Photographic Artifacts of Black Civil War Troops

“At the National Portrait Gallery, an ambrotype of a black Civil War soldier. Images and artifacts pertaining to the experience of black troops at that time are gaining in popularity.” Courtesy of Greg French, Early Photography Via The New York Times

New York Times

Photographic Artifacts of Black Civil War Troops

By Eve M. Kahn

February 21, 2013

“In the year’s most haunting image of black Civil War soldiers, the opening battlefield sequence in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’, Confederate forces massacre many fallen former slaves. In reality, African-American prisoners of war were killed en masse. Black troops in action endured lower wages and poorer medical care and living conditions than their white counterparts. But soldiers of both races did have surprisingly easy access to the luxury of photography.”

“Photographers ran government-sanctioned booths near encampments, selling souvenir portraits. The images of black personnel, from officers to gravediggers, are now on view widely in 150th-anniversary commemorations of the Emancipation Proclamation. They provide a nuanced view of African-American life at the front, even though some of the subjects can no longer be identified.”

“‘There’s a lot of interpretation that comes in’, the Manhattan photography dealer Thomas Harris said, while leafing through an album of Civil War photographs that took two decades to assemble. Mr. Harris has lent three photos of black privates on duty at a Confederate prison camp near Rock Island, Ill., to a show that opens April 2 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ‘Photography and the American Civil War.’ “

Slave Pen, Alexandria, Virginia Andrew Joseph Russell (American, 1830–1902) via Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Government Coal Wharf, Alexandria, Virginia Andrew Joseph Russell (American, 1830–1902) via Metropolitan Museum of Art.

” The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of American History in Washington both have exhibitions now with images of African-American soldiers. A show focused on the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, led by Robert Gould Shaw, a white colonel, opens next month at the Museum of African American History in Boston. The National Gallery of Art in Washington has an exhibition opening this fall about the 54th and the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s memorial to Shaw.”

” Saturday, February 23, the filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris [hosted] a Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow at the Schomburg Center, part of a series of open houses seeking photos and anecdotes. (With the historian Deborah Willis, he is also making a documentary due this fall, ‘Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People‘.) Previous open houses have attracted artifacts dating to the 1860s. ‘It’s amazing how much stuff emerges, how much material is in people’s homes,’ Mr. Harris said in a phone interview. “

Pennsylvania Light Artillery, Battery B, Petersburg, Virginia Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, born Ireland, 1840–1882) via Metropolitan Mesuem of Art.

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