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When Sitting on a Porch Means So Much More

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821–1882) | Brigadier General Gustavus A. DeRussy and Staff on Steps of Arlington House, Arlington, Virginia | 1986.1166.2

Alexander Gardner (American, 1821–1882). Brigadier General Gustavus A. DeRussy and Staff on Steps of Arlington House, Arlington, Virginia, May 1864. Albumen silver print from glass negative; 6 3/4 x 9 1/16 in. (17.2 x 23 cm); Mount: 10 7/8 x 12 1/2 in. (27.7 x 31.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, A. Hyatt Mayor Purchase Fund, Marjorie Phelps Starr Bequest, 1986 (1986.1166.2)

Curator Jeff L. Rosenheim recently spoke to the Teen Advisory Group about the current exhibition Photography and the American Civil War. As part of his talk, he showed us an 1864 photograph of Union soldiers posing on the front steps of Robert E. Lee's Virginia home, which the government had confiscated in 1861. These soldiers are well aware that they're gathered on the Confederate commander's front porch, and they purposely pose in a casual way. When Jeff showed us this image, he said that the Union officers were "occupying" Lee's home, which immediately made me think about the modern-day Occupy Wall Street movement.

It is mindboggling to see that more than one hundred years before Occupy Wall Street, these Civil War soldiers are using a similar tactic to send a message! Just as Occupy Wall Streeters camped out in Zuccotti Park to send a message to the government, these soldiers are occupying Lee's former home to declare that he is to blame for the suffering of the Civil War. These men leave no doubt about their cause; as this photograph communicates, the Union Army has definitely and defiantly taken over.

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