Saturday, August 27, 2011

Did a Gypsy Predict John Wilkes Booth's Fate?

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth was a handsome, successful stage actor in 1865 when he assassinated Abraham Lincoln. A staunch confederate and supporter of slavery, Booth felt Lincoln's actions during the Civil War had gone too far. After Booth's original plan to kidnap Lincoln failed, Booth hatched a new plan to assassinate Lincoln instead. He succeeded on the night of April 14 in 1865, when he entered the presidential box at Ford's Theater and shot Lincoln in the back of the head with a derringer pistol. He then fled the theater and spent 11 days on the run before officers cornered him on a farm in Virginia and killed him during a stand off.

Although the assassination and Booth's death was a shock to the country, Booth himself had been warned of his fate years before as a boy. Booth's sister, Asia Booth wrote a memoir titled “The Unlocked Book: A Memoir of John Wilkes Booth” in 1874 during which she describes John's encounter with a gypsy near his boarding school when he was 13 years old:

Asia Booth
One day a gypsy living in the woods near Cockeysville read John's palm. She said, "Ah, you've a bad hand; the lines all cris-cras! It's full enough of sorrow. Full of trouble. Trouble in plenty, everywhere I look. You'll break hearts, they'll be nothing to you. You'll die young, and leave many to mourn you, many to love you too, but you'll be rich, generous, and free with your money. You're born under an unlucky star. You've got in your hand a thundering crowd of enemies - not one friend - you'll make a bad end, and have plenty to love you afterwards. You'll have a fast life - short, but a grand one. Now, young sir, I've never seen a worse hand, and I wish I hadn't seen it, but every word I've told is true by the signs. You'd best turn a missionary or a priest and try to escape it."

The prediction was eerily accurate. Booth did became rich relatively quickly during his short life. By the time Booth was 22 years old, he was earning about $20,000 a year (the equivalent of $500,000 today) and had investments in various oil and real estate companies. Although he lived in the shadow of his father and brother, both much more famous and successful actors, Booth enjoyed his own fame and toured all over the country performing in some of the finest theaters while playing coveted roles.

Boston Museum playbill from 1864
Yet, when Booth died that April day he also left behind a “thundering crowd of enemies – not one friend.” Booth had expected southerners to thank him and praise him as a hero for assassinating Lincoln and was surprised when this did not happen. While reading newspapers after Lincoln's death, Booth discovered that confederates and southerners alike mourned the president and denounced Booth's actions. Aside from his conspirators, Booth was indeed alone.

The only ones left to mourn Booth's death was his family and fiance, Lucy Hale. Booth's brother Edwin wrote to his sister Asia after John's death and asked her to “Think no more of him as your brother; he is dead to us now, as he soon must be to all the world, but imagine the boy you loved to be in that better part of his spirit, in another world.” It was Asia who remembered the Gypsy's prediction and dug out the fateful warning she had written down years before.

Booth was buried in a horse blanket in a storage room at the same Washington Arsenal Penitentiary where his conspirators were hanged. Two years later he was dug up, placed in a pine box and then reburied in the dirt floor of a warehouse at the penitentiary. Another two years later Booth was exhumed one last time and his body was released to his family. The Booth family buried him in the family plot in Maryland but left his individual grave unmarked.
Booth family plot in Green Mount Cemetery

The Unlocked Book: A Memoir of John Wilkes Booth”; Asia Booth Clark; 1938

Washington's Haunted Past: Capital Ghosts of America”; Pamela Apkarian-Russell; 2006

Thursday, August 25, 2011

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth
John Wilkes Booth was born May 10, 1838 near Bel Air, Maryland. Booth was born into a distinguished family of actors as the 9th child of actor Junius Brutus Booth and his wife Mary Ann.

Although a talented actor from a young age, John was emotional unstable and egotistical. He had trouble sharing the spotlight with his brothers who were also gifted actors.

John became politically active in the 1850s when he joined the Know-Nothing party. This group dedicated themselves to limiting the number of immigrants entering the United States each year.

His first acting debut took place at the Baltimore theater in 1856. He continued acting in Philadelphia until 1859, when he joined a Shakespearean stock company in Virginia.

