographs. He made the album with the help of others, including Timothy O'Sullivan (1840–1882), hoping to take financial advantage of public preoccupation with the war. Unfortunately, the set did not sell very well. Americans wanted to get beyond the war rather than reminisce about it.
Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) was born in Scotland and later trained as a jeweler. He immigrated to New York in 1856 and soon went to work for the photographer Mathew Brady (ca. 1823–1896), teaching him how to make salt prints and managing Brady's Washington, D.C. studio. Gardner left the Brady Studio in 1862 after a dispute over print attribution and copyright and became the official photographer for the Army of the Potomac under General George McClellan. Although he published over one hundred of his war views in Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the American Civil War (1866), the volume was not a financial success and almost bankrupted him. Gardner continued his documentary photography projects in his later life. In 1867, he was hired by the Kansas Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads to document the building of a rail route to California, and in 1868, he photographed the Fort Laramie Treaty Council where he was the first photographer to make images of the Plains Indians in their home territory. During the 1870s, the artist ran a photography studio in Washington, D.C., where he photographed members of American Indian treaty delegations.