The Trust’s Teachers Institute: Garry Adelman’s Photo Extravaganza!

Garry Extravaganza

The Garry Adelman Photo Extravaganza!

Garry Adelman calls his program a “photography extravaganza,” and he isn’t kidding. Of course, I have a feeling Garry could have a single photograph to discuss, and his enthusiasm and animation would turn it into an extravaganza. He can hardly wait to tell you what cool stuff he’s discovered—an excited 10-year-old boy trapped in a fiftysomething’s body.

“I have a three hour presentation to give in 50 minutes,” he tells the audience. They laugh, but he’s serious. “And I’ll do it, somehow,” he promises.

I’m at the American Battlefield Trust’s Teachers Institute., and Garry’s about to take the stage for his self-described “Civil War Photo Extravaganza.” 

He tells us that he’ll limit his talk to the Eastern Theater. “I can’t cover the whole war, I can’t cover the whole east, in an extravaganza format—but this is my attempt to do that,” he explains.

He begins by introducing us to photographers in the field, driving around their “Whatsit Wagons,” which contained mobile darkrooms. “Yes, those photos were made in those wagons,” he says.

Few photographers ventured into the field, he explains. Of the 3,000 or so photographers working at the time, only a dozen or two went on location. “What made you money were the portraits you took in your studios,” Garry says. “You take a portrait, someone likes it and orders four copies—yes!” As a photographer, that’s what you wanted.

New technology allowed photographers to develop negatives on glass plates., which made those multiple copies posible. “Wetplate negatives made photography explode,” Garry explains. Previous forms of photographic technology—tintypes and daguerreotypes—created single images. “If you wanted another, had to take a new image,” Garry says.



Another of the major benefits of glass plate negatives, he explains later, is that they are physically 25 or 30 times bigger than the negatives we’re used to from film. That allows for an incredible level of detail that you can zoom in and see. He zooms in on the hand of a former slave sitting in a contraband camp, and we can clearly see the lines in his hands. “If his hands were turned over, you could see his fingerprints.” Garry marvels. “Try that with a digital photograph!”

The level of details allows him to shows us a photobomber in the bushes on the Peninsula…flies on John Burns’ knees…the awed expressions of people watching the Grand Review after the war. “You can find photos within photos because you can zoom in so closely,” he said.

Garry also talks about the twin-lens cameras photographers used so viewers could see their images in 3-D.

Not the East.jpg

The Western Theater

With that background, Garry talked about the abundance of photos that came from the eastern theatre. His throws up a map that highlights Virginia, Maryland, and part of Pennsylvania, labeled “The East.” The rest of the American map is labeled “The West”—or, as his next slide reveals, “Not the East.”

But look at the size of the Western Theater, Garry points out. Geographically, it’s huge. “You can’t cover one-tenth of it. You can’t cover one-twentieth,” he says. As a result, “the West is not photographed nearly as well.” For instance, only three shots of Shiloh came out in the first eight years after the war. None from Franklin. Only twenty from Vicksburg (sparse numbers considering the length of time the armies were there).

The East, in contrast, was close to the population and media centers, close to the bulks of the photographers and their studios, and close to photography supplies. In the South, after the blockade really started to work, photographers began to run out of supplies.

“There are thousands of sketches on Civil War battlefields,” Garry says, pointing out that there are a lot of photographs from the same places at the same time. “You can explore these images with your students in a lot of ways,” Garry tells the teachers. “You don’t need a formal program. There’s a lot to discover.”

A key theme he comes back to, over and over, is the power the photographs have to make people real. “I love how these images humanize people,” he says.

That was one of the real impacts of Alexander Gardner’s twenty-photo series from Antietam. “It shocked the nation,” Garry says. “I can’t stress that enough.”

He invites the audience to look closely: “Bodies piled up, lonely, far from home,” he says. “It’s the antithesis of everything people had learned about what war was supposed to be.”

Exactly 97 photos exist of dead soldiers taken on battlefields: Antietam, Corinth, Second Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg in 1864, and Petersburg.

He also shares a sequence from Petersburg where the photographer used an assistant to pose as a dead man. The man, an African American, lies among actual dead, creating the appearance of a civilian among the soldiers. As Garry explores the photos, and we understand the backstory, they take on a note of humor as the assistant appears first one place and then another. “Here he is in a ditch!” Garry points out. It’s “Where’s Waldo” at its most macabre.

But Garry uses the humor to circle back to his main point: the humanity of the people in the photos. Many of them, he points out, smile just as he had us in the room smiling. “I’ve documented more than 90 smiles in Civil War photos,” he says, showing us one after another. For those used to impassive facial expressions or grim visages in historical images, the smiles are refreshing, enlivening, real.

We also have fun with hats. He shows us image after image of men wearing top hats. “Anyone with a top hat is Lincoln,” he says, poking fun at the many photos that have been enthusiastically but mistakenly identified as images of Lincoln. We even see several images that have several Lincolns and an image of Teddy Roosevelt in a top hat. “Definitely Lincoln,” Garry says.