While rehearsing in Richmond, Booth spontaneously volunteered for a Virginia Militia group, the Richmond Grays, as they marched towards Charleston to assist in the hanging of John Brown. Brown had been tried and convicted of treason after his failed raid of a federal armory at Harper's Ferry, where he hoped to start a slave uprising in the south. Also present at the hanging was Stonewall Jackson, who was then a professor at the Virginia Military Institute and had been ordered to provide security at the execution.

John Brown in 1856
After the hanging, Booth went on a tour of the deep south with the Shakespeare company and was well received by critics and audiences. He was known for being a very passionate, physical and almost acrobatic performer. Booth toured the country throughout the Civil War. He also served as a spy for the Confederate army and helped smuggle medicine and supplies to the army.

Booth's professional success continued and by the early 1860s he was earning around $20,000 a year (the equivalent of about $500,000 today). He ventured into some business deals that included buying a $8,000 plot of land in the newly created Back Bay neighborhood in Boston. He also invested in some oil companies but lost a great deal of money when he withdrew his investment early due to concerns over the financial impact of the Civil War on the company.

As a southerner, John Wilkes Booth was a strong supporter of slavery and held a deep and outspoken hatred for Abraham Lincoln. Booth was arrested and charged with treason in St. Louis in 1863 for publicly stating he wished the President and the whole damned government would go to hell.” He was released after paying a fine and pledging his allegiance to the Union.
John Wilkes Booth (left) performing with his brothers 
During the summer of 1864, Booth began a plan to abduct Abraham Lincoln and hold him for ransom. He recruited friends and Southern sympathizers to hatch the plan, which would involve taking Lincoln to Richmond and exchanging him for Confederate prisoners.

Booth met Lucy Lambert Hale, the daughter of U.S. Senator John P. Hale, in February of 1865 and fell madly in love with her. The two became secretly engaged shortly after. Hale was not aware of Booth's hatred towards Lincoln or his plans.

In March, Booth and his conspirators heard that Lincoln would be attending a showing of “Still Waters Run Deep” at the Ford's Theater on March 17. Booth laid out a plan to intercept Lincoln's carriage on the way to the theater but his plans fell through when Lincoln decided to skip the theater and speak to a regiment of Indiana soldiers.

The south surrendered the very next month, after a series of military defeats, and Booth and his friend Louis Powell attended Lincoln's speech outside of the White House on April 11. During the speech, Lincoln suggested extending the right to vote to educated black citizens and black veterans. This statement enraged Booth who turned to his friend and declared, That means n**ger citizenship. That is the last speech he will ever make.”

Illustration of Lincoln's assassination
Three days later, Booth discovered that Lincoln would be attending that evening's performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford's Theater in Washington D.C. He gathered his conspirators and assigned them each a task. At 6pm, Booth went to the theater and tampered with the door of the presidential box so he could jam it shut once he got inside that evening.

Around 10pm, Booth returned to the theater and went straight to the presidential box. Entering the box, he pointed his derringer pistol at the back of Lincoln's head and fired. Booth then pulled out a dagger and slashed one of Lincoln's companion, Major Henry Rathbone, before jumping from the balcony. Booth somehow lost his footing as he jumped, although it is not clear if he had been grabbed by Rathbone or if he had caught his spur on the flag draped on the balcony railing. He fell to the stage and landed hard on his left leg, breaking the bone.

John Wilkes Booth wanted poster
After landing on the stage, Booth shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” (The Virginia state motto meaning: Thus always to tyrants) and then shouted “The south is avenged!” before making his escape to the alley where his horse was waiting.

A major manhunt ensued and Booth was found 11 days later on April 26, hiding in a tobacco barn on farm in Virginia. One of Booth's conspirator, David Harold, was in the barn with him. Harold gave himself up before federal officers set the barn on fire in an attempt to get Booth to come out. As Booth moved inside the barn, one of the officers shot him in the neck, paralyzing him instantly. The officers then dragged him from the barn where Booth declared “Tell my mother I died for my country.” They then brought him inside the house and searched him, discovering his diary where he had written two entries defending his actions against the president. Shortly before he died, Booth asked that his hands be raised to his face so he could see them. He then uttered “Useless. Useless” and passed away.

Some of Booth's conspirators, Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, were tried in June of that year and hanged at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary on July 7. The remaining conspirators Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Michael O'Laughlen and Edmund Spangler were given prison sentences but were eventually pardoned in 1869.

