Signal tower on Elk Mountain
(GARDNER, ALEXANDER.) O’Sullivan, Timothy. Signal Tower on Elk Mountain, Maryland, Overlooking Battlefield of Antietam (plate 22 from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War)
Washington: Gardner, [1865-66]
Albumen print (approx. 7 x 9 in.), original mount with lithographed frame and caption. Minor occasional soiling and fading. Excellent condition, with good strong tones.
The Army Signal Corps played a key role at Antietam, relating enemy movements to the commanders and transmitting orders in turn. Gardner notes that the Elk Mountain tower was the most important of the look-outs at Antietam.
The most celebrated collection of Civil War photographs, Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War contains “many of the most graphic and memorable Civil War images that have come down to us” (ICP). The photographs covered the entire conflict from Manassas in 1862 to the dedication of the monument at Bull Run in June 1865. Gardner presents the photographs, each accompanied by his descriptive text, as “mementoes of the fearful struggle,” recording war as it had never been recorded before.
Alexander Gardner joined Mathew Brady’s studio in the 1850s and introduced the new wet-plate collodion process there. This process was employed in the photographs of the Sketch Book. When Brady’s sight deteriorated in the 1850s, Gardner became the studio’s chief photographer. Working with the Army of the Potomac as a civilian photographer, Gardner happened to be present during the Battle of Antietam. Carrying his heavy equipment over the battlefield in the immediate aftermath of this bloodiest of battles, he captured a series of beautiful and shocking images. Within a month of publication they were exhibited at Brady’s New York gallery, where crowds waited in line for hours to view them. When Brady accepted credit for the images, as he was wont to do, the outraged Gardner resigned and set up his own studio, bringing the leading Brady photographers with him. These men, including George Barnard, David Knox, Timothy O’Sullivan, and William Pywell, contributed to the immense Photographic Sketch Book project, and they are scrupulously credited in its captions.