[The Wilderness Battlefield]
Not on view
There is still much to learn about the role of the camera during the Civil War. One day we may know more about some of the war’s most intriguing field photographs: the macabre studies of skulls and unburied bones discovered by an unknown photographer in the Wilderness battlefield where Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant had fought to a bloody draw in May 1864. It seems likely that these photographs date from the immediate postwar period, during cleanup operations. Printed from negatives that were probably unintentionally solarized during development in the field, the photographs appear illuminated by an unearthly light and are, in part, tonally reversed: the black sky becoming an appropriate symbol for the terrible place called Wilderness, second only to Gettysburg in the number of Union killed, wounded, and missing.