Bridge on Orange and Alexandria Rail Road, as Repaired by Army Engineers under Colonel Herman Haupt
This view by Russell documents the engine Fire Fly testing the stability of a new wooden trestle bridge built quickly by the United States Military Railroad engineers to replace a masonry bridge destroyed by the Confederates. Atop the box car trailing the engine is a pair of armed sentries; others are on the rail tracks and bridge foundation. The top-hatted figure in the foreground is unidentified, but he may be the photographer himself or a civilian railroad engineer working for General Herman Haupt, commander of the United States Military Railroad. President Abraham Lincoln was so impressed with Haupt’s work that on May 28, 1862, he observed: “That man Haupt has built a bridge four hundred feet long and one hundred feet high, across Potomac Creek, on which loaded trains are passing every hour, and upon my word, gentlemen, there is nothing in it but cornstalks and beanpoles.”
Andrew Joseph Russell (American, 1830–1902)
Hundreds of photographers whose names may never be known made their living following the armies during the Civil War. They worked out in the field tents and traveled at a moment’s notice. Photographers recorded the faces of tens of thousands of soldiers: new recruits and veterans—producing a vast likeness of American society. Many Civil War photographers began their careers as apprentices to Mathew B. Brady, America's self-appointed photographic "historian." Initially, a small corps of photographers copied maps and charts for the Union's Secret Service, which were distributed as photographic prints to both field and division commanders. During the Civil War, most photographers worked with the collodion-on-glass negatives, which required delicate and laborious procedures even in the studio. When the photographer was ready for action, a sheet of glass was cleaned, coated with collodion, partially dried, dipped carefully into a bath containing nitrate of silver, then exposed in the camera for several seconds and processed in the field darkroom tent--all before the silver collodion mixture had dried. Given the danger of their situation and the technical difficulty of their task, front-line photographers rarely if ever attempted action scenes. Civil War photographers produced vast photographic documentation of the Civil War. Despite decades of painstaking research by dedicated historians and Civil War buffs, a large number of the era's photographs remain unidentified.