Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln Photo

Lincoln’s Arrival at the Dedication of the Soldiers’ Cemetery in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863

18 Nov

Three stereoscopic glass plate negatives taken at the Gettysburg Soldiers’ Cemetery dedication on November 19, 1863  have been credited to Alexander Gardner’s photographic team. Positive images of the three negatives appear below, courtesy of the Library of Congress. It is believed that the order in which they were taken was first unraveled in 2012 by this author in his ebook Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg: A Review of Alexander Gardner’s Stereoscopic Photos (2012).All 3aThe Gardner photographers perched their dual lens camera atop some sort of a photographic platform which may have been nothing more sophisticated than a folding twelve foot ladder or two. Note the back of a partially bald head which appears in the lower portion of the immediate foreground in the first and last view above. It might be Alexander Gardner’s head captured as he faced out towards the historic scene while standing just below the camera on the front steps of a ladder. A later view of Gardner taken after the war near Manhattan, Kansas (according to R. Mark Katz) appears to reveal that he had that kind of male pattern balding.

As discovered by John J. Richter, photographic detail very likely reveals an Alexander Gardner photographer — visible under the red arrow below — standing atop the photographic platform. This view is attributed to photographer Peter S. Weaver and was taken from a 2nd story window in the Evergreen Cemetery Gatehouse on November 19, 1863 (courtesy, the Library of Congress). 32845umarkedZooming in reveals a darker object beneath the man and just above the heads of several men either on horseback or standing on the front steps of the ladder(s) — likely Gardner’s camera (below).  32845u-gardner2 That photographic platform was used in order to “see” over the large crowd and get a glimpse at portions of (and the area around) the speakers’ platform, as well as other key and unique features, such as a 100 foot tall flagpole erected for the occasion, the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse, some of East Cemetery Hill, and a large white tent constructed for the privacy of Edward Everett, the keynote speaker. The left side of the first glass plate negative — LC-B815-1160 — exposed within the sequence of three is shown below (courtesy of the Library of Congress). 00652a-left stereo-modified The speakers’ platform, which was described by one observer as only 3 feet above the ground, faced not towards the Gardner photographic position, but was oriented from its center towards the tall flagpole. As described in this author’s book Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg (follow the link), the seating on the speaker’s rostrum was arranged in an orchestral fashion, with its several levels arcing around the center area of the first row where Lincoln sat. If you wonder why Gardner’s team set up their camera so far from the speakers’ platform, please read Heberton’s Lincoln: The Case,” for an analysis. That article, in conjunction with the book Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, also explains why Gardner likely chose to set up his photographic platform at such a severe angle to the speakers’ platform rather than selecting a more “head-on” perspective centered to the middle of the rostrum.

A modern “now” photograph taken by the author on November 18, 2013 in the Gettysburg National Soldiers’ Cemetery from roughly the same location as Gardner’s views is compared with “then” photographic detail from the first exposed Gardner plate, below:Comparison of Gardner's view with modern view1 The Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse, clearly visible in the Gardner view, is almost completely obscured by trees in the modern view. Excluding an addition built after 1863, the gatehouse structure looks much today as it did then. The Gettysburg Soldiers’ National Monument currently stands where the tall flagpole (cropped at its top) is visible in the Gardner stereo view detail.

Working with a very high-res scan of those images provided to him by the Library of Congress, John J. Richter concluded that he had pinpointed Abraham Lincoln in two of the three photographs seated atop a horse obscured from the camera in the exact same location in both of those views. Mr. Richter’s discovery was widely hailed by the national press (follow the link). It was remarkable to realize that Lincoln had gone undetected in two stereo views taken at Gettysburg for all of those years until the announcement in November 2007. See detail, below, of Mr. Richter’s Lincoln candidate from both views. 00673a-left stereo-cropped-sharpened detail 2d staff-modIn early 2008, William A. Frassanito posted  an article at a friend’s blog (follow the link) which opined that the man Mr. Richter identified as Lincoln wasn’t Honest Abe and added several arguments why it was virtually impossible for Lincoln to have been visible when any of the stereo views were taken. Mr. Frassanito wrote that “it is well documented that Lincoln was accompanied and flanked by several mounted civilians, including the chief marshal and three members of Lincoln’s cabinet” and concluded that the three images reveal that all of Gardner’s views were taken only after Lincoln and the other dignitaries had been seated on the speakers’ platform.

In 2012, this author published Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg which sequenced the three stereo views, discussed the documentary and photographic evidence, and concluded that Lincoln could have been present and also visible in the images as he was arriving by horseback at the speakers’ platform. That book also evaluated John Richter’s candidate, finding that he could be Lincoln despite the absence of conclusive visual evidence. It was explained, however, that the author’s research did not uncover any contemporary accounts describing Lincoln riding alone in front of and just beyond the speakers’ platform, raising his left arm as if giving a salute, and remaining seated atop his horse unflinchingly for a minute or two or three. Several potential appearance issues involving Mr. Richter’s candidate also were evaluated relating to his hat, hairline, shirt collar, and beard.

However, Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg also disclosed another Lincoln candidate whom this author feels is even more compelling than Mr. Richter’s because of a substantial amount of supporting contextual evidence: the location of that candidate, the visible crowd’s attention focused in his direction in both photos, the respectful hat-tipping reaction of some members of the crowd whose gazes were glued to him, his very close proximity to the man assigned by the Secretary of War to escort Lincoln (Provost Marshal General Fry), his tall silk hat adorned by a different-toned band matching accounts that Lincoln’s hat was wrapped with a mourning band, his large white-gloved right hand extended palm-up toward the camera in the first view, and what can be discerned of his facial appearance. The most striking of his facial features is his Lincoln-like jutting chin capped by a modest beard. See Heberton’s Lincoln candidate, below, from the first and second Gardner stereo views. Detail from one of Lincoln’s studio images taken by Alexander Gardner in Washington, D.C. on November 8, 1863 has been inserted next to the “ghost image” (caused by a hyper-fleeting pose) in the second photo to allow for a side-by-side comparison.  17807u-detail015 17806a-ghost-lincolnBecause this man’s face appears in dark shadows created by the brow of his hat in the first view and he likely moved during much of the lengthy exposure in the second view creating a “ghost image” in front of a “fixed” image of his tall silk hat, the case for this candidate as Lincoln is more heavily anchored to substantial contextual support. See detail, below, from the first-in-time Gardner stereo view revealing the relative positions of Mr. Richter’s candidate, this author’s candidate, and Mr. Oakley’s candidate (discussed below). 17807u_crop_boy3But there is a third candidate. The Smithsonian Magazine, in its October 2013 article “Will the Real Abraham Lincoln Please Stand Up?,” proclaimed that within one of the Alex Gardner stereo views, Christopher Oakley had made “what looks to be the most significant, if not the most provocative, Abraham Lincoln photo find of the last 60 years.” Mr. Oakley asserted that his candidate was “accidentally” captured by Gardner’s camera as he stood frozen throughout the entire passage of that plate’s lengthy exposure while stooped over, looking at the ground beneath him, and holding a rigid pose for several seconds despite surmounting unseen steps leading to the platform. The many reasons why Professor Oakley’s candidate cannot be Abraham Lincoln — ranging from his completely mismatched nose to the fact that he is seated (not standing) in two photos nowhere near the spot that Lincoln is documented to have been seated, “guarded” by two little boys, and ignored by all of the visible spectators on the speakers’ platform — are laid out in Heberton’s Lincoln: The Case,” Where is Lincoln?: Heberton Takes on the Flaws in Oakley’s Case,” the press release Should Oakley’s Lincoln Sit Down?,” and The Big Picture: Where Would Lincoln Be? Heberton Reveals His Findings.” Click on those links also for a fuller explanation of the case for this author’s Lincoln candidate. Here is Mr. Oakley’s “enhanced” representation of his hawk-nosed Lincoln candidate which he presented on the CBS Evening News broadcast on November 19, 2013 along with detail from Gardner’s second stereo view at the Library of Congress. 2013-011-19_CBS Evening New_002 04063u cxA visual review of the detail within the first and second Gardner view reveals that Mr. Oakley’s candidate was seated in the same spot in both views. That location is at the extreme far end of the platform and, as can been seen, is not in the first row of seats. Moreover, Mr. Oakley claims that the man seated to the right of his candidate for Lincoln is Secretary of State William H. Seward. Lincoln, in actuality, was seated in the center of the front row, with Seward to his left, nowhere near Mr. Oakley’s candidate pictured below:compare 07Below is a comparison between a different photograph (on the top) attributed to photographer David Bachrach showing exactly where Lincoln was seated with Seward to his left (rather than to his right) and the Gardner stereo (on the bottom). The Bachrach photo is marked to illustrate the area where Mr. Oakley’s candidate was seated had it been visible in that view. This gives one a perspective of how far removed Mr. Oakley’s candidate was situated from where President Lincoln sat.00cPresently, this author believes that Mr. Oakley’s candidate for Seward could be soft-chinned Simon Cameron, who earlier in 1863 had resigned his position as the U.S. minister to Russia and returned to his native Pennsylvania. Before his appointment as ambassador, Cameron had stepped down as Lincoln’s Secretary of War in January of 1862 because of “mismanagement, corruption and abuse of patronage.” This would explain why he was seated in an area relatively proximate to where a number of foreign diplomats were situated but well removed from Lincoln. See, below, a horizontally flipped studio image of Simon Cameron (courtesy, the Library of Congress) placed in the middle of cropped detail of the man whom Mr. Oakley has unequivocally identified as Seward.cf Oakley Seward to Simon Cameron flippedThe left side of the first exposed Gardner negative at Gettysburg  — LC-B815-1160 — is marked, below, to show the locations of the three Lincoln candidates.00652a-left-stereo-modified-midpoint-language62What is to be made of these 3 Lincoln candidates? Some people embrace one of them as Lincoln. Some just don’t know or are bewildered when they too quickly attempt to interpret the photographic evidence and ignore the contextual documentary evidence. Others adhere to the position that Gardner merely took three “establishing” or “generic crowd shots” (representing the sum total of his photographic work at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863), had zero interest in capturing a scene with Lincoln, and didn’t even accidentally capture Lincoln in any of the three stereo views. Nevertheless, an evaluation of whether Gardner intentionally placed his camera where he did in order to try to capture two relatively rapid-fire views of Lincoln arriving at the Cemetery upon his horse + one much later view of the famous keynote speaker, Edward Everett, arriving on the speaker’s platform is laid out in Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg and several of this author’s blog articles at abrahamlincolnatgettysburg.wordpress.com.

Below is a summary of the cases for each of the 3 Lincoln candidates. The contemporary accounts establish that Lincoln wore a mourning band on his tall silk hat, his hands were covered by white gloves, many of the men in the crowd on the speakers’ platform removed their hats in a show of respect when Lincoln arrived in the front of the platform, Lincoln was surrounded by dignitaries as he approached the platform and when he surmounted its steps, Lincoln “was the [most] observed of the observed” when he arrived, Lincoln was seated in the very center of the front row of chairs placed on the platform, Lincoln made a graceful bow to the crowd after his arrival, and Lincoln paid great attention to children in Gettysburg, including picking up and placing a child on his saddle briefly during his horseback ride in the procession to the Cemetery from the town. 3 Lincoln comparison 2015-11-16[2]

What do you, a member of the jury, think? Remember that the standard of evidence to be applied is merely a “preponderance of the evidence” and not “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This isn’t a criminal trial. Can you reach a verdict or do you think we have a “hung jury?”

by Craig Heberton

November 18, 2015. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved by Craig Heberton.

Note: This author now believes that the man appearing seated to the left of Lincoln (Lincoln’s right) in the photo attributed to David Bachrach is not Ward H. Lamon, as marked on one of the images above, but Lincoln’s assistant John Nicolay. This is in harmony with Mr. Oakley’s identification of that man.

 

 

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“The Civil War” by Ken Burns: A NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOM

11 Sep

“The Civil War’s” Episode #5 — “The Universe of Battle – 1863” — is about 1.5 hours long. It begins with the image of a famous photograph by Mathew B. Brady and his team taken in Gettysburg about 10-14 days after the battle’s end.  While showing this picture of three captured (or deserter) Confederate soldiers posing for Brady as if they were paid professionals, Shelby Foote lyrically emotes: “there’s something about that picture that draws me strongly as an image of the war.” Mr. Foote reveals that his fondness comes from his interpretation of the body language of one of the soldiers as that of proud defiance.

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Crammed into the final 6 minutes of the end of that episode is a segment Ken Burns titled “A New Birth of Freedom.”

Despite this segment’s short treatment of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, that particular title has evolved over time into one of the most important themes of the entire movie. Burns has repeated it over and over again in dozens upon dozens of interviews during the last 25 years in order to explain the modern relevancy of both “The Civil War” and the conflict itself.

The opening scene in “A New Birth of Freedom” is video footage of former Missouri Congressman James W. Symington eloquently reflecting that if he:

had a choice of all the moments he could be present at during [the] war period it would be at Gettysburg during Lincoln’s delivery of his speech. Maybe to have seen him craft those beautiful words, those marvelous healing words, and then deliver them. They were for everyone, for all time. They subsumed the entire war and all in it. It showed his compassion for everyone. His love for his people. That’s where I’d like to be.”

I remember watching this 25 years ago and saying out loud to no one in particular: “that, too, is where I would want to be.”

After Symington finishes, David McCullough narrates: “On November 19th, Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg to dedicate the new Union cemetery.”

Oops, a blooper! Lincoln actually traveled to Gettysburg on the 18th and we as a nation are very lucky he did.

Had Lincoln left Washington, D.C. on the morning of the 19th, as Secretary of War Stanton had planned, Lincoln never would have arrived at Gettysburg on time. Yet even if he had been delivered there by divine intervention, Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” would have been very different. Lincoln wouldn’t have rewritten a portion of his speech at David Wills’ home on the night of the 18th or visited a portion of the battlefield by carriage very early on the morning of the 19th, after which he possibly added the last several critical lines of his Address … including the words “a new birth of freedom.”

There also would have been no serenading of Lincoln by the crowds in Gettysburg on the night of the 18th, resulting in Lincoln’s “First” Gettysburg Address. In that very short public address, Lincoln stood by an open doorway and joked that he had no speech to give and therefore, based upon past experience, would not give any. It was this address which many Northern Democrat-owned and Southern newspapers alike reported as Lincoln’s ONE & ONLY Gettysburg Address — for which they mocked Lincoln derisively.

About a minute and half into “A New Birth of Freedom,” we come face-to-face with the print of a very famous photograph. Burns then focuses our attention exclusively on that photo over the next 66 seconds (a capture of the second shot of it from the remastered film in HD, below).

Bachrach-Burns-02

It is a photo which was taken at the sight of the dedication of Gettysburg’s Soldiers’ Cemetery. And it’s original negative, sadly, has been lost to history. Of greatest importance is that it is the only Gettysburg photograph which is universally agreed to show Lincoln [to read about another which may also show Lincoln, click this link]. Yet Lincoln’s appearance within it wasn’t announced until February 11, 1953 after Josephine Cobb of the National Archives tentatively identified Lincoln. A consensus was reached over time that it is him.

Ken Burns used this photograph in three separate and consecutive shots. In the first, he zoomed in on detail to the left, revealing some of the soldiers standing in a hollow square formation. They are turned to face towards the camera and strike a pose (the same detail from an image courtesy of the Library of Congress, at right).

Bachrach-Burns-01ycompareLC

The second frame shows the entire photograph, giving some sense of the scale of the event (but not its full scope) and the distance the photographers were set up from the speakers’ platform and the crowds jammed around Lincoln and others. In its third usage, Burns filmed a very tight shot of an area on the speaker’s platform and had his camera zoom in towards the face of Abraham Lincoln. Here is a capture of Burn’s tightest shot from the remastered film in HD available at www.pbs.org, placed side-by-side with detail from a Library of Congress scan (at right).

Bachrach-Burns-04aLCx

David McCullough narrates the following during the minute plus airing of this photo:

Then Lincoln rose. A local photographer took his time focusing. Presumably the President could be counted on to go for a while. But he spoke just 269 words … Lincoln was heading back to his seat before the photographer could open the shutter.

Just a small faux pas here because the camera those men used was not equipped with a shutter. Rather, an exposure was created simply by removing and replacing a cap over the lens. Crude home-made drop shutter lenses were then a great rarity.

The story Mr. McCullough described is a combination of two accounts published more than 30 years after the event. Those accounts spoke to the presence of a photographer right in front of the platform who failed to take a picture of Lincoln while he stood and spoke. To be clear, neither those accounts nor Mr. McCullough’s narration relate in any way to this photograph.

It was first deduced by William A. Frassanito, to my knowledge, that the photographers who took this image in which Lincoln is discernible were David Bachrach of Baltimore and an undentified cameraman from Harper’s Weekly. I firmly believe that those men might be seen together within detail from a different photograph taken on the grounds of the Gettysburg Soldiers’ Cemetery on November 19, 1863 (see below, courtesy of the Library of Congress). One can be made out (through the limbs of a tree) seated atop a tall folding ladder. He is peering through his camera with his left arm extended while the other man stands near him with a portable darkroom on a tripod. If these men are not Bachrach and the Harper’s Weekly photographer, then they are likely David Woodbury and Anthony Berger (two Mathew Brady photographers). They were first pointed out and described in the book Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg” For more about them, click here for the article “Finding Photographers and Their Equipment in Gettysburg Soldiers’ Cemetery Photos.”

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Bachrach wrote in 1916 that “I took the portable dark-room and [went to Gettysburg], and did the technical work of photographing the crowd, not with the best result while Mr. Everett was speaking.” That is exactly what the photograph used by Ken Burns and showing Lincoln depicts: Edward Everett standing and speaking (see him in blurred detail, below at left).

07639u_BachrachMr. Bachrach made no mention of attempting to photograph Lincoln while he spoke or even after he returned to his seat. It is logical that he would have mentioned it had he done so.

If you wonder what Lincoln was doing the moment he was photographed, take a look at the following and click “Addressing What Lincoln is Doing While Seated on the Platform at Gettysburg.”

object07639uIDsx1

Fell free to share with me what you think.

There’s something about that picture that draws me strongly as an image of the Civil War!

Craig Heberton, September 10, 2015

Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” (1990) Remastered for 2015 and Beyond

7 Sep

If you visit the PBS website at http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/civil-war/ you will find links to the viewing schedule for the remastered 25th anniversary HD version of Ken Burns’ The Civil War at your local PBS affiliate:

“Twenty-five years ago, a film about history made history … From Director Ken Burns, for the first time in high-definition,  “The Civil War,” starts Monday September 7, [2015] at 9:00 pm (8:00 Central) [and concludes on September 11]. Only on PBS.

No historical documentary has ever had the impact of THE CIVIL WAR when it was first broadcast by PBS a quarter of a century ago. More than 40 million people watched its first run. It won more than 40 major television and film awards. Millions more have seen it in classrooms or on videotape.

THE CIVIL WAR, the award-winning film produced and directed by Ken Burns, will be rebroadcast over five consecutive nights … The broadcast, which coincides with the 25th anniversary of the series’ initial broadcast in September 1990, will present for the first time a newly restored, high-definition version. This is also the first time the film will be seen with the same fidelity and framing as the negative that Burns and his co-cinematographers … shot more than 25 years ago.”

The Civil War Defines Who We are Today

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. And I believe that firmly. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars beginning with the First World War did what they did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became … good and bad things …  and it is very necessary if you are going to understand the American character in the [21st] century to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the cross-roads of our being … and it was a hell of a crossroads.”   — Shelby Foote, Historian, quoted in Episode 1 of The Civil War (pictured below, left, with Ken Burns, c. 1990, courtesy of Florentine Films)

ken burns shelby foote

Why Watch the Remastered Film “The Civil War?”

Today’s audiences expect sharper images and richer sound—so much sharper and richer that no one 25 years ago could have imagined the improvements we now take for granted. To reach a whole new audience with the story of America’s greatest crisis, and to offer those who have already seen the series a far more compelling experience, we decided to completely restore the series to ultra high definition4K resolution—to bring it up to the standards that current audiences demand

The 4K film scans capture every nuance of detail in the sharpest focus in the photographs, stock footage, interviews, and live material that are the basic building blocks of the series’ visuals

Visually, THE CIVIL WAR is now rock steady, sharper in focus, cleaner, and with a greatly enhanced visual beauty. The color is now as it was intended to be when the film was originally shot. The still photographs all have been assigned a variety of black-and-white or sepia tones that correspond to the intended emotional effect of the sequences. There is also 10 percent more image area than in the previous version, which was cropped out due to the 4:3 square broadcast.”   — Paul Barnes, Lead Editor of “The Civil War” [emphasis added]

The Starring Role of Civil War Photography in the Film

THE CIVIL WAR was five years in the making. The film vividly embraces the entire sweep of the war: the complex causes and lasting effects of America’s greatest and most moving calamity, the battles and the homefronts, the generals and the private soldiers, the anguish of death in battle and the grief of families at home. 

Archival images of 16,000 photographs, taken from a total of 1 million pictures of the Civil War, along with period paintings, lithographs, and headlines, were combined with moving newsreel footage of Civil War veterans, evocative live cinematography of the now quiet battle sites, interviews with distinguished historians, and the inclusion of first-person accounts.” http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/civil-war/about/about-overview/

The Strengths of the Original Film

The Civil War documentary which first aired in 1990 represents the coming together of many great elements of documentary film-making.  For starters, it offers up a “national treasure trove” of narrators and voices such as: David McCullough (to whom I could listen all day long), Sam Waterston as Abraham Lincoln, Morgan Freeman as Frederick Douglass, Jason Robards as Ulysses S. Grant, Garrison Keillor as Walt Whitman, Arthur Miller as William Tecumseh Sherman, George Black as Robert E. Lee, Horton Foote as Jefferson Davis, Jody Powell as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Julie Harris as Mary Chesnut, Paul Roebling as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Christopher Murney as Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Charley McDowell as Sam Watkins, and Studs Terkel as Gen. Benjamin Butler.

They dramatically breathe life into the actual words penned or spoken by their real-life characters a century and a half ago.

The film’s telling of the story of the Civil War relies heavily on the words of many of the most famous (as well as some of the more obscure) figures involved in the conflict. But Burns also strategically interjects clips of distinguished historians ruminating about key personalities, battles, triumphs, tragedies, strategies, anecdotes, political machinations, higher purposes, and how the Civil War relates to and continues to impact modern times.  Those historians serve as the modern glue which holds the entirety of the work together.

Say what you will about the music. Some people love the song “Ashokan Farewell” which is played numerous times (25) during the series. Others hate it.  Many don’t realize it was composed in 1982. Even though it is the only modern music used in the series,  it is the tune most identified with Ken Burns’ masterpiece. But it isn’t the film’s only music by any stretch. “Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Bonnie Blue Flag” are two other very catchy period songs which immediately come to mind. And don’t forget about the tremendous sound effects.

But what resonates the most within the film’s nine episodes is its sweeping visual impact thanks in large measure to Ken Burn’s heavy reliance upon images from surviving Civil War photographs and sketches. Although there is some incredibly stunning video — particularly clips from the Gettysburg veterans’ anniversary reunions in 1913 and 1938 as well as  beautiful modern color footage — Burns’ videographers relied almost exclusively upon 1860s photographs. Repeatedly, they zoom-in upon astonishing photographic details in magnificent data-laden wet-plate collodion slides and prints created by men associated with Mathew B. Brady, Alexander Gardner, Andrew J. Russell, George N. Barnard, the Anthonys, Sam A. Cooley, George S. Cook, and others. Unfortunately, 1990 technology made it difficult to quickly discern those details in the original release.

The film’s restorer, Daniel J. White, has promised that within the 2015 HD version “new details will become visible in the hundreds of black-and-white photos used in the film.” Let’s hope so! But also be aware that super hi-resolution scans of the vast majority of photographs used in The Civil War can be viewed online and downloaded sometimes in .tiff files up to 100 to 200 megs in size at the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the National Portrait Gallery, and other institutions.

Because the vast majority of Civil War photographs were taken by photographers living in the “North,” those images offer the richest source of photographic history. Yet Burns’ team still made every effort to film many images taken by southern photographers too.

It should come as no surprise that the surviving photographs don’t always dovetail perfectly with the story-line for The Civil War, particularly relative to the underrepresented western theater of the war. Lacking “on the money” imagery to visually drive home a point, Burns understandably was compelled at times to rely upon photographs unequivalent to the time, place, and/or subject matter addressed by the film’s narrator. In fairness, in some instances no one knows for sure when or where or by whom specific photos were taken because the photographers usually left no records of such and historians haven’t yet solved those mysteries.

But had Civil War photographs played an even more central role in defining the story-line of the film, Ken Burns might have devoted a few minutes to explain the basics of outdoor Civil War photography —  including that nearly 3/4 of the photos were shot so that they can be viewed today in 3D. Despite the cumbersome tasks that befell outdoor photographers in the 1860s and the limitations of their slow exposure technology, the thousands of Civil War photographs they managed to take allow us, several generations later, to “see” and get a “visual feel” for the war which cost us more American lives than the sum total of all of the other conflicts in which Americans have been engaged both before and ever since.

What Is Supposed to Look Better in the Remastered Film

In a September 4, 2015 Washington Post blog article titled “25 years after ‘The Civil War,’ Ken Burns finally made his dream movie” by Alyssa Rosenberg,  there is an illustration of the quality improvement in the new version of “The Civil War.” Ken Burns and his restorer, Daniel J. White, have said that a “murkiness” in many images will be replaced by clearer, more realistic looking scenes. A frame from modern footage of the Burnside Bridge (originally called Rohrbach’s or Lower Bridge) at the Antietam National Battlefield was used to highlight the “before” and “after” differences (see below).

Before-after KB Burnside Bridge, Anitetam Battlefield NP

What I’m most looking forward to seeing is the improvement in the quality of the Civil War photographs used in the film.

In the The Washington Post article, Mr. Burns highlighted the impact of significantly improved photographic imagery by noting the film’s use of an image of Lincoln posing with General McClellan in a tent in early October 1862 near Sharpsburg, MD two weeks after the Battle of Antietam.  Photographer Alexander Gardner’s men took this and other images in that locale to chronicle Lincoln’s visit to the Commander of the Army of the Potomac, George B. McClellan. At the time of the visit, Lincoln was greatly disappointed by McClellan’s failure to pursue General Lee’s numerically inferior forces after repelling them at Antietam Creek on September 17. Lincoln wanted McClellan to destroy or capture the Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan, on the other hand, thought he should be congratulated for the Antietam “victory” and that Lincoln should defer to his military judgment not to pursue Lee in the aftermath of the single bloodiest day in American history.

Alyssa Rosenberg wrote that “it’s now possible to read President Abraham Lincoln and Gen. George McClellan’s facial expressions in a snapshot of the two men taken during the meeting at which Lincoln fired his top commander.” To be more precise, Ken Burns was quoted as saying:  

You can now see in the pictures of them in the tent the tension between them. Now, it may have been apparent in the previous images because of the quality of the writing, whatever the music and the sound effects were suggesting, but now you’ve taken away that veil and you’re permitted to see that interpersonal dynamic, and suddenly you can understand McClellan’s kind of combination of arrogant distance from Lincoln and Lincoln’s exasperation, and the fact that his sorry butt is going to be axed in a couple of moments is terrific.” (detail from two views at the Library of Congress, LC-B811- 602 and LC-B817- 7948, below)

LC-B811- 602 01131ax3  LC-B817- 7948 04351ax

My own take on the Lincoln-McClellan “tent” photographs is a bit less dramatic, especially in view of the vagaries of outdoor photography in 1862 as well as Lincoln’s record of posing before the camera. For starters, Lincoln did not relieve McClellan of his command of the Army of the Potomac until November 5, 1862, more than a month after these “tent” poses were taken. Although there surely was tension between Lincoln and McClellan throughout their relationship and Lincoln visited McClellan to try to cajole him into action, I think Mr. Burns reads too much into his interpretation of Lincoln’s face and body language by suggesting that there is palpable “exasperation” on Lincoln’s face.

Perhaps it can be said that McClellan’s face or attitude betrays some form of “arrogant distance,” but I think even that overplays the simple fact that McClellan’s paramount concern during the picture taking session was to look squarely at Lincoln with his “I am the commander” look and hold his pose for several seconds. For that matter, I have not seen any photographs of McClellan in uniform in which he didn’t try to look “dashing” or “authoritative;” he surely didn’t earn the moniker “Young Napoleon” for nothing (examples, below, courtesy of the Library of Congress).

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The Alexander Gardner photographic team prepared the glass plate for each of the Lincoln-McClellan photographs shortly before they were created. It would have taken them about 5 minutes of time to do so, followed by another 5 minutes to complete the development of each specific negative shortly thereafter [I believe the Gardner team simultaneously prepared the two negative plates used for the creation of these photos]. In other words, sitting for a photograph was a lengthy process by today’s standards, especially for an ultra-busy and fidgety President who was in the midst of prosecuting a war which hadn’t been going too well up to that point. The two images captured by the photographers were not candid snapshots. The technology which then existed required the men to be posed and to hold their poses.

