The death toll of the American Civil War, estimated at well over half a million, was unprecedented. A major new exhibition drawn from archives at The Huntington Library, in recognition of the 150-year anniversary of the conflict, explores how the nation came to terms with the devastation.
The evocative compilation of historical images, called, “A Strange and Fearful Interest,” is named after a statement made by Oliver Holmes in 1863. He said, “The field of photography is extending itself to embrace subjects of strange and sometimes of fearful interest.”
Highlights of the visual presentation include Alexander Gardner’s views of battlefield dead at Antietam, rare photographs from Andrew J. Russell’s “U.S. Military Railroad Album,” George Bernard’s incomparable album “Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign (1866)” and more. “A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War” is curated by Jennifer Watts and will be on display from October 13, 2012 until January 14, 2013.
"It's a collection that I think most people will be surprised to see, it really has all the gems of civil war photography in it and print culture as well," said Watts.
The exhibit is not necessarily a chronological history of photography during the war, but it organized thematically in three parts.
"The first is Battlefront, I wanted to show some of the images that people were both carrying with them into war and sending back from the war…This is the first time American dead were shown on a battlefield," said Watts. "The Assasination of President Lincoln, which occurs a week after the Confederate surrender…Then the last theme was commemoration, really revolving around the establishment of Gettysburg as a national monument."
Also on display is the companion exhibition, “A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War.” This show of letters, which explores the rationale for the war, is curated by Olga Tsapina and on display through January 7, 2013.
Jennifer A. Watts, curator of photographs and the exhibition “A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War”at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino
Olga Tsapina, curator of American historical manuscripts and the exhibition “A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War”at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino