There’s an interesting subculture that exists among those folks who live and breathe Gettysburg. You’ve seen them out there on your visits to the field: a book or three under an arm, one open and precariously balanced in one hand, a digital camera in the other, as they cautiously move one step, two steps, and a smidge to the left to get just the right shot of an open field. There’s a name for these folks. Frassanidiots, they call ‘em, obsessed with the groundbreaking work of William Frassanito and his “then and now” photos (see here, here, here and here). His books have spawned many others, focusing on Gettysburg and other CW fields. But mostly they’ve spawned more and more Frassanidiots. Now, I don’t mean to downplay the importance of Mr. Frassanito’s work; it stands on its own merits. And these fanatics know more about the history of the battlefield than I ever will. But some of them take things a bit far. I mean, how can you be delighted and amazed that a twenty-ton rock is in the same place today as it was in 1863? Wouldn’t it be more surprising if it wasn’t? Stones and things made of stone last a long, long time. Ever hear of the Pyramids?
I received in the mail a couple of weeks ago a new book, Historic Photos of Gettysburg. My first impression was that the last thing we needed was another book of Gettysburg photos. But of course that depends on who “we” are and what is meant by “need”. A couple of years ago a book came out that touted itself as the “definitive illustrated history” of the battlefield, but it was quickly remaindered amid rumors of plagiarism and copyright infringement. Despite that and some embarrassing errors, there were some pretty interesting images in that book, and I liked the way it was laid out. And I have a number of other photo books on Gettysburg of varying usefulness and quality. So I have to admit to being a little suspicious of the value of yet another.
This hardcover from Turner Publishing, text and captions by Virginia historian John S. Salmon, retails for $39.95. It is presented in a format similar to Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the American Civil War. Generally you get one large format photo and text/caption per page, with the occasional two page spread. The book is divided into four sections: The Battle; Dedication and Remembrance; Fiftieth Reunion; and Seventy-fifth Reunion. Right there I think we get something that we may not have seen before. I can’t recall any one volume that offers photos from each of these distinct periods.
The text is thankfully not overwhelming. Often photo books try to be more than that, by attempting to provide more than the typically motivated reader is looking for. More often than not they fail dismally, so it’s good that this one stays on track. Sure, there are some things in the text I’d dispute, but nothing major. While many of the familiar battle aftermath images are here, there are a good number of images of PA volunteer units encamped for the July 4, 1865 laying of the Soldier’s National Monument cornerstone. Also included are numerous photos from the commemoration period (1863-1900), interesting primarily for the appearance of veterans. The same goes for the two sections on the 50th and 75th reunions. My favorite is on page 157, a gathering of young descendants of Confederate generals Longstreet and Pickett. Page 158 shows grandaughters of Meade and A. P. Hill.
The images in the book are not the sharpest reproductions I’ve seen. Maybe I’m just spoiled by viewing high-res digital images on a monitor, but it seems to me some of these have been presented in print in higher quality. The marketing rep did send me a note explaining that some of the photos appear “pixilated” due to a gaff at the printer, and that they were in the process of getting the problem corrected.
The vast majority of the photos presented in Historic Photos of Gettysburg are available in any number of other publications. But the presentation of such a variety of photos from four different periods should appeal to those not already addicted to Gettysburg photography.
Well, look here – my 100th post!