Hanging of Booth's conspirators
Ford's theater playbill w/ Booth's name
Portrait of John Wilkes Booth

"Right of Wrong, God Judge Me: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth"; John Wilkes Booth

National Museum of American History: Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life

Library of Congress: Assassination of President Abraham Lincoln

Encyclopedia Britannica: John Wilkes Booth

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Gettysburg Address

Illustration of Lincoln during the Gettysburg address

The Gettysburg address is considered one of Abraham Lincoln's greatest speeches. The speech was given at a dedication ceremony for a cemetery of Union soldiers, known as the Soldier's National Cemetery, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

More than 50,000 soldiers died at the battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863. Many states in the Union wanted to bring their dead soldiers home to be buried in churchyards and family plots in their hometowns. The governor of Pennsylvania at the time, Andrew Gregg Curtin, forbid it due to fears that it would spread disease.

As a result, a collection was taken up to raise money for a cemetery for the Union soldiers. Governor Curtin invited a famous orator of the time, Edward Everett, to give the opening speech at the dedication ceremony, on November 19, and also invited Abraham Lincoln to give a few “remarks” at the ceremony as well.

Abe Lincoln (seated center w/o his hat) at the ceremony 
At the ceremony, Everett spoke first and went on for nearly two hours before Lincoln was given a chance to speak. Lincoln's speech lasted only three minutes and consisted of only 272 words but the audience broke into applause five times as he spoke. During his speech, Lincoln praised the men who had died on the battlefield and declared that they died preserving every American's right to freedom and equality. The speech echoed the ideals the country had fought for during the Revolution and reminded people why saving the union was important.

Lincoln did not think the speech was a success at first. It wasn't until the next day when Edward Everett sent Lincoln a note praising his speech and the press wrote several glowing accounts of the speech, such as the Chicago Tribune's comment:“The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of the war,” that Lincoln was reassured it was well received.

Unlike modern day presidents, Abraham Lincoln wrote his speeches himself and is the sole author of the Gettysburg address. Lincoln occasionally took writing advice from his colleagues but relied mostly on his own writing skills. Despite the fact that Lincoln's own parents were illiterate and he himself lacked a formal education, it is remarkable that he became such a gifted writer. Lincoln is often praised by modern day presidential speech writers, such as Kennedy speech writer Ted Sorensen, for his skill and eloquence.

Crowd at the dedication ceremony
Lincoln wrote out two copies of the speech by hand and gave them to his private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. Lincoln later wrote three more copies and gave them to Edward Everett, George Bancroft and Bancroft's stepson Colonel Alexander Bliss. These copies are now in the hands of the Library of Congress, the White House, The Illinois State Historical Library and Cornell University.
Copy of Gettysburg Address in Lincoln's hand
Copy of Lincoln's invitation to the dedication ceremony
The Gettysburg Address”; Abraham Lincoln; Michael McCurdy

The Library of Congress: Gettysburg Address

The Library of Congress: The Gettysburg Address

New York Times: Gettysburg Address

Smithsonian Magazine; Ted Sorensen on Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Words; Theodore C Sorensen; October 2008

National Park Service: Reactions to the Gettysburg Address

Friday, August 19, 2011

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman is one of the most famous conductors on the underground railroad. She made a total of 19 trips between the north and the south over 10 years and brought 300 slaves to freedom, including her own family. Known as a fearless and determined conductor, Harriet risked her own life and freedom many times to give others the freedom they sought.


Harriet Tubman's name at birth was Araminta Ross. She was the 11th child of two slaves named Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene. Tubman's parents were the descendants of slaves brought from Africa in the mid-1700s. Harriet went by the nickname “Minty” in her youth and did not begin calling herself Harriett until she was an adult.

Harriet was born on a plantation owned by Edward Brodas near Bucktown, Maryland in 1819 or 1820. Her exact birth date is unknown because slave owners did not keep records of their slaves birth dates. At the age of six, Tubman began working as a house servant at a nearby plantation. Then at the age of 12 she was sent to work in the fields on Brodas' plantation. Tubman suffered a long-term brain injury as a teenager when an overseer knocked her to the floor after she tried to protect another slave from being beaten. Her injury caused her to faint and lose consciousness often.


In 1844, at the age of about 25, Harriet met a man named John Tubman. John was a freeman who lived in a nearby cabin. Harriet gained permission from her master to marry him and live in his cabin but she had to continue working for her master. Harriet worried she may one day be sold and her marriage would be split apart. She considered escaping with her husband and traveling north to a free state. John did not support this plan and said he wanted to stay in the south. When Harriet stated she would leave without him he threatened to tell her master.


