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Scene of General McPherson's Death

Scene of General McPherson's Death

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description

Summary

George N. Barnard released this volume of views in November 1866, ten months after Alexander Gardner published his Sketch Book. Together, the two volumes are the foundational publications of nineteenth-century American photography. One is an amalgamation of photographs by multiple artists made over a period of four years; the other is the work of a single artist who followed the campaign of one general and his army in the final months of the war.On July 22, 1864, Union General James Birdseye McPherson was shot off his mount near the woods seen here. First in his West Point class of 1853 and keenly admired and trusted by General Sherman, McPherson was the only commander of a federal army during the Civil War to die in battle. Barnard constructed the photograph as a painter might, by manipulating the bones, trimming the foliage, and removing any distracting details that could interfere with the psychological meaning of a proper memorial portrait. The screen of trees became a simple but useful backdrop, a curtain for this minimal landscape of life and death.
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

1864
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Source

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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