I must confess, I do find many an American Civil War snap to be an absolute hoot. As insensitive as it is considering the carnage of the feud, they, not Union Army general-in-chief George B. McClellan, remain for me the real mystery of the war (see U.S. Grant observation). A combination of obscenely long exposure times and the photographer and subjects’ conscious imitation of the stylistic conventions of painting results in the most otherworldly, seemingly out-of-place actors and scenes ever captured in conflict.
Lincoln and ‘chums’.
It’s as if smiling would impart a lack of gentlemanly elegance, or worse, a madness recorded for posterity. The classical aesthetic is at total odds with the haphazard, improvised nature of the battles and campaigns that claimed the lives of an estimated 620,000 men.
Lincoln and McClellan.
I picture generals halting their chatter of logistics and supplies to stare passively into space in a kind of Victorian ‘Mannequin Challenge’ whilst the bloke with the big fuck-off camera got his photo. Ghostly (or alternatively ghastly) images, they are utterly bizarre to behold.
Ulysses S. Grant, standing (centre).