The art of photography dates back nearly 200 years when men like Nicephore Niepce and Louis Daguerre (of Daguerreotype fame) were instrumental in establishing the art form in the 1820s and 1830s. In the early days of photography it would take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to properly capture the moment. As technology and methods evolved, photographers became more and more adept at their craft. The onset of the Civil War pushed photographers like Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and James Gibson to travel with the clashing armies in order to visually capture and chronical the war in ways that had never been experienced before. They built mobile dark rooms on wagons and were able to quickly (for the day) process their pictures and deliver them to their studios and to eager newspapers.
A New York Times article in October 1862 illustrates the impression these images left upon the American populace:
“Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along our streets, he has done something very like it…”
Technology has continued unabated over the centuries and decades since but, let’s face it, we live in a selfie world now. Most choose not to carry bulky cameras, instead choosing the slim, do-it-all, smart phone in order to capture all of life’s important moments. These moments are then often uploaded to an ever growing variety of social media platforms in order to check-in and tag each other to prove that we were there.
Yet, even with all our technological advances with cameras, smartphones, and editing software, we are still drawn back to those amazingly detailed original photographs taken between 1861 and 1865 – specifically those few dozen pictures that were taken of battle ravaged Gettysburg.
For many, these photographs conjure feelings of awe and amazement along with sadness and despair. These feelings are often magnified when people realize they can stand on the same ground – and see the same things – that Gardner, O’Sullivan, and Gibson did when they took their unforgettable images in July 1863. It is with these unforgettable photographs in mind, and a nod to the men whose timeless images evoke such strong emotions, that we bring you this post. This is our attempt to look back through the windows of time.
Imagine standing in the yard of the Trostle Farm just a few days after the battle. To your left stands their brick bank barn, recently damaged by a Confederate shell, and near where Union Maj. Gen. Dan Sickles suffered a severe leg injury that would require amputation. To your right is the Trostle house where numerous dead horses still lie in the hot July sun. The stench of their rotting flesh is unbearable. These horses are all that is left of the courageous stand made by the 9th Massachusetts (Bigelow’s) Battery on July 2. In an attempt to stave off the advancing forces from Kershaw and Barksdale’s Confederate brigades, the men of Bigelow’s Battery fought desperately before they were overrun and forced to retreat to Cemetery Ridge. Their sacrifice provided valuable time for Union reinforcements to form along Cemetery Ridge and helped thwart the Confederate attack in this area.
Now, imagine standing astride the Taneytown Road near the small house where Union Maj. Gen. George G. Meade made his headquarters during the battle. Late in the evening of July 2, Meade held a council of war to decide if the Union army should stay and hold their hard-fought high ground or abandon their position. The council of war decided to stay. Late in the afternoon of July 3, Confederate batteries concentrated their missiles on the center of Cemetery Ridge in an attempt to soften up the Union position. Unbeknownst to the Confederate artillerymen, their rounds overshot their intended targets and began to land around Meade’s headquarters causing substantial damage. Although the commanding general moved to a safer location, evidence of the bombardment is everywhere. The house and surrounding fences are all damaged and again, dead horses lay in various stages of rigormortis in the center of the Taneytown Road.
In the end, these photographers did bring “…bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along our streets…” as the New York Times article described.
These pictures of the Gettysburg battlefield are not the only local pictures that can bring a sense of awe and amazement to interested visitors. Taken nearly a century later, at what is now Eisenhower National Historic Site, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower were photographed thousands of times at their home and farm along the south-western corner of the battlefield. They relaxed at home, worked on the farm, cared for their livestock, entertained family and friends, and met with guests, politicians, and diplomats from around the globe. These pictures were taken in and around the only home that the President and First Lady ever owned together.
September 16, 1956 – During a press photo-op, Ike and Mamie posed with their grandchildren in their Crosley Runabout near the putting green installed by the PGA (Professional Golfers Association).
November 1967 – Dwight D. Eisenhower is seen exiting the front door of his home with the King and Queen of Nepal during their visit to the farm.
These four pictures are but a sampling that we have created for this picture-in-picture concept for both Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site. We will be releasing more of these pictures over the course of the next several weeks on our social media platforms. We will then make all of these pictures available on our websites as well.
Our websites and social media platforms can be found at the links below:
Gettysburg National Military Park
Eisenhower National Historic Site
Search #ThenAndNow to follow along via social media.
Jason Martz – Visual Information Specialist
Gettysburg National Military Park
I would like to thank Ali Wright and Grace Crawford, Visual Information Specialist Interns, for their fantastic picture-in-picture work.