Picturing the War

Alexander Gardner. Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (Washington: Philp & Solomons, 1865—66).
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Alexander Gardner was hired as an official Civil War photographer, first working under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Topographical Engineers, and later following General George B. McClellan and several other Civil War generals. Gardner would create an extraordinary collection of images, from scenes of everyday life in the camps to the devastation left in the wake of the War’s major battles.

Gardner’s Sketch Book of the War was published in two editions, one in 1865 and the other in 1866. The book consisted of two volumes of fifty albumen print photographs, each with a descriptive caption. Gardner’s work would mark the first time that any war had been so extensively documented on film.

Historians estimate that no more than 200 copies of the Sketch Book were produced. The small print run is largely due to the difficulty of mass-producing photographically illustrated books in the 1860s, before the advent of simple, reliable photomechanical processes. The set of two volumes sold for $150 (about $1500 in today’s dollars), a price that reflects the laborious production methods used to create the book. Because they were so expensive, many of the 200 sets did not sell when they were first published.

Gift of Thomas A. Mann ’64 and Diann Goodman Mann ’66

“President Lincoln on the Battle-field of Antietam.” Antietam, Maryland. October, 1862. From: Alexander Gardner, Sketch Book of the Civil War. Volume 1, Plate 23.

On the 1st of October 1862, two weeks after the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln visited the Army of the Potomac at its encampment near Harper’s Ferry.

Under the aegis of General McClellan, Gardner photographed the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. After Lincoln dismissed McClellan from his command that November, Gardner followed other Union generals, photographing the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Siege of Petersburg.

Gift of Thomas A. Mann ’64 and Diann Goodman Mann ’66

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