Calling Cards of the Dead

Art: 'Photography and the American Civil War'

On May 10, 1905, my great-great-grandfather—a Civil War veteran, a former U.S. congressman, and at that time a federal judge—gave an address at the laying of the cornerstone of a monument to the Confederate dead in his hometown of Chester, South Carolina. He reflected on the Civil War that was then forty years past, a conflict in which he had lost his left arm. Recalling the comrades who had fought with him, he observed, “The pen of history can only record its larger events.... The spirit of an epoch, its true atmosphere, can be gathered only from the actions and incidents in the lives of individuals, often obscure and generally unknown to fame.”

The exhibit “Photography and the American Civil War” beautifully expresses the spirit of that epoch. Organized by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it opened, the exhibit was on view at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina, until January 5 and will be at the New Orleans Museum of Art from January 31 to May 4. With more than two hundred items, this powerful and exhausting show constitutes a record of those obscure and often unnamed individuals, documented through the then-new medium of photography.


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About the Author

Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill, a frequent contributor, is the co-author (with Joseph Papp) of Shakespeare Alive! and a 2010 graduate of Yale Divinity School.