Sunday, January 30, 2011

Book Review--Gettysburg: A Journey in Time

Gettysburg: A Journey in TimeFrassanito, William A. Gettysburg: A Journey in Time. Thomas Publications, Gettysburg, PA. 1975, 248 pages, index, notes, b/w photos, maps. ISBN 0939631970, $18.95.

As Robert E. Lee and his Confederate army were heading away from Gettysburg after a grueling three day battle there was another "army" headed in to the small Pennsylvania city. The photographers. Thus begins William Frassanito's fascinating look at the the photos of perhaps the Civil War's greatest battle.

While these photographs have traditionally been used either as art or as an illustration, Frassanito argues they should be used as historical documents. He then asks the following questions: who were the photographers, when were the photos taken, what parts of the battlefield were covered and what was neglected, has each photo been attributed to the correct photographer, and are the accepted captions correct and if not why.

From here Frassanito goes on to discuss each of the major photographers who were on the battlefield in the period of 1863-1866. Primary photographers included Alexander Gardner who it is estimated took his first photos of the field on July 5, 1863. The majority of his photos deal with death and showing the horrors of war. Matthew Brady arrived shortly after and is believed to have taken his first photo on approximately July 15, 1863. Brady is typically known for his photos of landmarks and the general terrain of the battlefield. Charles and Isaac Tyson, owners of the Excelsior Gallery in Gettysburg, were on the field approximately two weeks after Brady. The Tyson brothers photos were similar to those taken by Brady. They took photos in both 8x10 and as album cards. Later in the period of 1864-1866 they issued a series of stereoscopes. Several other minor photographers are briefly discussed.

Frassanito divides the battlefield into six areas and puts the photos into their respective areas. The areas discussed are: the first day's field, Cemetery Hill, Culp's Hill, Cemetery Ridge, Little Round Top and Devil's Den, and The Rose Farm. From there he discusses each photo and also tries to include a modern (OK the book was originally published in 1975 so the photos look extremely dated) photo of the area. Through his research Frassanito was able to find the location of almost all the original photos. He has also helped show how photographers staged many of the scenes they shot. Everything from weapons to bodies would be moved if it suited the needs of the photographer.

Written in a clear and easy to follow style this book is recommended for anybody with an interest in the Civil War. For anybody who collects Civil War photography this is a must have and should be in the library of every Gettysburg historian.

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