In 1849, realizing her husband didn't support her dream of attaining freedom, she left him behind one night and headed north. With the assistance of a local abolitionist, Harriet was given the address of the closest station on the underground railroad. There she was hidden in a wagon and driven to her next destination. She continued following the underground railroad until she hitched a ride with a married couple who took her to Philadelphia. After reaching Philadelphia, Harriet later explained, "I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now I was free. There was such a glory over everything ... and I felt like I was in heaven." Once in Philadelphia, Harriet found work cooking and cleaning and saved her money so she could return to Maryland and rescue her sisters and brothers.


Harriet met many station masters and conductors of the underground railroad while living in Philadelphia. She learned everything she could about how the system of safe houses worked and made her first trip back to Maryland in 1850 to rescue her sister and her sister's two children. Harriet sent a message for them to take a boat and meet her at Bodkin's Point in Maryland. From there, Harriet lead them from station to station along the underground railroad until they finally reached Philadelphia.
Wanted Poster for "Minty" AKA Harriet Tubman

Later that year, Harriet was made an official conductor on the underground railroad. She returned to Maryland again to rescue her two brothers. Harriet made her third trip in 1851 when she went to her husband's cabin to bring him north with her. She discovered her husband had remarried and did not want to return with her so she went to Thomas Garrett's house, a busy station on the underground railroad, and found slaves looking to head north. The recent Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 led to heightened security on the underground railroad and forced the slaves to head to Canada where slave masters could not follow them. Harriet led the slaves to Frederick Douglass' house, where they stayed until they saved enough money to reach Canada. Once in Canada, Harriet found work and continued to save money for future trips back south.

Harriet made 11 more trips between Maryland and Canada between the years 1852 and 1857. She carried a rifle during her trips which she used to threaten slaves who wanted to turn back. She also used tricks to prevent them from getting caught such as running away on a Saturday night so the runaway posters wouldn't be posted in the newspapers until Monday morning and sedating babies with a drug to prevent them crying and alerting slave hunters to their location.

Harriet quickly became a well-known conductor and by 1856 slave hunters put a price on her head of $40,000. Wanted posters with her face were posted all over the south but she continued to escape capture.

Harriet Tubman in 1885
By 1860, Harriet made 19 trips to the south and even rescued her own 70-year old parents from slavery. She earned the nickname “Moses” and “General Tubman” and was praised as one of the bravest people on earth.

Civil War

In the early part of the civil war, Harriet worked as a spy for the Union army. She helped identify potential targets for the Union army in South Carolina, such as cotton stores and ammunition storage areas. She then went to Virginia and nursed wounded soldiers back to health at the local hospital for black soldiers. After the war, she settled in Auburn, New York and published her autobiography, titled “Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People” with the help of a local school teacher in 1868.

In 1869, Harriet married a civil war veteran named Nelson Davis. Davis was half her age and met Harriet when he was a boarder living in her house. They remained married until he died of tuberculosis in 1888. The U.S. government denied Harriet a pension for her work as a spy nurse during the civil war but she earned a widow's pension when Davis passed away.

Harriet got involved in the suffragist movement in the 1890s and became a delegate for the National Association of Colored Women. In 1911, Harriet moved into a nursing home. Harriet died of pneumonia in 1913 and was given a full military funeral at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.

Harriet Tubman with her 2nd husband and family
Harriet Tubman in 1911
Harriet Tubman's grave in 1915

 Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People”; Harriet Tubman; Sarah Bradford

America's Library: Harriet Tubman

University at Buffalo: Harriet Ross Tubman

Lakewood Public Library: Harriet Tubman

PBS: Harriet Tubman

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United states and the first president to be assassinated. Although he was born a poor farmer in Kentucky, Lincoln put himself through law school and served many years in Congress before winning the presidential office in 1860. Lincoln is an American icon and one of the country's most beloved presidents. 


Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809 in a cabin three miles south of Hodgenville, Kentucky. Abraham's father, Thomas, was the descendant of a weaver's apprentice who moved to Massachusetts from England in 1637. It is speculated that his mother, Nancy Hanks, was an illegitimate child. Abraham had two siblings, Sarah and Thomas, but Thomas died in infancy.

