|A fallen Confederate on Antietam battlefield.|
(Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress)
Stripped of his dignity, the fallen Rebel soldier in a tattered uniform lay in a ditch on the battlefield, perhaps hundreds of miles from home. Days after the Battle of Antietam, Alexander Gardner captured an image of the unknown young man, who likely awaited a haphazard burial in a trench with the bodies of other comrades. If anything, the photograph is one of the greatest anti-war statements possible.
A month ago, I downloaded a high-resolution TIFF version of Gardner's image from the Library of Congress web site and posted enlargements, some of which revealed details not readily apparent in the original. Blood on the poor soul's forehead, a blanket or bedroll and even scraps of paper with writing are easily seen. Perhaps further examination of that writing could lead to an identification of the soldier, who can't be more than 22 or 23 years old.
Easily the most popular post on my blog, it drew powerful reactions on my Civil War Facebook page and in the comments section below the entry. One commenter took issue with my original headline, writing the soldier "was fighting for a cause he believed in and paid the ultimate price. He is more than a 'dead Rebel.' Shame on you." Point well taken -- the headline was changed. Another commenter wrote: "I guess I will never truly grasp war & why it is done. ... War. Awful. Hurts my soul. Too many forgotten unknown."
|Rotated 180 degrees, this is a close-up of the face|
of the soldier in Gardner's image.
+ After seeing and reading the information under the photos, it's very hard to see something so clear from so long ago. It's amazing how it is possible, but in this case, gruesome. I personally did not want to look at or analyze into the photos.... but they were an eye opener that bodies were just left on the battlefields as is. I couldn't imagine what was going through the soldier's mind as he laid there dying."
+ "Those pictures provide a reality to the Civil War. The fallen soldier shows how brutal battles are and how costly each battle is. We see evidence of a life outside the war and know the young man probably had a family he was never able to return to. These pictures are the sad truth behind the stories."
+ "I found the image very shocking... To anyone else this picture shows either a dead brother, father, or family member. I can only see the death of war which has changed our thinking. We have experienced so much death that we won't all feel sympathy for the soldier. We would acknowledge just like the title 'another one' out of so many fallen here's one more. It's the reaction we now have to shootings when on the news 'another one', we have grown used to them too much now."
+ "I thought that this is a very good perspective of the Confederates and their losses. It really humanizes the war because it puts a face to match up with the massive amounts of dead from the Civil War. While it may be hard to look at, photos like this one could potentially serve as a deterrent for future wars and educate people as to why war is a monstrous creation of man."
| Words are tantalizingly out of focus on these scraps of paper that lay|
in the brush near the soldier's head.
+ "I think the photograph really portrays the individuality that was lost when each soldier, either Union or Confederate, died. You look at this photo and feel sad for the soldier and wonder what he left behind. Did he have a tight-knit family, or maybe even a child or two? It really helps show the impact of the brutality of the Civil War on the individual families."
+ "Now days we have become desensitized to dead humans. It looks like any other dead body. Now, you search Isis online and videos pop up of guys getting their heads sawed off or kids being burned alive. This black and white photograph really isn't jarring once you've seen a kid get murdered in front of his parents because he missed the evening prayer."