Brady's Civil Warby Webb B. Garrison
When, late in 1862, Mathew B. Brady posted a notice on the door of his New York studio reading, "The Dead of Antietam," it caused a sensation. It proclaimed an exhibition of photographs taken by him and his assistants of the aftermath of the bloodiest day in American history. It was the first time that most people witnessed the carnage of the American Civil War,… See more details below
When, late in 1862, Mathew B. Brady posted a notice on the door of his New York studio reading, "The Dead of Antietam," it caused a sensation. It proclaimed an exhibition of photographs taken by him and his assistants of the aftermath of the bloodiest day in American history. It was the first time that most people witnessed the carnage of the American Civil War, bringing home to them the terrible reality and earnestness of the conflict. In fact, the Civil War was the first to be covered in detail in photographs, and literally thousands of them were taken by Brady and his operatives operating out of New York and Washington, D.C. Before the war, photography itself was still in its infancy, but Brady forged a name for himself as a portrait photographer, choosing as his subjects the country's civilian and military leaders, and foreign dignitaries, and chronicling the nation's history as painters had done before him. As war loomed, Brady planned to document the war on a grand scale and organized a corps of photographers to follow the troops in the field. Spurning the advice of friends who warned him of the battlefield dangers and financial risks, Brady proved with his war scenes that photographs could be more that posed portraits. He established the craft as an art form, such that photographs credited to his studios have inspired countless photographers ever since. Brady Studio teams carried their cameras and darkroom equipment in horse-drawn carts around the camps and the battlefields, recording for posterity the commanders and troopers, the weapons, the pageantry, the triumphs and the suffering of the sick and the wounded, and sadly the death and sheer destruction in the citiesand cornfields during the war that pit American against American. For Brady himself, the war proved a financial disaster, and even the sale of his archive some years later could not save him from bankruptcy. In his final years, he said, "No one will ever know what I went through to secure those negatives." He died in 1896, penniless and largely unappreciated. It was not until decades later that his skill and artistry with the camera were acknowledged. Fortunately, many of his images survive, and Brady's Civil War presents a selected collection of them, highlighting their immense creativity and informative value for military enthusiasts as well as readers interested in the art of photography. The text, by Webb Garrison, a successful author on the wide subject of the Civil War, is in the form of incisive and explanatory captions, describing how the camera was taken to the battlefield to create the world's first comprehensive photo-documentation of war.
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The errors begin with the cover photo, misspelling famed Gen. Birney as a Gen. Barney. Then the copyists misidentify locations, equipment, scenarios, etc. For example one photo lists the artillery as 12 Pound Napoleons where as they are actually 32 pounder James Siege Rifles. I like the photo collection, however I wish the publisher used military authorities to edit the copy, where Mr. Garrison and/or his staff were not.
At first viewing, this book is impressive for quality of paper, photos and narrative, but when it comes to the degree of accuracy that is expected in a book of this type, it falls far short. How much Mr. Garrison's untimely death contributed to this is unknown by me, but, I imagine it must have had some impact. I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Frumerman that this book belongs in academic libraries...there are too many serious errors for that. Several examples will suffice. On page 44 Sgt Patrick Hogan of the 1st Vermont Cavalry is shown, with the notation that the photo was taken shortly after that unit arrived in Washington, D. C., in November of 1861. Since the gentleman in the photo is dressed as a company grade officer of the regulation of l872, its hard to imagine 11 years as being shortly after! Correspondents of 'Greeley's New York Herald Tribune' are shown in the field..but these papers were two separate entities; Greeley was only with the Tribune and hated James Gordon Bennett,founder, publisher and editor of the Herald..their editorial duels are classic and it is easy to imagine Greeley rotating in his grave at a high rate of speed over that one(in fact Greeley died shortly after he lost the election of 1872 to Grant, and the two papers merged sometime thereafter). Gen. George Custer is shown with his wife and 'an unidentified aide', but the 'aide' is Tom Custer, his brother, as may be confirmed in several other texts. In the famous photo of Lincoln with McClellan and his staff at Antietam, we see a 'bevy of brigadiers', but there are only two out of thirteen officers, the rest being two major-generals and nine field and company grade officers. These are only a few of the errors I have found, mostly with regard to officer's ranks, (it seems almost everyone in the war was a colonel, even naval officers) but some others are as outrageous as the photo on page 15, where Thaddeus Stevens is identified as having been beaten with a cane by Preston Brooks...this was Mass. Senator Charles Sumner, as every student in my classes should know,...that's why the event is called the 'caning of Sumner' not the 'caning of Stevens'. Unfortunately, these are only a few of the mistakes, both major and minor, that proliferate in this book, and while the general layout and quality of binding, etc. are very good, as academic material, it leaves a lot to be desired. A major revision is definitely required to make this the book it could and should be. Charles S. King, educator/civil war student and collector.