Death and Destruction: Stereoscope Cards of Gettysburg

Photographs of the Civil War seem to focus around two themes: landscapes of fields and forests to help families back home visualize the places they read about in the newspapers, and photographs taken just after the battle of the many dead on those once beautiful fields. Stereoscope cards enhanced this experience, and allowed people 5 months to 5 years later to remember what happened.

Stereoscopy is a photographic technique used to create the illusion of depth. Two almost identical pictures are placed side by side, and a special viewer is used to force each eye to look at one of the images, combining them in the brain into one 3D image.  A modern stereoscope picture can be created with a special camera, but they were created during the Civil War either by placing two cameras right next to one another, or by a photographer shifting one camera two or three inches to the left or right of the original image to take the second.

The pictures below of the carnage at Gettysburg seem gruesome and macabre to a modern viewer, but it is important to remember that these pictures were intended to be an important historic record, and by being turned into stereoscope cards they could heighten the sense of realism and emotional impact of the image.

To see more of the Library of Congress Civil War collection visit this page; to see their collection of stereoscope cards visit this page.

Gettysburg civil war

Three “Johnnie Reb” Prisoners, captured at Gettysburg, 1863

Gettysburg civil war

War effect of a shell on a Confederate soldier at battle of Gettysburg

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Union (i.e. Confederate) dead at Gettysburg

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Battle-field of Gettysburg – Effect of Union shot and shell on the trees on Culp’s Hill

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View at Losser’s (i.e. Trostle’s) barn, where the 9th Massachusetts Battery was cut up

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Gen. Lee’s headquarters

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Meadow over which the 2d Mass. and 27th Indiana charged on morning of July 3d. Woods occupied by Confederates, Johnson’s Div., Ewell’s Corps

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Confederate soldiers who had evidently been shelled by our batteries on Round Top, at the Battle of Gettysburg

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Battle-field of Gettysburg – Theological Seminary, used as a hospital during and after the battle

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On the battlefield at Gettysburg

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Rock Creek, below Culp’s Hill

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Wounded trees at Gettysburg

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Gettysburg, Pa. Alfred R. Waud, artist of Harper’s Weekly, sketching on battlefield




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