Posted By Norman Gasbarro on January 28, 2011
(Part 1 of 12). The year 1911 was the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. As a memorial to the war, a ten volume set of books was published entitled The Photographic History of the Civil War. This series attempted to do what no other books had previously done – to bring the war close and personal through previously unpublished and unavailable photographs. The series was edited by Francis Trevelyan Miller. From his Wikipedia biography:
Francis Trevelyan Miller (1877—1959) was an American writer and filmmaker. He is known for his books about exploration, travel and photography. Notable works from him including several books about the American Civil War, such as The Photographic History of the Civil War, in Ten Volumes (New York: The Review of Reviews Co., 1912). He has also made several feature films and wrote the screenplay for the 1919 film Deliverance about Helen Keller.
The series was reviewed in Paul Taylor’s blog on rare and collectible books on the American Civil War (ACW):
Miller’s work is widely considered as the preeminent collection of Civil War photographs. ACW book collectors and students of Civil War photographs should be aware that the quality and clarity of the Miller’s 1912 [sic] first edition far surpasses all other modern reprints. As I understand it, most or all of the original plates and negatives were destroyed following publication of the original work. All modern reprints are simply copied from the original photographs, resulting in a lower quality image.
The dedication in the first volume made it clear that the books were about all the men who fought – not just those from the North:
Dedicated 50 years after Fort Sumter to the men in blue and gray whose valor and devotion have become the priceless heritage of a united nation.
In his preface, Miller states the following:
These volumes are dedicated to the American people in tribute to the courage and the valor with which they met one of the greatest crises that a nation has ever known – a crisis that changed the course of civilization….
The decades have shrouded the first American Revolution in romance, at the turning point of its first half century, is to become an American epic in which nearly three and a half million men gathered on the battle-line to offer their lives for principles that were dear to them….
That these pages are opened on this anniversary so that the eyes of the generations may look upon the actual scenes… upon the warriors themselves standing on the firing line in the heroic struggle… on the battle-grounds of a nation’s ideals, with the destiny of a continent hanging in the balance. And what a tribute it is to American character to be able to gather about these pages in peace and brotherhood, without malice and without dissention, within a generation from the greatest fratricidal tragedy in the annals of mankind. The vision is no longer blinded by heart wounds, but as Americans we can see only the heroic self-sacrifice of these men who battled for the decision of one of the world’s greatest problems.
The Photographic History… comes on this anniversary to witness a people’s valor….
This is the American epic that is told in these time-stained photographs… brother against brother, father against son, men speaking the same language, living under the same flag, offering their lives for that which they believed to be right….
To feel the impulse of both the North and the South is the desire of these volumes….
In full recognition of the masterly works of military authorities that now exist as invaluable historical evidence, these volumes present the American Civil War from an entirely original viewpoint. The collection of photographs is in itself a sufficient contribution to military and historical record, and the text is designed to present the mental pictures of the inspiring pageantry…. its human impulses, and the ideals that it represents in the heart of humanity….
These photographs appeal to peace; they are the most convincing evidence of the tragedy of war. … Their mission is more than to record history; it is to make history – to mould the thought of the generations as everlasting witnesses of the price of war….
I can close these introductory words with no nobler tribute than those of the mighty warriors who led the great armies to battle. It was General Robert E. Lee, who, after the war, gave this advice to a Virginia mother, “Abandon all these animosities and make your sons Americans,” and General Ulysses S. Grant, whose appeal to his countrymen must always be an admonition against war: “Let us have peace.”
All ten volumes are available in digital form through Google Books. As each volume is described in upcoming posts (parts 2 through 11), relevant material to the Civil War Research Project will be noted and the web location for the free download will be given. The final post (part 12) will give some volume and page references for topics that are pertinent to this Civil War Research Project.