Saturday, September 22, 2018

Antietam in color: Breathing life into 1862 battlefield images

Body of unknown Confederate next to grave of Michigan Lieutenant John Clark. (Library of Congress)
Confederate dead near Dunker Church and West Woods. (Library of Congress
Like this blog on Facebook | Algorithmia colorization site.

Because of the limitations of the medium during the Civil War, photography wasn't produced in color. To add realism, soldier portraits sometimes were hand-colored or tinted by specialists, with varying results. Some battlefield photographs by Alexander Gardner -- whose images of Antietam dead fascinated, and horrified, the public 156 years ago -- were hand-colored. As seen in these two Antietam stereoviews from Center For Civil War Photography president Bob Zeller's collection, the results were less than spectacular.

Hand-colored Alexander Gardner stereoview view of Union burial crew at Antietam.
(Bob Zeller collection)
Colorized image by Alexander Gardner of Joseph Sherrick farm at Antietam.
(Bob Zeller collection) 
Unlike the cumbersome 19th-century process, colorization of black-and-white images is only a click away for us today. Using the Algorithmia site, I colorized Antietam images by Gardner and James Gibson, all available for your inspection in black and white in jpg. and tif formats on the fine Library of Congress web site.

Crude, crass ... or captivating? Let me know what you think.

James Gibson view of Middle Bridge from bluff above Antietam Creek. (Library of Congress)
Burnside Bridge, heavily contested on morning, early afternoon of Sept. 17, 1862. (Library of Congress)
Fallen Confederates arranged for burial. (Library of Congress)
Confederate dead along Hagerstown Pike. (Library of Congress)
Another view of Confederate dead along Hagerstown Pike ...  (Library of Congress)
... and more Confederate dead, also along Hagerstown Pike. (Library of Congress)
Confederate dead on the southern end of the battlefield. (Library of Congress)
Fallen Confederate in a ditch. (Library of Congress)
A Union soldier poses near Burnside Bridge by the graves of his comrades. (Library of Congress)

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


  1. Thanks for the color images. It makes these brave men who gave their lives for a cause seem more real. The heroes in every battle are the ones left on the field.

  2. Thanks for posting, John. I imagine the dead in real life were a bit bloodier than depicted. Fascinating.

  3. Burnside Bridge does stand out quite a bit more than non-color shots, very nice to see this in color!

  4. Nicely done...Is it as easy as 1 Click!?! These don't look overworked but I have seen some that are real labor of loves....Either way the color brings it to the present and that makes all the difference.Thanks for posting!

  5. It's heartbreaking to see them laying there, some of them no more than mere boys but man enough to do their duty for hearth and home. The colourisation definitely increases the impact of these images.

  6. Burnside got his your blog sir...thanks...

  7. Awesome pictures ... i love it, thank you