We also have fun watching Garry reproduce the famous postwar image of Robert E. Lee standing on his porch in Lincoln. He shares years of pictures on him standing in the same spot, trying to strike the same pose, working to get the same facial expression. He invites us onto the porch to join him and his so-called “loser friends” as they have fun, and so we get to have fun with them.

Standing in the footsteps of Lee provides a literal illustration of one of Garry’s main points. “People from the past are just like us,” he reminds us. “We see them, and they’re in black and white. They seem so different. We think they’re not as smart as us.” To think that way about them is to do them injustice.

That, to Garry, sits at the heart of his Civil War photography studies. “One of the reasons I study battlefield photography: I think we owe it to the troops who were there,” Garry says.

Grand Review faces

Faces in the crowd, just like us.

And that brings him to his invitation to the teachers. “You and your students can download these photos and explore them for yourselves,” he says. “Any of you can start looking around and asking questions.”

The Library of Congress has “the lion’s share of the Civil War documentary photographs,” he explained, and all are downloadable for free.

He also points to the Trust’s photography services available to teachers, including 3-D photography resources available at cost.

One of the most poignant moments comes when he shows some photos of veterans attending the 1938. One of the photos shows a movie camera taking pictures. “These men saw planes and tanks and color film,” Garry says. Imagine the changes they saw in their lifetime.

Just imagine.

That is Garry’s talent as a presenter. He uses the images in the best possible way as interpretive terms, to invite us into the stories of the men and women in those images, to see the past and help us understand the present, to remind us that they were just like us.

Scenes from Vicksburg, Day 1 (part 1)

I’m with my ECW co-founder Kris White in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to help the American Battlefield Trust commemorate the 155th anniversary of Grant’s campaign to take the city. While you’ll be able to follow our adventures on Facebook LIVE, I thought I’d share a few extra pictures from along the way.

One of our stops yesterday was Grant’s canal on DeSoto Point, in what’s today Delta, Louisiana.

Grant's Canal

Little remains of the canal, although it’s distinct enough to see well in person. The far end, shown here, still collects water.

Grant's Canal markers

A few markers tell the story of the canal. The sidewalk runs parallel to the canal’s remains.

Conor at Grant's Canal

The Trust’s social media guru, Connor Townsend, checks out a wayside sign that shows the location of the canal (lower-left on the map) in relation to the point and Vicksburg.

9th CT monument Vburg

The 9th Connecticut monument honors one of the regiments that helped build the initial canal in the summer of 1862.

9th CT monument Vburg sketch

A close-up of the monument, which shows men suffering from disease and heatstroke while working.

Here’s more info on the 9th Connecticut Monument.

I’ll share more pictures, but be sue to follow along on our adventures over the next two days on Facebook!

Victory for Virginia Preservation Organizations and Civil War Trust


Foundation, state agency and national nonprofit work together to protect Hansbrough’s Ridge, an unparalleled historic and natural treasure in Virginia’s picturesque Piedmont region

(Brandy Station, Va.) – The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources join the Civil War Trust today in announcing the preservation of a lofty, scenic ridge where 800 Confederate soldiers barred a Union cavalry division from the main fight at Brandy Station, the opening battle of the Civil War’s Gettysburg Campaign.

The 400-foot-high, mile-long ridge in Culpeper County, Virginia, whose profile one soldier said resembles “a giant sleeping,” sheltered more than 10,000 Union troops for five months during the winter of 1863-1864, before they began the war’s shocking, fiery Wilderness Campaign. It was part of the Union Army of the Potomac’s 120,000-soldier winter encampment, which dominated Culpeper County; Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia camped across the Rapidan River in Orange County.

The two organizations’ announcement culminates nearly two years of fundraising and decades of preservation activism for the 174-acre site, which historians say is unique in its landscape, significance and quality.

VOF, a public foundation, and the Virginia Board of Historic Resources accepted two conservation easements to forever protect the ridge east of the historic village of Stevensburg.  The property stretches from State Route 3 north to near Cole’s Hill, which is privately owned. The Foundation will hold one easement. The Board will hold the other, administered by staff at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

“We are proud to have helped save this rare place, which was both a pivotal battleground and a secure refuge where thousands of soldiers recuperated from the trials of the war’s Mine Run, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg campaigns,” Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer said. “There is nothing comparable to it anywhere in the nation. The site remains nearly as it was when the Yankees broke camp and marched east to cross the Rapidan River and battle Lee’s Confederates.”

VOF contributed $250,000 to help preserve the property, a $900,000 acquisition also funded by a $450,000 grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, a $150,000 noncash donation by the seller, and $50,000 in contributions by Trust members and private donors.

“Our easement not only protects this landmark from development, but also creates permanent public access for future generations to be able to visit and learn from the property,” VOF Executive Director Brett Glymph said.

“The Virginia Department of Historic Resources is pleased to partner with VOF in ensuring the perpetual preservation of this site so that it can be protected and interpreted for current and future Virginians and visitors to the state,” said Julie V. Langan, the department’s director.