Abraham Lincoln in 1847
Abraham's father moved the family to a farm in Indiana after losing their farm in Kentucky due to a lawsuit. Abraham helped tend the family crops but disliked hunting and fishing. When Abraham was ten years old, his mother died suddenly of “milk sickness.” Milk sickness was an epidemic caused by drinking milk from cows that fed on poisonous plants. His father remarried a few years later and Abraham grew close to his new stepmother.

Thomas Lincoln moved his family to Illinois when Abraham was 21 years old. Abraham was described as a 6 feet four tall, good-natured, yet moody and muscular young man. After moving to Illinois, Abraham had no interest in farming and tried many jobs such working as a rail-splitter, flat boatman, storekeeper, postman, surveyor and volunteer in the Black Hawk War before deciding to run as a legislator for the state assembly. Abraham won his first election for a seat in the Illinois House of Representative in 1834. He was reelected again in 1836, 1838, and 1840 but then decided to leave politics and study law instead. After putting himself through law school, Abraham began working as a lawyer.


Mary Todd
After many years of single life, Abraham Lincoln met Mary Todd and proposed to her in 1841. Mary was from an educated, well-to-do family and Abraham often felt inadequate around her family. The couple broke up shortly after the engagement but quickly reconciled and were married on November 4, 1842. The couple had four boys, Willie, Robert, Thomas and Edward. 

Back to Politics

Abraham Lincoln was known as a critical, freethinker. His lack of religious faith was often used against him in his political career. When Abraham ran for Congress in 1846, he distributed a handbill defending himself against rumors that he spoke openly against religion.

Abraham won his bid for Congress in 1847. He did not seek renomination after serving his two-year term and was offered the job of secretary and then governor of Oregon territory. He turned down both offers and continued practicing law. Abraham returned to politics again and ran unsuccessfully for a seat as a U.S. senator in 1855 and again in 1858, before he was elected President of the United States in 1860.


Abraham Lincoln's legacy as president is marked by the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Abraham’s election in 1860 was the last straw in the slow build up to the Civil War. Despite Abraham's anti-slavery stance, he believed slavery should be contained to the south, not eliminated completely, and did not believe in equality between the races. This still did not persuade southerners that he would protect their ownership of slaves. Even before Abraham's inauguration, South Carolina withdrew from the union. This lead many other states to secede and Abraham was forced to take action. In his inaugural address Abraham declared:

"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.”
Lincoln's Inauguration in 1861

Fighting began the next month when Abraham sent 75,000 troops to recapture forts taken by the rebels. The fighting continued for two years. Congress decided to pass the Emancipation Proclamation in July of 1862 in an attempt to weaken the rebellion. This law did not abolish slavery, the 13th amendment did that, but did free slaves in states the were not in Union territories.

In 1864, Abraham campaigned against New York democrat George B. McClellan and won reelection. The war finally ended a few months later in 1865 after the south lost a series of battles and admitted defeat.


Front page of the New York Times, April 15, 1865
Abraham Lincoln joined his wife at the Ford's Theater on the night of April 14, 1865 to a watch a play titled “Our American Cousin.” An actor and loyal confederate, John Wilkes Booth, discovered Abraham was at the theater and made his way to the presidential balcony. Booth approached the presidential box during the third act of the play and shot Abraham in the back of the head. Booth then jumped of the balcony and broke a bone in his left leg when he landed on the stage. He shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” (The Virginia state motto meaning: Thus always to tyrants) and then shouted “The south is avenged!” before making his escape.

The bullet lodged in Abraham's brain and paralyzed him yet did not kill him instantly. Abraham was carried across the street to a boarding house where a doctor tried desperately to save his life. There he laid for 9 hours before finally dying of his wounds.

Abraham Lincoln lying in his coffin in NYC hall
Abraham Lincoln 1850
Abraham Lincoln at Antietam
Abraham Lincoln in 1863
Abraham Lincoln in 1863
Abraham Lincoln & son Thomas in 1865
Abraham Lincoln Post-Mortem Photo
Abraham Lincoln's Funeral Procession on Pennsylvania Avenue

The White House: Abraham Lincoln

Encyclopedia Britannica: John Wilkes Booth

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Biography: Abraham Lincoln Biography

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Civil War Photography

Civil War Photographers
The civil war was one of the first wars to be documented by photography. The invention of photography in the 1820s allowed the horrors and glory of war to be seen by the public for the first time. Dozens of photographers, some private and some employees of the army, snapped photos of the soldiers, locations and battles. The images became iconic and inspired many other photographers to take their cameras onto the battlefields of future wars like WWII and Vietnam.

