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Negroes (Gwine to de Field), Hopkinson's Plantation, Edisto Island, South Carolina

Negroes (Gwine to de Field), Hopkinson's Plantation, Edisto Island, South Carolina

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Summary

In late fall 1861 or spring 1862, Henry P. Moore, a New Hampshire photographer, traveled from his home in Concord to make portraits of the Third New Hampshire Regiment in camp in Union-occupied coastal South Carolina. While in residence, he made some of the earliest and most poignant Civil War photographs of slave life in the Deep South. Moore focused on the changed lives of African Americans in the aftermath of the Union victory (navy and army) at the Battle of Port Royal, South Carolina, in November 1861. With the departure of their owners, plantation workers in Union-controlled areas were no longer slaves but, before the Emancipation Proclamation, not yet free. Moore made this well-published view of field workers on Edisto Island, where the Third New Hampshire had guard duty from April 5 to June 1, 1862. The former slaves now worked for their own benefit and were heading off in their mule-driven wagons to tend their sweet potatoes and other crops; within a year President Lincoln would give them their freedom.
Henry P. Moore (American, 1833–1911)

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.

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Date

1862
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Source

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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