Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Review--Stephen Recker's Rare Images of Antietam

Recker, Stephen. Rare Images of Antietam: And the Photographers Who Took Them. Another Software Miracle, LLC, Sharpsburg, MD. Index, bibliography, maps, b/w and color photos. 152 pages, 147 pages of text. ISBN 9780971548619, $29.95.

September 17, 1862 is a date that will likely stand forever as the most bloody day in American history. Approximately 23,000 Americans would be killed, wounded, or missing. Their memory stills haunts the Antietam National Battlefield today.

While the very early photos by Alexander Gardner have been well documented by William Frassanito in Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America's Bloodiest Day as Recker admirably shows this was not the end of Antietam photography but rather the beginning.

Mr. Recker has put forth a monumental goal for himself: "...marks the beginning of my attempt to document, organize, and interpret, in a comprehensive fashion, the historical photographs associated with the Maryland Campaign of 1862, taken after Alexander Gardner & Co. left the field with their wagon-load of death-study negatives..."(page 6) I think readers will agree with me he has accomplished this goal and has laid the foundation for what I hope and anticipate will be many future volumes.

The book begins with a brief outline of the history of early photography at Antietam. From there the book is laid out into twelve battlefield locations. A period map at the front of the book will help readers gather their bearings as to where they are. The areas covered are: McClellans' Headquarters, Nicodemus Mills, the National Cemetery, East Woods, Bloody Cornfield, West Woods, Dunker Church, Mumma Cornfield, Bloody Lane, Samuel Piper Farm, Burnside Bridge, and the Final Attack location. Each location is shown by period photos from the authors collection or from repositories that he has found through his research. Where appropriate modern photos show the changes or similarities to over 100 years ago.

Many photographers work is covered here. Mr. Recker highlights the work of eleven photographers showing their work again with modern photos for comparison where appropriate. Photographers showcased include E. M. Recher (or Recker as occasionally found [author Mr. Recker and photographer Mr. Recher/Recker are not related]), David Bachrach, B.W.T. Phreaner, J.H. Wagoner, F.M. Yeager, W.H. Tipton, W.B. King, Levi Mumper, S.F. McFarland, J.G. McPherson (MacPherson), and E.M. Garrott.

Lest readers get the view this is strictly a coffee table type photography book there is considerable research that is included. In sections dealing with specific photographers Mr. Recker includes a goodly amount of biographical information much of which is taken from period sources. Mr. Recker has also made careful analysis of these photos in his research. A prime example comes from the Antietam National Cemetery. While comparing an 1866-67 stereoview of wooden headstone markers to contemporary photos Mr. Recker has proven that not all modern markers are likely to match up with the original burial locations. (page 35).  It is attention to detail like this that makes this book a must "READ" as well as a must "VIEW".

The photographs included are beautiful to look at. The cover image will no doubt draw the casual reader in but once hooked I would challenge a reader to put this volume down. This is a book that should be on the shelves of any student of Antietam and the Civil War in general or anybody with an interest in Civil War photography.

I highly recommend a visit to the Virtual Antietam website that Mr. Recker runs. It is a great resource and for those inclined you may purchase signed copies of this book.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I will definitely have to check this book out. I am very intrigued by the American Civil War. I wrote a book called "The Lie That Is Lincoln". After visiting Gettysburg and being appalled by the horrendous carnage, I wondered if military conflict was the correct resolution over the issue of slavery.