Today I was asked why I’m so fascinated by the American Civil War. I’m not entirely sure of why it fascinates me so much. Perhaps it’s because it was the first war that was documented so thoroughly, particularly as photography was really coming into use by that time. Maybe it’s because I feel a deep connection with the USA, always have, and it’s an event in American history that really shaped the country and it’s people. And also I think it’s a war that wasn’t fought by two very different peoples, it’s a war that was fought by the same people against each other. Brothers, fathers, sons, cousins, friends, colleagues… all fought each other on opposing sides because they made the choice to follow what they believed in.

I have another friend who suggested that perhaps I have been reincarnated from that time. She thinks that perhaps I was a Southerner, as I’m so sympathetic to the South (while also understanding that they had some major injustices going on down there) and have a deep admiration of General Robert E Lee.

Mostly I think it’s painted heavily as a “good vs bad” scenario, but it’s not really that clear cut. Yes, one side had slavery and the other didn’t, but there were many on the North who had no issue at all with slavery themselves, and the majority of those that fought for the South were not slaveholders, and were not fighting for the right to hold slaves, but to protect their homes, and the right to secede from the Union. Slavery was an issue of course, but it wasn’t the only issue.

Abraham Lincoln himself said:

“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

Ultimately of course the right thing won through, which was the emancipation of slaves, but the reasons behind it are far more complex than are often portrayed. And it’s that complexity that fascinates me.

The photography of the time is nothing short of incredible. For the first time in history, photography was readily available (though still cumbersome with huge cameras and glass plate negatives that had to be lugged around everywhere, and long exposure times which meant subjects had to stand still for long periods to get clear photos.) But the photos produced during this time were MAGNIFICENT. Huge glass plate negatives gave resolution so sharp and amazing that the photographs of today pale in comparison, even with all our technology and colour over black and white.

If you want to see some examples of the cream of the crop of Civil War photographs, I can highly recommend the Shorpy photo blog, who has a fantastic collection of Civil War photographs in high resolution. Click here to go directly to the Civil War collection.

Also on Shorpy today, someone posted this video montage photographs of the dead at Petersburg, Virginia in 1865. I will warn you that these photographs are graphic and are of dead bodies, so if you’re of a sensitive nature, you may not want to watch them. I personally find nothing offensive about them at all, I find them incredibly poignant. In fact, be warned that a lot of the photographs on are equally graphic, and of high resolution.

If anyone else is interested in the American Civil War, do drop me a line and let me know. I’d be interested to hear other people’s opinions and thoughts on that particular period in American history.


June 25, 2008. Uncategorized.

One Comment

  1. Anonymous replied:

    They are incredibly poignant! I confess no true and abiding interest in the Civil war other than the fact they essentially fought themselves!!But I agree that the results still resonate through to the current time

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