The two practical problems of the General

Reading the distant message: an officer of the Federal Signal Corps


How the Secret service gave rise to the complete photographic record of ‘soldier life’: photographer and soldier, 1862, as the armies paused after McClellan's attempt on Richmond It is quite astonishing to discover that the immense collection of photographs reflecting the ‘soldier life’ of 1861-65 so intimately and vividly had its rise in secret-service work. It is literally true, however, that Alexander Gardner's privileges of photographing at headquarters and within the Federal lines, at a thousand historic spots and moments, resulted entirely from the desire of the authorities to insure the strictest secrecy for their movements. Obviously, any commander was pretty much at the mercy of the individual who copied the maps, charts, and the like for his Secret Service. Through an untrustworthy or careless employee the most zealously guarded secrets of contemplated destinations or routes might reach the adversary. The work of preparing these maps, therefore, was confided to Alexander Gardner, the brilliant Scotchman [15] brought to America and instructed in the photographic art by Brady himself. He proved so trustworthy that he was permitted in his spare time to indulge his hobby of photographing the soldiers themselves—a useless hobby it seemed then, since there was no way of reproducing the pictures direct on the printed page. But Gardner, first and last an artist, worked so patiently and indefatigably that, before the campaign was over, he had secured thousands of outdoor views which, with the many that Brady took in 1861 and part of 1862, and later in the path of Grant's final campaign from the Wilderness to Richmond, form the nucleus of the collection presented herewith. Needless to say, Gardner did not break faith with his employers or pass any of these photographs to Southern sympathizers, or through the Confederate lines.


Three Brady photographs taken in Grant's last campaign.

Shells were flying above the entrenchments before Petersburg at the time the photograph above was taken—June 21, 1864—but so inured to this war-music have the veterans become that only one or two of them to the right are squatting or lying down. The calmness is shared even by Brady, the indomitable little photographer. He stands (at the left of the right-hand section above) quietly gazing from beneath the brim of his straw hat—conspicuous among the dark forage caps and felts of the soldiers—in the same direction in which the officer is peering so eagerly through his field-glass. Brady appears twice again in the two lower photographs of the same locality and time. ‘I knew Mr. Brady during that time,’ writes William A. Pinkerton, the son of Allan Pinkerton, who was in charge of the secret-service department throughout the war, ‘but had no intimate acquaintanceship with him, he being a man and I being a boy, but I recollect his face and build as vividly to-day as I did then: a slim build, a man, I should judge, about five feet seven inches tall, dark complexion, dark moustache, and dark hair inclined to curl; wore glasses, was quick and nervous. You can verify by me that I saw a number of these negatives made myself.’


Matthew B. Brady under fire in the works before Petersburg: three of the ‘Brady’ photographs taken in Grant's last campaign.

Brady photograph from Grant's last campaign.

Brady photograph from Grant's last campaign.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
United States (United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1862 AD (2)
1861 AD (2)
1865 AD (1)
June 21st, 1864 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: