Photograhic Tradition

Gardner Photoviews Click here to view

This modern-day view shows the spot where Alexander Gardner photographed the 'Dead In the Slaughter Pen Pond' (Pano 47) > More

Confederate Currency

It is thought that the first photographs of post-battle Gettysburg were taken some time in the afternoon on July 6, 1863, three days after the battle and two days after Lee's retreat to Virginia. The fact that it took so long to begin the documentation of this catastrophic event is almost incomprehensible to someone with 21st Century sensibilities. Even harder to believe is that certain parts of the battlefield, such as the famed Peach Orchard, escaped the camera's view until the eighteen-hundreds, - some twenty years after the battle!

Many people believe that the first photographer of the battlefield was Mathew B. Brady. Actually, Alexander Gardner and his assistants, Timothy O'Sullivan and James Gibson, got there first and produced what have come to be known as "the death studies". Many a Civil War fan can trace their fascination with the battle to a youthful, forbidden glance at the ghastly bloated bodies that Gardner and his team captured on film.

Brady arrived on the battlefield days after the bodies had been buried. His interest was in the most famous landmarks and panoramic scenes. All in all, before the end of 1866, Gardner, O'Sullivan, Gibson, Brady, and lesser-known photographers Isaac and Charles Tyson, Peter and Hanson Weaver, and Frederick Gutekunst took approximately 230 photographs.

Ironically, although the Tyson brothers owned a photographic studio in the town of Gettysburg at the time of the battle, they closed up shop and fled a few hours after the battle started. The Tysons didnít take their first views until weeks after Brady; nonetheless their work benefits from the fact that they had years, not days, to photograph the battlefield. Most of their views were taken between 1864 and the summer of 1866.

Frederick Gutekunst visited the battlefield just three weeks after the battle and took an extremely rare set of seven views. At the time the entire set sold for just $10. The Weavers took a few dozen views within a year or two of the battle. Like the Tysons, the Weavers concentrated on stereographic nature views of rocks and trees.

In 1868, Charles Tyson sold his entire collection of battlefield negatives, and his studio, to William H. Tipton. An apprentice of the Tysons at the time of the battle, Tipton went on to become the most important Gettysburg photographer of the late 19th century. He had a photo studio right in Devils Den and for years served as the official battlefield photographer. His work includes countless views of monuments surrounded by veterans and dignitaries. No group of tourists in the late 1800s would think of leaving Gettysburg without having Tipton capture their visit amongst the rocks of Devilís Den.

Ever since those first portable darkroom wagons rolled onto the battlefield, photographers have used every imaginable technique to express the inexpressible. Their work was originally published on stereographic slides, mounted prints, and carte de visite (small album cards). By the eighteen-eighties, technology had improved to the point that books of battlefield photographs could be published and widely distributed. Many states released memorial books including Tipton monument views, regimental histories and dedicatory speeches. These books offer exciting glimpses of what the battlefield used to look like behind the monuments.

In 1975 William Frassanito released his ground breaking book, "Gettysburg: A Journey in Time", the first serious study of the early photography at Gettysburg. Frassanitoís meticulous scholarship and his technique of re-shooting and comparing current battlefield views with historic ones continues to inspire generations of battlefield detectives.

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