June/july 1981 | Volume 32, Issue 4
A haunting portfolio of newly discovered Civil War photographs
Shortly after the turn of the century, the historian Francis Trevelyan Miller began writing collectors, photographers, historical societies, and retired military men asking for photographs of the Civil War. In many cases he asked too late; a Mr. Bender, for instance, who owned over one hundred thousand glass plate negatives, had scraped the images off them in order to sell the glass to gauge makers. Nevertheless, Miller and his associates turned up enough fine material to publish, in 1911, their Photographic History of the Civil War . With much of its text written by men who fought in the war, and its thousands of photographs reproduced from original prints, this magnificent ten-volume work has remained unsurpassed for seventy years. But those seven decades have seen more and more pictures of the conflict come to light, and six years ago William C. Davis, backed by the National Historical Society of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, under-took the daunting project of assembling a photographic history worthy of standing beside Miller’s. Seeking new material, Davis’ researchers traveled more than thirty thousand miles and combed upwards of one hundred thousand photographs. The result is The Image of War , whose six volumes—to be published by Doubleday over the next three years—will contain some four thousand photographs, all taken from original prints or negatives, and more than half of them reproduced for the first time. To mark the launching of this massive enterprise, the editors of A MERICAN H ERITAGE have selected a representative sampling from the first volume, Shadows of the Storm . Many are dim, and some are badly damaged, but together they give us a haunting glimpse of ante-bellum America, and let us follow the men of the brand new armies—eager, bloody-minded, still clumsy with their weapons—into the cauldron of battle.