White House Landing, Pamunkey River
This study of river steamers and barges moored at a Union Army supply base on the Pamunkey River in Virginia takes its name from a building, the "White House," that was nothing but chimneys in 1864. The site was selected by General Ulysses S. Grant as a depot to serve his army as it battled southward toward Richmond in early summer 1864. The elegant sidewheeler Wenonah survived the war and served for many decades as a passenger vessel on the Chesapeake. Timothy O'Sullivan was one of the many photographers who began their careers as apprentices to Mathew B. Brady in his Washington, D.C., portrait studio. When the early events of the Civil War suggested no immediate resolution of the conflict, O'Sullivan abandoned the gallery for four years in the field. He worked constantly, producing outstanding views of bridges, encampments, hospitals, and battlefields that he sent back to Washington, first to Brady and then to Alexander Gardner, whose studio he joined officially in winter 1862-63.
Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, born Ireland, 1840–1882)
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.