In the first photograph of Lincoln seated in the tent with McClellan (above), Alexander Gardner situated the Commander-in-Chief slightly forward of McClellan and likely asked Lincoln not to gaze directly at McClellan. To make the scene as patriotic looking as possible, Lincoln was posed next to a table draped with the American flag upon which his stovepipe hat rested between two candlesticks. It needs to be understood that Lincoln never looked completely comfortable when he was photographed. As Ohio politician Donn Piatt recalled, Lincoln “had a face that defied artistic skill to soften or idealize.” Writes Harold Holzer, “photographs did little to disguise Lincoln’s sometimes vacant expression, his so-called photographer’s face.” Lloyd Ostendorf describes Lincoln’s “photographer’s face” in the following manner:

Whenever Lincoln posed, a dark melancholy settled over his features. He put on what Mrs. Lincoln called his ‘photographer’s face.’ There is no camera study which shows him laughing, for such an attitude, unfortunately, was impossible when long exposures were required. A man who knew Lincoln, Dr. James Miner, commented: ‘His large bony face when in repose was unspeakably sad and as unreadable as that of a sphinx, his eyes were as expressionless as those of a dead fish’” (emphasis added)

It is THAT “photographer’s face” which I see particularly in the first photograph — Lincoln with vacant and expressionless eyes gazing off into the distance. I detect no palpable tension in Lincoln’s face, although he surely felt some discomfort over posing rigidly during each of the several second exposures (perhaps for as long as 5 to 10 seconds as betrayed by the flag blurred by the movement of a breeze and the piece of paper blown up against the bottom of Lincoln’s chair in the second view).

Lincoln-McClellan-tent Antietam

McClellan’s gaze is locked onto Lincoln’s face in both views. In the first, the General sat with his left hand relaxed on his leg and a cigar perched in that hand. But in the second, when Lincoln presumably was directed by Alexander Gardner to look McClellan straight in the eye, McClellan sat up straighter in his chair and leaned slightly forward so his face wasn’t partially in the sunlight. You might conclude that his demeanor was a bit more attentive and even respectful (for example, his cigar can no longer be seen).

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McClellan looks somewhat less comfortable in that second photo. But his slight discomfort probably had little to do with Lincoln’s gaze. Alex Gardner likely directed him to bring his face completely into the shadows — so that it wouldn’t be bisected half-in and half-out of the sunlight as occurred in the first view. Lincoln, on the other hand, did not do anything between the exposures other than execute a slight turn of his head in order to look directly at McClellan’s face. Yet, in profile he still affected his “photographer’s face;” kind of like a poker-face expression. If anything, Lincoln’s appearance and demeanor in the second view might be described as “cool as a cucumber.”LC-B817- 7948 04351az

Watch for the appearance of the second “tent” photograph in Episode 3, “Forever Free.” When you see it, realize that Ken Burns in 1990 did not have access to the ultra-high resolution digital scans I have used in this piece. The quality of the photographs which he then filmed with his 16mm camera just wasn’t anything like what can be seen today. His 2015 edition is the product of remastering that original 16mm film stock. It does not utilize today’s digital scans of what are presumed to be first or early generation glass plate negatives. Without criticizing or taking away anything from Ken Burn’s Civil War masterpiece, I think the best way to answer what the faces of men like Lincoln project or betray in 150+ year old photographs is to look at their modern day digital scans.

Craig Heberton, September 7, 2015

[Stay tuned for updates after episodes of the 2015 remastered The Civil War run over the course of the next several days]

If You Like the Improvement in Civil War Photo Quality, Check This Out …

If you are finding the Civil War photographs used in the 2015 remastered version of  “The Civil War” to be a significant step forward in improved quality, you might want to watch Burns’ short video “Restoring the Film” at http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/civil-war/ which explains the restoration process. Here is a capture of one of the examples used in that video. It is a “before-and-after” vidcap of detail within a photograph of “Fighting Joe” Hooker, a Union General who briefly commanded the Army of the Potomac. The “before” version is on the right side; the “after” on the left.

Ken Burns_Restoration examples in video-02

Ken Burns explains in the video that within the Civil War photographs, you now can see that “the whites are whiter and the blacks are deeper and richer.” His restorers also elaborate that this is so because the digital scanning process applied to the original film stock allowed them to manipulate the contrast in order to enhance details within the original photographs which were filmed by Burns and his team in 16mm.

But if you want to see the same image in even more amazing detail on your computer screen, go to the source which houses the original print image — the Library of Congress — and see and download (if you are inclined) at their website a 104.7 megabyte .tiff file of the print.  You can find it here. Now place detail of Hooker from that Library of Congress scan next to the restored Ken Burns image. After some of my own photo editing work, here is what they look like side-by-side. The details in Hooker’s face are substantially better revealed in the Library of Congress scan.

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However, the most impressive details to be seen within super hi-res scans at the Library of Congress collection are those made from the glass plate negatives in its collection or housed at the National Archives. The General Hooker example, above, is from a print so there are limitations in the amount of detail that even very high resolution scans can extract from such an old print.

Craig Heberton, September 9, 2015

The Big Picture: Where Would Lincoln Be? Heberton Reveals His Findings

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Gardner1stphoto 178 Lincoln DS

See the evidence – click here

In 2010, Craig Heberton and his associate began to review within the Library of Congress’ collection several hi-resolution digital images of three stereographic photographs by Alexander Gardner taken on November 19, 1863 at the Gettysburg Soldier’s Cemetery dedication ceremony – two of which reveal the image of Abraham Lincoln at the scene of the Gettysburg Address – or so Heberton believed and set out to prove. Heberton published his findings in an eBook in 2012: Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg: A Review of Alexander Gardner’s Stereoscopic Photographs. The book (published by WMI Books and available on Amazon) broke new ground in the identification of individuals surrounding Lincoln and the events of that important day at Gettysburg.

On September 24, 2013, the SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE released an article  in their October 2013 issue titled: “Will the Real Abraham Lincoln Please Stand Up?”.  The article announces a photographic discovery by Civil War expert, Christopher Oakley, that places Abraham Lincoln in an Alexander Gardner photograph as well – but Oakley’s figure is different from Heberton’s.  In fact,  Heberton and Oakley make a case for two different figures as the true Lincoln.   A link to the SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE article is below:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Will-the-Real-Abraham-Lincoln-Please-Stand-Up-224911272.html#the-new-lincoln-photo-1.jpg

But before reading more, take a look at the big picture yourself in the photo above.  Enlarge it and take in the scene. What do you see? What do you feel?

Alexander Gardner captured a moment here during the four- hour consecration ceremony of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg , on November 19, 1863.   The crowd that was estimated at 15,000, gathered near a hill and a low platform where President Abraham Lincoln and other dignitaries were seated.  Lincoln was to give a short consecration speech — a simple address — following the 2-hour oration by the featured speaker, the Hon. Edward Everett.   Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address took under three minutes to deliver, but what he said continues to ripple across human consciousness today.  Could that be why we yearn to see yet one more photograph of this moment, especially if it would reveal Lincoln in 3-D?

Links for Gettysburg Address and the event in 1863:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettysburg_Address#Contemporary_sources_and_reaction

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consecration_of_the_National_Cemetery_at_Gettysburg

Now, follow along as Craig Heberton, author of ABRAHAM LINCOLN AT GETTYSBURG: A REVIEW OF ALEXANDER GARDNER’S STEREOSCOPIC PHOTOS,  dissects the big picture and elaborates on his findings that place Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg possibly in two stereoscopic photographs in a location which disagrees with the findings of Professor Oakley. Both explanations are compelling, but who is right?  Read the following and decide for yourself:

(1) When Lincoln approached the elevated speakers’ stand he was “the observed of all observers” in the words of one journalist. Oakley’s Lincoln is  “the completely unobserved of all observers” (with apologies to Shakespeare’s Hamlet).  No one nearby pays him any attention whatsoever even though he is supposed to be beginning his ascent up steps to the speakers’ platform unaccompanied by other members of his entourage (such as his Secretaries Usher and Blair, members of Lincoln’s Cabinet, who like Secretary of State William Seward accompanied Lincoln to the platform). Prof. Oakley asserts that Secretary Seward is visible in the first Gardner photo seated on the speakers’ platform as many as 10 minutes before his Lincoln magically appears — for the very first time — and then begins his ascent up steps to the platform, ignored and unaccompanied by anyone.  Heberton’s Lincoln, on the other hand, is the center of attention for the entire visible crowd on the speakers’ platform. Unlike Oakley’s Lincoln, he is positioned in front of the speakers’ platform on his horse near a presidential-looking eagle finial topped banner. He also is trailed by Lincoln’s “special escort” from the War Department — Provost Marshal General James B. Fry. In his capacity as Lincoln’s special escort, Fry picked up Lincoln at the White House in a carriage, took him to the train station, accompanied him to Gettysburg, and rode behind his President in the procession to the cemetery. Fry later stood near Lincoln on the rostrum. One of Fry’s subordinates was the Gettysburg cemetery dedication event’s Marshal-in-chief — Ward H. Lamon, whose real job was U.S. Marshal for D.C. Lamon believed that his most important job was to keep his former law partner, Abraham Lincoln, safe. Pinpointing Fry on horseback in the first Gardner photo assures us that — as is Heberton’s Lincoln — the real Lincoln is close by.

(2) No men removed or doffed their hats near Oakley’s Lincoln (neither men standing on the ground oriented towards Oakley’s Lincoln nor anyone on the platform) removed their hats in the 2nd Gardner photo in a showing of respect for Oakley’s Lincoln. Journalists described most men removing or doffing their hats in a show of respect as Lincoln approached the speaker’s platform. Two military men staring directly down upon Heberton’s Lincoln (who faces away from them) from atop the speakers’ platform in the first Gardner photo were hatless; by the time the 2nd photo was taken, they had replaced their kepis on their heads.

(3) Oakley’s alleged Seward is seated in the absolutely wrong location despite Prof. Oakley’s claim that his students “triangulated the location of the speakers’ stand from four photos … [and] his Lincoln appeared in precisely the right spot.” Oakley places Secretary of State William Seward at the far right end of the platform, dangling upon it’s edge, and sitting adjacent to alleged stairs. He identifies no other men of distinction near his Seward in Gardner’s first photo. Also, Oakley’s Seward is not in the front row of chairs on the speakers’ platform, rather he is situated several rows behind other men seated with their backs to him. The restrictive view offered by Gardner’s obtuse camera angle and obstructing men mounted on horseback does not reveal fully how many rows deep sat Oakley’s Seward from the front row on the platform. Bachrach’s photo, on the other hand, shows Seward seated next to Lincoln centered in the middle of the first row of the most important dignitaries with an unimpeded view of the crowd. Scholars agree with that alignment. The Bachrach photo shows that no stairs were to Seward’s left; instead, there were — in the following order — Edward Everett then standing, two of Chief Marshal Ward H. Lamon’s aides (standing), Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin and one of his sons, New York Gov. Seymour, and Ohio Gov. Tod. Those three governors represented the states of the Union which had lost the most men at the Battle of Gettysburg — other governors and ex-governors also attended. Several distinctive men visible in the Bachrach photo near the far right side of the platform also are visible in the Gardner photos. They give us the perspective necessary to understand the different views that each of Alexander Gardner and David Bachrach had of the speakers’ platform. Despite Seward’s importance, in the first Gardner photo, Oakley’s Seward is guarded by two little boys standing directly behind him; in the second photo, one of the two boys remained standing behind Oakley’s Steward and Lincoln — two very unexpected platform attendants for two of the three most powerful men in Washington, D.C. Seward is Prof. Oakley’s lynchpin argument for his Lincoln. If his Seward is wrong, then he is left with no one who should have been near the President when he walked up onto the platform and his Lincoln theory is undercut. The mere fact that Oakley’s Seward is seated in the wrong place in the first and second photos and as many as ten minutes ahead of Oakley’s Lincoln means that he cannot be William Seward. [Note: it bears mentioning that Alexander Gardner’s photographic platform was not lined up facing the front of the speakers’ platform; his camera platform was at an obtuse angle to the rostrum and because of that angle, obstructing men mounted on their horses, and members of the crowd standing upon the speakers’ platform, the front row of the speakers’ platform was not visible to Gardner’s camera].

