Gardner was an expert in the new wet-collodion-on-glass-plate process of photography and able manager of Mathew Brady's Washington, D.C., portrait studio from 1858 until 1862, when he had a falling-out with his employer. In November 1862 he formed his own company, taking with him many of Brady's best photographers, including Egbert Guy Fowx (seen nearby). Like Brady, Gardner and his corps produced a vast photographic documentation of the Civil War, a selection of which forms the basis of his landmark publication, Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866). Despite decades of painstaking research by dedicated historians and Civil War buffs, a large number of the era's photographs remain unidentified, including this fine portrait of four officers in the field. What is known is that the two men in the center wear forage caps featuring a round, sloping leather brim made popular by Gen. Irvin McDowell (leader of the Union troops during the first battle of Bull Run). The other men wear regulation U.S. officer's slouch hats.
Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821–1882 Washington, D.C.)
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.