Period Photographs

The Living

Quite a number of people have been finding their way to Sickles' Hole though Yahoo searches on "Gettysburg photos," "Civil War Maps," or variations of the above. Thus, it seemed prudent to beef up my photos and maps. The maps I handled through the US Geological Survey. The photos come from the Library of Congress. While I've a handful Library of Congress images scattered about Sickles' Hole, these pages are primarily about strategy and terrain, not photography. If you are looking for a good collection of period Civil War photographs, definitely visit the Library of Congress. The Smithsonian Institute also has a formidable collection of Civil War photography, but their web presentation of these images is poor. There are fewer images, and the image size is small.

I am not a professional photographer. After returning from Gettysburg and downloading from my digital camera, it was often advantageous to trim the photo, sharpen the focus, and adjust brightness and contrast. Image size was reduced for fast download and to cleanly fit a VGA screen. After downloading the old images from the Library of Congress, there seemed a need to do exactly the same thing. The folks who took the originals were professional photographers, but they didn't have access to image editing software. They had to wash their glass plates with chemicals they mixed themselves at the scene, take the picture, then develop it within minutes. The "film" of the day had a shelf life measured in minutes, rather than hours. (Saving images on 3.5" floppy disks is really much more convenient.)

It is entirely proper for the Library of Congress to put images on the web which precisely duplicate the originals, blurred, low contrast, frayed edges, wasted space and all. They are professional historical types. It would be improper for them to cheat and pretty things up. I'm not a professional historical type, so I did cheat.

The pictures taken from the Library of Congress have a series of numbers and letters in the caption. For example, the gate house picture, below, is "cwp 4a39688." This is the digital photo ID. It might be helpful in finding a higher resolution version of the same image. However, once you find the Gettysburg section of the Civil War archive, listed under 1863, you won't have trouble finding these pictures even without the ID numbers.

The Cemetery Gate House cwp 4a39688

There seems to be a requirement for every book and web site dealing with Gettysburg to show the picture of the Cemetery Gate House...

Three Confederate Prisoners cwp 4a40909

This is the center of another often seen shot. While the Confederates generally marched light to improve speed, these three seem to be in no hurry to get to a POW camp. They seem to have loaded up with whatever clothing they could pick up. This photo is also often used to illustrate how informal the Confederate uniforms were.

After running this image through Photoshop's "sharpen" filter, an early attempt at special effects becomes obvious. This is not a single photograph. It is two photographs spliced together. Note the toe of the center fellow's shoe, his face, and the rail fences in between. While the subject was no doubt asked to remain still, the match isn't quite perfect, and the error occurred as much in the darkroom as at the scene. Given the exposure time, and the time it takes to load another plate in the period cameras, any notion that this is an informal candid shot should be dismissed.

Six Officers of the 17th New York Battery cwp 4a40138

While the Yankees were more military in their dress, note the varying styles of hats, footwear, and colors of the pants. It is said that in modern wars, the side with the less formal uniforms generally wins. Presumably, the guys in fancy dress are the imperialist oppressors, while the informal practical faction is fighting for a deeply felt cause which needs no embellishment. While the principle of the victors dressing informally holds true in the modern era, it is usually qualified with the phrase, "since the Civil War..."

John Burns, old hero of Gettysburg cwp 4a39690

When the armies came to Gettysburg, one of the local civilians picked up a rifle and joined in the fighting. This was an oft told tale in the days shortly following the battle. Gettysburg's other stories have since cast their shadow on John.

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