As part our series with Civil War News, ECW is pleased to welcome Stephanie Hagiwara.
A stereo card of Lt. George Custer lounging on the grass next to his dog launched my interest in the Civil War. My husband, who collects antique stereo cards and has ancestors who fought on both sides of the War, wanted to buy it. To make a long story shorter, he took up digitally restoring and colorizing historical images. I was along for the ride as he pursued his interest in the Civil War and 3d photography.
A boon to armchair historians was the decision by the Library of Congress and National Archives to post some of their photography collections online. Instead of seeing tiny versions of less well-known photos, it became possible to examine the image. Most of the Civil War photographs we are familiar with today are one side of a stereo view image. The images were taken with a multi lens camera using 10-inch glass negatives and printed on mediocre paper. Now it became possible to view the glass negatives digitally and to zoom in to see details of life as it was being lived.
For example, Civil War buffs may be familiar with the Matthew Brady photograph of the Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg, Penn. with a man perched on the fence in the foreground.
After the battle, over 600 wounded from both sides were cared for in the building. When zoomed in, it is possible to see what may have caught the man’s attention; some of the hospital tents, a stove, workbench and a few workers checking out the photographer.
The War seized my imagination while exploring the battlefield at Chattanooga, Tennessee. Whereas, we had visited other battlegrounds, the Battle of Lookout Mountain captured my attention. It had all the elements of an epic story including a lunar eclipse! I had been adding information to the photo captions of the images my husband had been restoring. Now the people and the places were becoming real and I wanted to know more.
Down the rabbit hole I went. Every photo led to a story, opening a window into the past. The more I discovered about a person / event, the more questions were raised and the deeper I dug. I began to explore the lesser known battles, personalities, and inventions. Actions that may be puzzling become clearer when other elements are known. The over used phrase, “Brother against Brother” became sadly real for me.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. As the writer of the “Through the Lens” column for Civil War News, I include a picture (or two) and about a thousand words. For me, the Civil War is not only about battles, it is about people and their experience. It is why I like to start and include quotes in the articles I write. Whereas, some battles are better known than others, all battles have an impact on their participants and public morale. The column generally features a lesser known battle and follows where my curiosity takes me. One column included C.S. Gen Richard Taylor, son of U.S. President Zachery Taylor. His background as a military historian enabled him to give marching tips to C.S. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. A personal favorite column was about the CSS Teaser, the first ship to lay mines and the first aircraft carrier to launch a balloon during battle. Or when the Czar Alexander III of Russia, as a show of support to the Federals, sent his fleet to visit ports on both the East and West Coast in 1863.
Oddly enough, previously I was not interested in the Civil War due to the bland quality of the pictures. Now I am using the same photographs to connect to the past. I now look at Civil War photographs to discover the story the photographer wanted to convey. I am also searching for photos to illuminate the tales I want to tell. I have become fascinated by the War and how tentacles from the past is impacting, 150 years later, on life today. I started off writing stories to support the images my husband colorized. I am now asking him to colorize images to illustrate the stories I wish to share.