A Triumph of the Wet-Plate, Among Other Things
June 21, 2014 1:49 AM   Subscribe

The Photographic History of the Civil War (10 vols.; 1911) offered context for thousands of striking images from the American Civil War: 1 - The Opening Battles; 2 - Two Years of Grim War; 3 - The Decisive Battles; 4 - The Cavalry; 5 - Forts and Artillery; 6 - The Navies; 7 - Prisons and Hospitals; 8 - Soldier Life / Secret Service; 9 - Poetry and Eloquence of Blue and Gray; 10 - Armies and Leaders. It was also a capstone in the intriguing career of a little-known popular historian and silent era filmmaker.

Edited by Francis Trevelyan Miller, Litt.D., LL.D., the work drew on dozens of photographic sources, but chiefly the Brady-Gardner collection. Miller had also provided the text for Original Photographs Taken on the Battlefields During the Civil War of the United States (1907), which focused exclusively on that collection. (The Internet Archive has several alternative scans of the longer work, e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10, as well as an alternative scan of the Brady/Gardner book.)

Newer, flashier resources on related topics include these colorized Civil War photos and YA author John Green's entertaining video Crash Course on the Civil War, which covers photography in its latter half.

But Miller himself had a flair for the popular and the dramatic. Founder and first editor-in-chief of The Journal of American History, he's pictured here in his 1909 book Hero Tales from American Life, which was probably intended for young adults. Miller also co-directed the 1916 short film, Diana the Huntress, based on his own adaptation of Roman mythology and starring Valda Valkyrien and the artist/actor Paul Swan (better known from Andy Warhol's Paul Swan (1965) and Camp (1965)). And he is credited with the scenario and screen story for a 1919 silent film about Helen Keller called Deliverance that featured remarkably grandiose symbolism, not to mention Helen Keller flying in a biplane, Helen Keller's imaginary romantic relationship with Ulysses, and Helen Keller sounding a trumpet while riding a horse and leading a flag-waving mob.

Previously: Images of the Civil War, Historical Photographs and Documents, Animated Maps of Civil War Battles, Colorized Photos, Crash Course, and Helen Keller.
posted by Monsieur Caution (9 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Outstanding post.

Dead on on a topic I love, re:the adolescence of photography coinciding with an incredibly photo-worthy event, the American Civil War, and how those old photogs were 75% photo artist and 25% chemist. Those old wet plates delivered fantastic resolution, but were horrible to haul around.

I love them and what they do, but hot damn that archive.org interface sucks.
posted by Sphinx at 4:18 AM on June 21, 2014

My father had something like that set of books. It might have even been the same one. I spent days looking at them. They left me with two main impressions: 1. War has lots of neat machinery. 2. It's not any fun for the people doing it. We also had an LP of civil-war songs, but I don't know if it was associated with the books.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:11 AM on June 21, 2014

Fabulous post! Just fucking incredible. Thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 5:13 AM on June 21, 2014

I used to want these books badly, but I'm sure glad I didn't give in and load myself down with them—now I can enjoy them for free!

> hot damn that archive.org interface sucks.

You realize that besides the "read online" option they offer PDF, Plain text, DAISY, ePub, DjVu, MOBI, and Send to Kindle, don't you? I'm not sure what else they can do to make you happy.
posted by languagehat at 6:54 AM on June 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Incidentally, The Met in NYC had an exhibit on photography in the Civil War a few months ago. One of the things I found striking was the abundance of medical photography; if I'm not mistaken, I think it was the first time photography was used to document injuries (and treatment of same) sustained during wartime.

Thanks for the post, this wasn't a topic I expected to see again so soon after the fact.
posted by supermassive at 8:58 AM on June 21, 2014

This is the best kind of metafilter post.

This is totally gonna be what I read on my summer vacation next month. Thank you.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:17 PM on June 21, 2014

Wow, I've barely dipped my toes in the depths of this astonishing post. Thanks!
posted by dejah420 at 1:56 PM on June 21, 2014

they offer PDF, Plain text, DAISY, ePub, DjVu, MOBI, and Send to Kindle

Unfortunately, there does seem to be a fundamental problem with linking directly to the reader, as I've done. It looks to me like if you click the Open Library link from within the reader, it always takes you to the Open Library page for volume 1, making it non-obvious how to get the other formats for other volumes. I should have noticed this when preparing the post.

Here are links to the portal pages for all ten volumes: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:19 PM on June 21, 2014

Ouch, I also didn't read the Journal of American History's history far enough--same founding date, different journal.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:12 PM on June 21, 2014

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