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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Lincoln at Antietam; Alexander Gardner albumen image; Oct. 1862; 9 inches by 6.75 inches sold for $19,120. Photo courtesy of Heritage Galleries & Auctioneers.
When the smoke cleared and the sun finally came up more than 22,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded or captured in the Civil War battle at Antietam Creek in 1862.

Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s aide described the site as a field of blood. He said he could feel his horse trembling under him as the animal looked down at the ground in terror. Afraid to stand still, hesitating to go on, the horse’s instinct simply froze at the site of so much human carnage.

Both armies were worn and marched out. Every farmyard and haystack had become a hospital. News of the slaughter spread fast. Families showed up hoping to find their loved ones alive or claim their dead.

The Confederates finally retreated across the Potomac. But despite all the bloodletting, the Yankees failed to capture the decisive victory Lincoln desperately wanted at Antietam.

Lincoln decided to visit the battlefield in person and hear the details of the recent fight. What he really wanted was to get Gen. McClellan moving again.

McClellan had balked at Lincoln’s written appeal.

“Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing,” Lincoln wrote. “If we never try, we shall never succeed.”

Lincoln was getting tired of the reluctant army commander and his excuses for remaining in camp. He wanted McClellan to pursue the Rebels into Virginia.

The troops were camped near Harper’s Ferry in Maryland. Lincoln arrived and toured the battlefield for four days. Dressed in his black suit and high plug hat Lincoln passed through the lines, reviewed the troops and never said a word to them. One soldier described him as having a kindly, anxious face, furrowed with care and anxiety.

Photographer Alexander Gardner was also at Antietam taking pictures of the dead. A few weeks later he exhibited his work at the New York gallery of his employer Mathew Brady.

For the first time in history the American public looked at photos of corpses. The war now had a face. Gardner as the chief photographer at Antietam showed how photography could be much more than simple stilted portraits.

“Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war,” said one New York Times reporter reviewing the show. “If he had not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”

When the Civil War ended Brady realized the American public was tired of buying photographs of the bloody conflict. He spent his fortune on the project and fell into bankruptcy. Brady’s negatives were ignored until 1875 when Congress purchased the entire archive for $25,000. With all his debts Brady still died penniless in 1896.

Gardner opened his own gallery in 1863. After the war he continued to prosper with various projects. He also published a two-volume collection of one hundred photographs taken during the Civil War, titled “Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the War.”

Today Brady and Gardner’s work stands as the first extensive photographic documentation of war.

On Dec 1, Heritage Auction Galleries featured a selection of vintage Civil War photos and other assorted items in its Important Civil War Auction. Here are some current values.

Civil War

Lincoln; cabinet card photo; by M.P. Rice; from original un-retouched negative; 1864; $1,912.

Lincoln & Johnson Inaugural Ball Invitation; engraved on card stock; 7 .5 inches by 10.5 inches and 9.5 inches by 11.5 inches; $3,346.

Antietam Battlefield; pen-and-ink drawings; by Frank Schell; 1862; size range 8 inches by 5 inches to 12 inches by 8 inches; $11,950.

Lincoln at Antietam; Alexander Gardner albumen image; Oct. 1862; 9 inches by 6.75 inches; $19,120.

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