Art/ Collection/ Art Object

[The Wilderness Battlefield]

Possibly by Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821–1882 Washington, D.C.)
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Image: 4 15/16 × 3 1/4 in. (12.5 × 8.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005
Accession Number:
Not on view
The Battle of the Wilderness was fought May 5-7, 1864, in the same Virginia forest disputed a year before in the Chancellorsville campaign. When the soldiers took their positions in the woods, the ground was already littered with skulls. The densely wooded landscape made conventional field warfare impossible. Artillery was all but useless. Musketry fire splintered and gnawed the young trees. The thick undergrowth of thorny brambles, thickets, and roots, which made earthen defenses hard to build, could not itself stop stray bullets. Fighting virtually blind, soldiers often mistook their own forces for the enemy. Unable either to attack or to defend themselves, the armies of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant fought to a bloody draw. Although no statistics of Confederate losses are known, Union losses at Wilderness were staggering: 2,246 killed, 12,137 wounded, and 3,383 missing--second only to Gettysburg in their numbers.
These three scenes were probably made after the war's end, when cleanup operations were under way. Formerly attributed to Alexander Gardner, these views are drawn from a group of twenty-eight that appear illuminated by an unearthly light. Printed from negatives that were probably unintentionally solarized during development, the photographs are tonally reversed, the black sky becoming an appropriate symbol for the terrible place called Wilderness.
Inscription: Negative number inscribed on negative image, BR: "62"; inscribed in pencil on print, verso C: "View in woods, north [?] // of [illegible] road; [illegible] // 62// wilderness #19"; Stamped in blue ink on print, verso BR: "ART DEPARTMENT // THE CENTURY CO. // UNION SQUARE // NEW YORK CITY"
Frederick Hill Meserve Collection; [Paul Katz, North Bennington, Vermont, June 30, 1983]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York

Apraxine, Pierre. Photographs from the Collection of the Gilman Paper Company. Reeds Springs, Mo.: White Oak Press, 1985. pl. 101–104.

Lingwood, James, ed. Staging the Self: Self-Portrait Photography, 1840s–1880s. London: National Portrait Gallery, London, 1986. p. 30.

Heilbrun, Françoise. L'Invention d'un Regard (1839–1918). Paris: Musée d'Orsay, 1989. pl. 99 a, b, c.

Sandweiss, Martha, ed. Photography in Nineteenth Century America. Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum of American Art, 1991. p. 4, pl. 5.

Hambourg, Maria Morris, Pierre Apraxine, Malcolm Daniel, Virginia Heckert, and Jeff L. Rosenheim. The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 110, p. 318.

Dugan, Ellen, ed. Picturing the South: 1860 to the Present: Photographers and Writers. Atlanta: High Museum of Art, 1996. pp. 46–47.

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