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Fatigue, Marching Order

Fatigue, Marching Order

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This hand-colored portrait provides a good look at the colors of war—at least as worn by the Union army. It comes from a set of photographs commissioned in 1866 by Montgomery Meigs, Quartermaster General of the United States Army during and after the Civil War. Known as "the army behind the army," the Quartermaster Corps is the army’s oldest logistical branch. Then and now it is charged with clothing, transporting, and sustaining large field armies far away from their base camps. Meigs understood the historical value of permanently recording the clothing (with accurate colors) and personal accouterments worn by soldiers and officers during the war. The portraits by Oliver H. Willard, still a relatively obscure photographer, all show the same soldier/actor wearing a wide variety of uniforms and posing with the tools and emblems of his service and rank.
Attributed to Oliver H. Willard (American, active 1850s–70s, died 1875)

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.





The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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