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Civil War Through The Camera

The Civil War Through the Camera by Henry W. Elson, Professor of History, Ohio University. Published 912: Patriot Publishing Co., Springfield, Mass.

Described as “A Complete Illustrated History of the Civil War,” this book contains hundreds of vivid photographs taken in Civil War times.

Reading descriptive letters written during the Civil War by my 3rd great Grand Uncle is one thing. Actually seeing the battlefields and the destruction rendered is quite another.

What I like about this book is the fact that it was published closer to the event than modern books. Of course, I love old books, so I am more likely to search at Gutenberg for my historical topic than the local bookstore.

Whether you call it “The War of the Rebellion,” “The Civil War,” “The War of Secession,” or “The War Between the States,” these photos bring home all too clearly the bitter, gritty side of war.

The Union mustered 2,865,028 men according to official reports. In the Adjutant-General’s report after the war (February 7, 1869), 303,504  of these men died:

  • 61,362 were killed in battle
  • 34,773 died of wounds
  • 183,287 died of disease
  • 306 were accidentally killed
  • 267 were executed by sentence

Nearly a third of a million Union lives lost, on the battlefields, in the forests, under tents, in hospitals, or in prison. The number is mind boggling.

ConfWhile browsing the book I learned a few interesting things. Did you know a child was imprisoned in Washington, D.C.?

This is Mrs. Rose O’Neal Greenhow, the Confederate Spy, with her daughter in the Old Capitol Prison. She remained jailed there until April, 1862 when she was sent south of the lines of the Union Army.

I can’t help but begrudge her, considering the part she may have played in the war which contributed to my 3rd Great Grand Uncle’s death. But we must remember each side thought they were in the right.

20 gun

A 117,000 pound gun, the only 20-inch gun made during the war — the biggest gun of all.

It was made at Fort Pitt, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in 1864, and then put in Fort Hamilton, New York Harbor.

This mammoth gun was only fired four times during the war on account of the tremendous size and destructive effect of its projectiles. It was almost impossible to get a target that would withstand the shots and leave anything to show what had happened. Can you imagine sailing into the harbor and seeing that thing pointed at you?

Vain Ride

The caption under this photo says “A Vain Ride to Safety.”

The injured men were loaded onto this railroad flatbed car to be taken for help, since their comrades were forced to fight rather than treat their wounds.

Sadly, Lee’s forces fell upon the Federal rear guard, and instead of being transported to safety, they were railroaded towards the field of carnage. Their companions, of necessity, had to retreat, thus leaving them behind.

Louisa May Alcott

photo from Wikimedia Commons

Her [Louis May Alcott ] diary of 1862 contains this characteristic note: ‘November. Thirty years old. Decided to go to Washington as a nurse if I could find a place. Help needed, and I love nursing and must let out my pent-up energy in some new way.’

She had not yet attained fame as a writer, but it was during this time that she wrote for a newspaper the letters afterwards collected as Hospital Sketches.

All in all, a very enlightening, albeit sad, book about the Civil War. One hundred and fifty years later, we need to remember this part of our country’s history. Thanks boys — to those who returned home, and those who gave their lives for the cause.