The majority of civil war photos are still shots of soldiers, dead and alive. This is due to the primitive nature of photography. Cameras during the days of the civil war required a 5 to 20 second exposure for each photo, thus making action shots impossible.

One of the most famous names in civil war photography is Matthew B. Brady. Although Brady did not take many photos himself, he hired many photographers for his studio, including James Gardener, Timothy O'Sullivan and Egbert Guy Fox.

Photographs of the civil war quickly became popular among the general public because of the shocking and realistic nature of the photos. These photos gave people at home the chance they never had before to see the evil of war with their own eyes. War was very often romanticized during the Victorian era and these images made it clear that the death and destruction were not something to take lightly.

The type of photography used during the civil war was known as wet-plate photography. The process of capturing photos was complicated and time consuming. Photographers had to carry all of their heavy equipment, including a portable dark room, to the battlefield on a wagon. The cameras were large and hard to move around on the battlefield. Chemicals used in the process were made up of a mixture known as collodiom. This mixture included dangerous chemicals like ethyl ether, acetic and sulfuric acid that had to be mixed by hand.

The act of taking a photo was a very detailed process. First the photographer would position and focus the camera. Then he would mix the chemicals. The chemicals were then applied to a piece of plate glass to sensitize it to light. The plate was then brought into a dark room where it was immersed in silver nitrate. The plate was placed into a light-tight container and inserted into the camera. The photographer then removed the cap on the camera for 2 to 3 seconds to expose it to light and imprint the image on the plate. The cap was replaced and the plate glass, still in its light-tight container, was taken to the darkroom where it was placed in a bath of pyrogallic acid. A mixture of sodium thiosulfate was added to protect the image from fading and the glass was then washed, dried and varnished. This process created the negative that was then printed on paper.

Photographers also learned how to make sophisticated 3D images with these cameras, known as “Stereo views.” Stereo view images were created using twin lenses placed at different angles on the same target. The two images were then captured on a single plate glass. The different angles added more detail and depth to the image. The images were then printed on stereo viewer cards. These cards were inserted into viewer devices designed to view the 3D image.
Stereo view of a dead soldier

Although there is a common saying that claims “The camera never lies,” this is not always true, even before the days of digital manipulation. The first recorded case of photo manipulation was in 1865 when a photo of Abraham Lincoln was altered. When Lincoln was assassinated, there was a sudden demand for heroic images of Lincoln to be used as mementos. No suitable photos existed so a photographer named Thomas Hicks took the head of Abraham Lincoln from a Matthew B. Brady photo and placed it on the body of John C. Calhoun from a different photo. When Hicks placed Lincoln's head on Calhoun's body, he reversed his head which placed his famous mole on the wrong side of his face. This error lead to the discovery of the manipulation. Despite the obvious alteration, the photo still became the iconic image of Lincoln you see today on the five dollar bill.

"Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter"

Other types of photo manipulation involved the staging of photos so they would be more dramatic and shocking. It was not a secret during the civil war that many of Matthew B. Brady's iconic war images were staged to create a more dramatic image. In one famous photograph titled “Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter,” taken by one of Brady's photographers Alexander Warner, Warner had the body of a dead soldier moved to a stone wall and propped the soldier's head on a knapsack so that it would face the camera. Warner also placed a prop rifle on the wall next to the dead soldier. In another famous photograph taken by Warner at the battle of Antietam, Warner moved the bodies of dead soldiers so he could get the nearby church in the background of the photo.

By the end of the civil war another type of photography, known as tintype, had replaced wet-plate photography. Tintype photography involved creating a direct positive on a sheet of iron blackened by paint lacquer or enameling. Much like the wet-plate photography, after the image was burned onto the tin, the tin was then placed in a collodium mixture. The underexposed negative was mounted against a dark metal background, which gave the image the appearance of a positive. The photographs were quicker and faster to produce because they did not require drying and could be produced within minutes of taking the photograph. This new technology greatly advanced the art of photography and made it a faster process.

Warner's famous Antietam photo

Photography: A Cultural History, Mary Warner Marien; 2002

Famous Pictures; Altered Images

National Archives; Pictures of the Civil War

Civil War Trust; Photography and the Civil War