Members of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment pose in their camp, with horse saddles and newly built winter huts, in February 1864 on Hansbrough’s Ridge east of Stevensburg in Culpeper County, Virginia. That month, Union Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick led the 3rd Cavalry Division—which included the 18th Regiment—on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid of Richmond, a controversial and ill-fated attempt to rescue Union prisoners of war. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The ridge was home not only to infantry and cavalry troops but also to soldiers’ visiting family members and large hospitals where doctors, nurses and volunteers treated sick and wounded men. Their many letters paint vivid pictures of daily life in camp. But one example, written by Pvt. George Storrs Youngs of Waterloo, N.Y., describes what they saw.

“The view from our camp is magnificent,” Youngs, with the 126th New York Infantry Regiment, wrote his sister Louisa on Jan. 1, 1864. “We are on the top of an exceeding high hill from whence we can look down upon the canvas cities of the Army of the Potomac on almost every side. Off to the west, nestling among the hills, the city of Culpepper can be seen—its bright spires looking still brighter against the dark background of the Blue Ridge whose towering peaks and cliffs are now covered with snow.”

The site’s importance was recognized in 1991 when the Department of Historic Resources listed the Hansborough Ridge Winter Encampment District on the Virginia Landmarks Register, making it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It was later incorporated into the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, a federally-designated 175-mile corridor that interprets and conserves nationally significant historic sites in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“As a Civil War site, Hansbrough’s Ridge is unique,” Lighthizer said. “It offers commanding views of the landscape in all directions, which made it the Confederate defensive line and the scene of hard fighting in the Battle of Brandy Station’s Stevensburg phase.”

Developers saw a chance to market the ridge’s views in 2015, when they bought the property, intent on subdividing it into residential lots. Reacting quickly, the Trust negotiated the land’s purchase before development occurred. A noncash donation from the landowner put the purchase price within reach.

The ridge’s conservation easements complement the preservation of other Civil War battlefield sites in Culpeper County.

Ultimately, an alliance of officials, conservationists and local residents aim to incorporate already-saved acres on the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields into a new state park that enhances their tourism, recreational and educational potential. The Virginia General Assembly is considering legislation that would direct the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to study the suitability of preserved properties at these two battlefields for inclusion in the state park system.

The sweeping views and soldiers’ stories from Hansbrough’s Ridge will add different perspectives unequaled at other Mid-Atlantic historic sites. “From the top of the ridge, people will be able to read about the events of that period and survey the terrain as the soldiers did,” Lighthizer said. “It will be an amazing way to understand the history of this place.”

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation protects more than 800,000 acres in 107 counties and cities. A public foundation created by the General Assembly in 1966, VOF leads the commonwealth in land conservation.

The Department of Historic Resources encourages and supports the stewardship and use of Virginia’s significant architectural, archaeological and historic resources as valuable assets for the economic, educational, social and cultural benefit of citizens and communities. It administers interwoven and interdependent state and federal programs aimed at identifying, evaluating, recognizing and preserving Virginia’s rich historic heritage.

The Civil War Trust is a national nonprofit land preservation organization devoted to the protection of America’s hallowed battlegrounds. It preserves the battlefields of the Civil War, the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, and educates the public about their importance in forging the nation we are today. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 48,000 acres of battlefield land in 24 states.  Learn more at

Springtime At Manassas Battlefield

Earlier this week, I visited some of the battlefield locations for the First Battle of Bull Run near Manassas. Early spring is blossoming here in Virginia, and this girl from California is delighted to see a real change in the seasons while driving through the Old Dominion State on a research trip.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I “liked” this battlefield’s springtime look since both First and Second Bull Run were summer battles with taller grass, hot and humid days, and plenty of bugs. Eventually, though I let the thoughts of “this wasn’t what it looked like when they lined up on the field” slip away, and I simply enjoyed the springtime moments…trying to captures some special images before the next rain showers started sprinkling the area.

Hopefully, you’ll enjoy this glimpse and be inspired to do a little battlefielding in the coming weeks!

Daffodils bloom near Henry House, quietly nodding at the silent cannons nearby.

Tiny flowers sprout near Judith Henry’s grave on Henry House Hill – a sweet, sad offering for this widow who was a civilian casualty during the first major battle of the war.

Don’t blink! These tiny shoots will become the trees’ bright green foliage of late spring and summer faster than you can say, “There stands Jackson like a stonewall! Rally behind the Virginians!” (Well, almost…)

And speaking of “Stonewall”… A new perspective with nature taking the focus and letting man (or in this image, the statue) become the background.

Red bud trees bursting into color – harmless, peaceful. Nothing like bursting shells seen long ago on this battlefield.

I wonder if this is what the fields might have looked like early in the spring of 1861, just as Fort Sumter’s fight erupted and the war began. The grasses just beginning to grow. As the volunteers made army numbers grow. White blossoms covering the trees. As red blood would cover summer’s fields.

I wonder about all this during a springtime wander…