The Dead of Antietam

Alexander Gardner
On either September 17th or 18th (the day of or day after the battle), cameramen Alexander Gardner and James F. Gibson arrived on the Antietam battlefield. For the next several days, they would record the most remarkable series of wartime photos ever captured: the scenes of conflict, death, and destruction in the immediate wake of battle. Smoldering ruins, dead horses, burial details and scores of dead solders provided the subjects that documented the nature of warfare like it had never been documented before. Only a few weeks later, Gardner would return to Antietam to capture another series of historic photographs: President Lincoln's visit to Antietam to see the battlefield for himself, and to confer with General George B. McClellan. With only minor exceptions, all the non-studio photographs of President Lincoln were taken at Antietam.

If the historic and photo journalistic nature of Gardner's Antietam series is not extraordinary enough, the fact that the bulk of these images were recorded in full 3 dimensional stereo makes them even more extraordinary. Using photographic techniques and equipment common for the era, a special camera which took 2 side by side images of a scene was used, resulting in photographic images which, using a simple viewer, documented the battle scarred landscape in a manner just short of actually being there. See how to view stereoscope images for more information on stereoscopic photography.

As stereo photography fell out of popularity in the beginning of the twentieth century, stereoscopic Civil War images by Gardner and others began to be published in books and journals in non-stereo format: that is, 1 half of the stereo pair alone. By the time of the rise of the 'mass media' of the late twentieth century, the stereoscopic nature of the most memorable images of the war had been all but forgotten, preserved only in collections of scarce, century old stereo cards and on even scarcer original negatives mostly in the care of the Library of Congress, not accessible to the public.

Fortunately, the overwhelming interest in Civil War imagery impelled the Library of Congress to reevaluate their collections, and undertook a major effort to scan all their Civil War images and make them available on the Internet. Although a small select set of these images were available in published form (see The Civil War In Depth and The Civil War In Depth Volume II), this was the first time very large numbers of Civil War stereoscopic images were made available. Many Antietam images not covered in Mr. Frassanito's book, including 1 remarkable death study, are collected here.

The scans of the images provided by the Library of Congress are, however, raw and untouched. Because of the nature of stereo cameras, the 2 images comprising the stereo pair are reversed: the left hand image appears on the right of the glass plate negative, and the right hand image on the left. This means a print from the original negative can't simply be placed in a Holmes style viewer; the pair must be cut apart and reversed. Furthermore, many of the original negatives are broken apart or damaged, the pairs being separated. In many cases, the Library of Congress has provided both halves of the stereo pair, even if the original negative is broken in half or if the 2 images come from different sources. In either case, the images must be resized to match each other, and reassembled. Lastly, many of the original negatives are cracked, broken, missing pieces or otherwise damaged. Flaws in the negatives resulting from the crudity of photographic technology of the era are also present. In short, the images provided by the Library of Congress need considerable manipulation and touch up to make them presentable. A means for displaying the images suitable for stereo must also be provided.

The Dead of Antietam gallery provides all this. All the available Antietam stereo images have been collected, put in stereo format, and retouched as best as possible. The images are viewed using a simple tool, The Stereoscopic Applet, which presents the images in a variety of formats. Viewing these images in anaglyph mode using red-cyan glasses give superb results. See How to View Stereoscope Images for information on the Stereoscopic Applet and how to get FREE anaglyph glasses.

Each image is accompanied by its original caption as presented in Gardner's catalog, brief explanatory notes where applicable, a link to the original image source, and an orientation map.

In some cases, the original negative of an image is not available, but a on-line version of a stereo card is, in which case the stereo card version is presented. Although of poorer quality and lower scan resolution, these images are provided for completeness.

Unless otherwise noted, the original research and placement of these images is derived from William A. Frassanito's Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America's Bloodiest Day. All modern Civil War photograph enthusiasts owe a great debt to Mr. Frassanito's work.

Note: Some versions of Windows require the absolute latest version of the Java Plug-in. If you are running Windows and are unable to view the applet assciated with each image, consider downloading the lastest version of the Java Run-time environment: goto the Java Download Page and download "Java Runtime Environment (JRE) 6u1".