October 18th, 1862, Harper's Weekly Woodcuts
The Version of Gardner's Photographs Most People Saw
A relatively small number of people actually saw Gardner's photographs at Brady's Gallery in New York City or purchased the photos at Brady's and other galleries in the autumn of 1862.
The majority of people, both North and South, who saw versions of Harper's Weekly. That weekly magazine reported a subscription of over 150,000 (equivalent to about 1.5 million today) during the Civil War. In the October 18, 1862 issue, woodcuts based on the photos were published in a two-page centerfold.
While the commentary published with the photographs called them: "these wonderfully lifelike pictures," the published woodcuts left out the details of the dead:; [sic] open mouths, stiff fingers, bare skin, and the detritus of battle around them. The looks of the living whose task it was [sic] would be to bury the dead were also excluded. In addition, the woodcut artist set the mood of each image by sketching in his idea of the sky since the wet-plate photo technology ique [sic] of the 1860s was normally unable to capture anything but a blank sky. [sic] realistically capture the look of the sky.
Rather than the images Oliver Wendell Holmes described:
Let him who wishes to know what war is look at this series of illustrations... It was so nearly like visiting the battle-field to look over these views, that all the emotions excited by the actual sight of the stained and sordid scene, strewed with rags and wrecks...
Harper's Weekly readers saw a more pastoral landscape where the dead looked like they were only sleeping and might could [sic] soon arise from their slumbers. These were images that had more in common with earlier "Beautiful Death" drawings than the actual Gardner photographs. One wonders what reactions people had when they may have later seen the actual photographs?
In the fore-ground of which are a number of dead bodies grouped in every imaginal [sic] position, the stiffened limbs preserving the same attitude as that maintained by the sufferers in their last agonies. Minute as are the features of the dead, and unrecognizable by the naked eye, you can, by bringing a magnifying glass to bear on them, identify not merely their general outline, but actual expression.
-- Harper's Weekly