Thursday, August 16, 2012

Author Q&A: 'Rare Images Of Antietam'

Stephen Recker's book will be available by the 150th anniversary of Antietam on Sept. 17.
Over a beer or two (Yuengling!) and sandwiches at Captain Benders Tavern in Sharpsburg, Md., the day before Connecticut Day in April, Stephen Recker gave Civil War blogger John Rogers (8th Connecticut private Oliver Cromwell Case blog) and me a sneak preview of his new book, "Rare Images of Antietam." If the preview is as good as the final result, you will be very impressed.

A longtime history buff, Recker, 54, isn't new to the Civil War publishing scene. He produced Virtual Gettysburg, a cool interactive battlefield guide, several years ago, and Antietam Artifacts, a CD of pre-1930 postcards of the Maryland Campaign. But "Rare Images Of Antietam" may be his tour de force. For three decades, the ultimate Antietam photography book on my bookshelf has been William Frassanito's terrific "Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America's Bloodiest Day."  Thirty years from now, a well-worn copy of Recker's book may take a spot next to my dog-eared copy of Frassanito's work.

In case you're wondering, "Rare Images of Antietam" will be available in time for the 150th anniversary of the battle next month. Earlier today, Recker, who lives near the battlefield, took time out to explain why he did the book, what's of interest in it for those of us who are fascinated with Connecticut's role in the battle and more.

Stephen Recker: "Collecting rare images
of Antietam was slow-going at first."
Why do this book on Antietam?

Recker: Thanks for the interest. I moved out here from California 10 years ago with an eye on marketing Virtual Gettysburg and producing Virtual Antietam. At some point, though, my photograph collection got so huge and I found so many important images and so much info on the photographers that I changed my focus.

You've worked quite awhile on this -- several years, correct? Why did it take so long?

Recker: Collecting rare images of Antietam was slow going at first. It was five years of collecting rare Antietam postcards -- the only place I could find images of Antietam -- before I bought my first important collection of photographs. I was then off and running. After that it has been five years of one huge find after another. Tom Clemens (a noted Antietam expert) once told me he would not trade my luck for a license to steal. I now either own or have scans of over 700 rare Antietam images, most unknown and unpublished.

I have a keen interest in the four Connecticut regiments that fought at Antietam. What will the reader find Connecticut related in "Rare Images of Antietam"?

Recker: My favorite regiment is the 16th Connecticut. At a show years back, I saw images taken on their dedication day, one of the monument with the flag on it, one just after the dedication with veterans standing nearby. To my dismay, someone bought them out from under my nose. After five years of hunting, I tracked them down and they are in the book. I also feature the first images of Mumma’s Cornfield, fought across by the 14th Connecticut. These were taken in 1891, and show 14th Connecticut veterans surveying the field. After the battle, people thought that Mumma’s Cornfield would be remembered as well as Miller’s, but instead it has been forgotten. I hope these images will revitalize interest. I also have "then and nows" for the images in the 14th Connecticut 1891 reunion book.

You won't find this damaged William Tipton image of the 16th
Connecticut  monument
in "Rare Images of Antietam." But there
 are  plenty of images in the book related to Connecticut's role.
 (Connecticut State Library Civil War collection)
You have an extensive Antietam collection. Are some of the images from your collection in the book?

Recker: I would say the majority are mine, but I wanted to represent all of the major collections that I have found, both in private and public collections. It took me years to search out where some of the best Antietam images are, and I thought that instead of simply showcasing my images, it would be important to let other historians know about these collections so that they could use my book as a starting point, not the final word. It was initially my desire to do a huge opus and include everything in a comprehensive study, but I simply found way too much (a blessing and a curse) and decided that this first volume would be more meaningful (and publishable by the anniversary) if I narrowed the focus and featured some of my more important finds.

What was your most exciting find?

Recker: That has changed many times in the course of writing the book. When I do talks, people seem greatly moved by the only known photographs of the original wooden markers in Antietam National Cemetery, which I use to show that the bodies are not buried under the current stone markers. I found a photograph, previously thought to be Lincoln at Gettysburg, that is actually the only known photograph of the dedication of Antietam’s cemetery. Then I found the McFarland Album, Ezra Carman’s photograph collection, John Mead Gould’s ‘Kodaks’ of the East Woods, the list goes on. But the single-most exciting find for me personally is that the first post-Gardner photograph taken on Antietam Battlefield bears the backmark of a photographer named E.M. Recker.

Is there enough material out there to do another book like this on Antietam?

Recker: I figure that I have enough material for about five more volumes of A+ images. But I don’t want to simply fill up books with photographs. It took me 10 years of hunting to find the supporting info for each of the images that I feature in my book. And it took a lot of work to make a book that the casual observer would enjoy as much as the serious student. But now that I have the images scanned and I have the book template created, I am poised to publish multiple volumes in relative short order and get these photographs out where people can enjoy them. Thanks again for the opportunity to talk about this first volume.

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