Plate 36. A Harvest of Death, Battle-field of Gettysburg

Description
Text and photograph from Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War, Vol. II. Negative by Timothy H. O'Sullivan, text and positive by Alexander Gardner.
Slowly, over the misty fields of Gettysburg – as all reluctant to expose their ghastly horrors to the light – came the sunless morn, after the retreat by Lee's broken army. Through the shadowy vapors, it was, indeed, a "harvest of death" that was presented; hundreds and thousands of torn Union and rebel soldiers – although many of the former were already interred – strewed the now quiet fighting ground, soaked by the rain, which for two days had drenched the country with its fitful showers.
A battle has been often the subject of elaborate description; but it can be described in one simple word, devilish! and the distorted dead recall the ancient legends of men torn in pieces by the savage wantonness of fiends. Swept down without preparation, the shattered bodies fall in all conceivable positions. The rebels represented in the photograph are without shoes. These were always removed from the feet of the dead on account of the pressing need of the survivors. The pockets turned inside out also show that appropriation did not cease with the coverings of the feet. Around is scattered the litter of the battle-field, accoutrements, ammunition, rags, cups and canteens, crackers, haversacks, &c., and letters that may tell the name of the owner, although the majority will surely be buried unknown by strangers, and in a strange land. Killed in the frantic efforts to break the steady lines of an army of patriots, whose heroism only excelled theirs in motive, they paid with life the price of their treason, and when the wicked strife was finished, found nameless graves, far from home and kindred.
Such a picture conveys a useful moral: It shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry. Here are the dreadful details! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity falling upon the nation.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
albumen photograph
date made
1863-07
maker
Gardner, Alexander
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 17.5684 cm x 22.4366 cm; 6 15/16 in x 8 13/16 in
place made
United States: Pennsylvania, Gettysburg
ID Number
1986.0711.0334.36
accession number
1986.0711
catalog number
1986.0711.0334.36
subject
Photography
Military
Gardner's Sketchbook
event
Civil War
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Gardner's Sketchbook
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Media

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