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Quaker Gun, Centreville, Virginia

Quaker Gun, Centreville, Virginia

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description

Summary

The principal subject of this humorous view is a tree trunk expertly carved and painted by the Confederate army to look like a massive cast-iron cannon. George N. Barnard’s assistant stretches to fire the weapon known as a "Quaker gun" (it can never be fired, no one gets hurt). The photograph offers wry commentary on the nature of war and on the art of deception. At Centreville, Virginia, Union General George McClellan had been fully deceived by the Confederate fortifications and row upon row of "large guns" seen through the lenses of his ever-present field glasses, or binoculars. His Confederate counterpart, General Robert E. Lee, had far fewer weapons than McClellan, but he had outsmarted his opposite by designing and building his fortifications to appear at a distance far stronger and more dangerous than they actually were.
George N. Barnard (American, 1819–1902)

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.

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Date

1862
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Source

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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