Photography - Harvest of Death

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TIMOTHY O'SULLIVAN

A Closer Look

Who are the men in this photograph? In Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War, Alexander Gardner describes them as Confederate soldiers. However, there is another picture in the book that appears to be the same photograph taken from a different angle. Gardner describes the men in the second photo as Union soldiers. We can't know if Gardner meant to mislead his readers, but we can learn something about how easy it is to "read" photographs in different ways.

About the Media

Harvest of Death was taken at dawn on July 4, 1863 on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania - the day after the fighting ended - by Timothy O'Sullivan. This was a major conflict of the Civil War. 51,000 men died at Gettysburg, more than in any battle before or since in North America. 5,000 dead horses were also left on the battlefield. Alexander Gardner included Harvest of Death, along with twenty other photographs by O'Sullivan, in his book, Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War, the first published collection of Civil War photographs.

About the Artist

Timothy O'Sullivan began his career working for the famous Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, who hired 21 young men to photograph the battlefields. O'Sullivan left Brady's group to start his own photography business. After the Civil War O'Sullivan documented the American West and in 1880 became chief photographer for the U.S. Treasury. He had to resign due to ill health and died of tuberculosis at age 41.

Write About It

  • Make a list of what you see in the photograph.
  • How does the photographer use the elements and principles of design?
  • What is your opinion of the photograph? How does it make you feel?