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Robert McNamara

Photographs of Antietam

By September 17, 2012

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In the fall of 1862 the relatively young art of photography brought home the gruesome reality of war when an enterprising photographer spent a day taking photographs of Antietam just two days after the enormous battle.

Alexander Gardner, who was employed by photography pioneer Mathew Brady, arrived on the battlefield in western Maryland with his photographic wagon and an assistant on September 19, 1862. Soldiers were working to bury bodies, but many dead Confederates still lay on the field where they had fallen.

Gardner's photographs of dead soldiers were riveting. And they were also a milestone, as they marked the first time such horrors had been made visible to the general public.

When Gardner's photographs of Antietam were displayed at Brady's gallery in New York City the following month, the images were a sensation. Crowds lined up to see them, and a writer for the New York Times wrote an article vividly describing the impact of being able to see dead soldiers on the battlefield.

Gardner's Antietam photographs became iconic, and they are often what we think of when we visualize the Civil War.

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Photographs: Confederate dead at Antietam/Photograph by Alexander Gardner, courtesy Library of Congress


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