(4) A thick white emulsion crack runs horizontally across a side view of Oakley’s Seward in Gardner’s first photo and his entire facial profile is blurred, preventing an evaluation of his eyes or eyebrows. Oakley acknowledges that his Seward appears as a “gray blur.” The white crack runs horizontally from the lower portion of his nose across his face, preventing any determination of the shape of the tip of that man’s nose. Prof. Oakley claims that in Gardner’s second photo his Seward’s head is “slightly away from [the] camera …[but] in perfect profile.” A review of that photo shows that Oakley’s Seward is not in “perfect profile” and turned so far away from the camera that only the tip of his nose is visible. His chin is distorted by damage to the plate and his eyes and eyebrows (again) are not discernible. In Bachrach’s photo, Seward appears to be seated wearing a topcoat which completely obscures his shirt collar. The entire shirt collar on Oakley’s Seward in the Alexander Gardner photos, however, is fully exposed and he does not appear to be wearing a topcoat over his formal jacket. A blurred man not seated in the proper place does not make for a good candidate to use for overlaying studio photos of Seward.

(5) Prof. Oakley’s claim that his alleged Lincoln is visible only in Gardner’s second photo appears to be wrong. Oakley asserts that his Lincoln appears in Gardner’s second photo by “accident” because he was “standing below the platform” and just then “preparing to mount the steps” to the speakers’ platform. The visual evidence points to a more probable scenario — that Oakley’s Lincoln was seated in the first photo in the exact spot where Oakley places him in the second photo, sporting a tall hat in the identical location and tilted forward in an extremely similar orientation. In this instance, Oakley’s Lincoln’s face cannot be seen, probably because it was turned toward Oakley’s alleged Seward — whose face happened to be turned more towards the alleged Lincoln. Perhaps these gentlemen exchanged a remark about their inability to see what was going on in front of the rostrum. If Oakley’s Lincoln is visible in both photos it means that he was seated at the extreme far end of the speaker’s platform several rows deep from the front of the platform. Otherwise, if his Lincoln was standing in both photos he would have stood rooted in one spot between the shooting of the first and second photos (which, according to Prof. Oakley, was “as much as ten minutes”). Accepting, for the sake of argument that Oakley’s Gardner is visible only in the second photo, Oakley offers no explanation for his whereabouts in the first photo. A review of the positioning of the same people who were moving between the first and second photos reveals that no more than about two minutes (and probably less) passed between those exposures. Oakley’s Lincoln (and his entourage) should be visible somewhere on horseback or on foot within a huge wide open area unimpeded by mounted riders behind his second photo location. However, he is not visible anywhere in the first photo. The best explanation for that is because he was seated on the speakers’ platform next to the alleged Seward.

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6. If Oakley’s Lincoln was “preparing to mount steps” as he approached the platform on foot then he was in motion rather than stationary. Since he was in motion throughout some or all of the second photo’s time of exposure it must be asked how Gardner’s camera managed to capture an image of him sufficiently clear to reveal all of the minute facial details which Oakley claims renders his candidate a perfect match to a studio photo taken by the same photographer at a distance of a few feet as opposed to 80 to 90 yards at Gettysburg? The answer is that such a feat was impossible given the limitations of 1863 camera and photographic technology. Furthermore, if Oakley’s Lincoln was approaching steps in the second photo he would have appeared either as a series of blurred, twinned, or ghost images. For example, a boy visible in the foreground a few feet from Gardner’s camera moved during some of the exposure resulting in a series of FOUR images of him within the photo. One of those images was clear enough to reveal that he had stood in one of his four spots for about four to five seconds. Each of the other three images of the boy are faint ghost images attesting to his movement. All of this evidence, and more, establishes that Oakley’s Lincoln was stationary and relatively motionless throughout the exposure of the second photo. This further establishes that Oakley’s Lincoln was seated in the second photo at the very edge of the platform to the left of Oakley’s Seward just as he had been in the first photo. But as Prof.  Oakley has acknowledged, Lincoln sat to Seward’s right on the platform, not to his left.

(7) Prof. Oakley’s assertion that ten minutes could have passed between the exposure of the first and second photo is not supported; moreover, it is disproved by his claim that Seward is visible in both photos. One of Prof. Oakley’s current backers, William Frassanito, stated in early 2008 that three to five minutes passed between the first two Gardner exposures.  John Richter has estimated the gap at a minute or two. According to journalists’ reports, Lincoln immediately trailed his cabinet members (including Seward) when he surmounted steps to the platform. If Oakley is correct in his identification of Seward in both Gardner photos, then the time gap between the first and the second Gardner photo had to have been no more than a few seconds or possibly even a minute and we should be able to see the other attending members of Lincoln’s cabinet accompanying him — Secretaries Usher and Blair. But, we do not. Also, as mentioned above, if the time gap between photos #1 and #2 was a minute or less, Oakley’s Lincoln should be just as visible somewhere in the first Gardner photo.

Prof. Oakley’s work on his Virtual Lincoln Project is to be greatly respected, but based upon what has been published, his identification of Lincoln appears to be off the mark.

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Questions and inquiries?  amy@wcabooks.com

The original photographic digital images used in this blog are from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C., Civil War glass negative collection