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Ruins of Mrs. Henry's House, Battlefield of Bull Run

Ruins of Mrs. Henry's House, Battlefield of Bull Run

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Summary

Despite their preparations, Mathew B. Brady and his corps of field photographers did not return with a single photograph from the war’s first land battle, at Bull Run, Virginia, in July 1861. And no Southern photographers are known to have attempted to photograph the battle preparations or aftermath. Won by Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the Battle of First Manassas (as it is still known in the South) was fought along a creek near the farmhouse in this photograph. Made eight months after the battle, this landscape by Brady operative George N. Barnard shows the ruins of Judith Henry’s house.According to contemporary reports, Mrs. Henry was an invalid octogenarian widow who, because of her infirmities, was unable to leave the site of the battle that took place surrounding her home along Bull Run Creek. By removing her to a gully nearby, her children helped her survive the first charge. But when the fighting increased in ferocity, they returned her to her residence, where she was later found dead of bullet wounds.
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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