A Harvest of Death

Object Details

Title:

A Harvest of Death

Artist/Maker(s):

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, about 1840 - 1882)

Print by Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821 - 1882)

Culture:

American

Date:

negative July 4, 1863; print 1866

Medium:

Albumen silver print

Dimensions:

17.8 x 22.1 cm (7 x 8 11/16 in.)

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Slowly, over the misty fields of Gettysburg--as all reluctant to expose their ghastly horrors to the light--came the sunless morn, after the retreat by [General Robert. E.] Lee's broken army. Through the shadowy vapors, it was, indeed, a "harvest of death" that was presented; hundreds and thousands of torn Union and rebel soldiers--although many of the former were already interred--strewed the now quiet fighting ground, soaked by the rain, which for two days had drenched the country with its fitful showers.

This paragraph opens the text that Alexander Gardner wrote to accompany this photograph in Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War. Both text and image eloquently capture the war's toll of death and destruction, especially apparent after the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place from July 1 to July 3, 1863. Although Gardner's caption identifies the men in the photograph as "rebels represented...without shoes," they are probably Union dead. During the Civil War, shoes were routinely removed from corpses because supplies were scarce and surviving troops needed them.

Related Works
Exhibitions
Grave Testimony: Photographs of the Civil War (January 14 to March 29, 1992)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum, (Malibu), January 14 to March 29, 1992
Arrows of Time: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (January 24 to April 2, 1995)
  • Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center at UCLA, (Los Angeles), January 24 to April 2, 1995
Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties (June 29 to November 14, 2010)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), June 29 to November 14, 2010