The Exhibit is Open

April 14th, 2011

And I do hope you’ll come and see. It’s rather incredible, if I do say so myself (all I did was some writing and fabricating, so it’s no violation of modesty for me to layer on the invective in favor of the amazing collection that is on display). Where else can you gaze at one-of-a-kind Civil War medical portraits, not seen since the 19th century? The photos on display are from The Burns Archive, and include hauntingly beautiful album prints by Civil War Army surgeon R. B. Bontecou, a few by Mathew Brady, and many others. The entire exhibit is captioned with quotes from Walt Whitman’s memoir of Civil War nursing, Specimen Days.

The exhibit tips its hat to Dr. Stanley Burns’s latest book, Shooting Soldiers, which has been released just in time for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and features many of the Bonetcou images. There’s also a small annex devoted to New York’s Seventh Regiment National Guard and The Siege of Washington, by John Lockwood and Charles Lockwood, also recently released.

Image courtesy of The Burns Archive

But don’t take it from me. Here’s what our local public radio station, WNYC, had to say.

And here are the details on how you can see these photographs in person — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that should not be missed by anyone interested in photography, history, or the Civil War:

Exhibit Dates: April 14, through August 1, 2011
Location: Merchant’s House Museum (29 East Fourth Street, NYC)
Title: New York’s Civil War Soldiers
Open: Thursday-Monday (closed Tuesday & Wednesday), noon to 5 p.m.
Price: Included with regular admission, $10, $5 Students & Seniors (a real bargain, as you get to see the rest of the Museum as well)
Bonus: Say you know “Eva” and get a strange look from the person working the door…

Photographer & Soldier

February 20th, 2011

Did you know that famed photographer Mathew Brady was an honorary member of New York’s Seventh Regiment National Guard? I didn’t, until last Friday, when I was leafing through my newly arrived copy of The Regiment that Saved the Capital.

Brady had an elegantly appointed studio at Broadway and 8th Street, just around the corner from Cooper Union (where Lincoln gave his famous “Right Makes Might” speech literally hours after Brady took the portrait that helped win the 1860 election). And Cooper Union was just across the street from the new Seventh Regiment Armory*, erected in the late 1850s and home to the Regiment from 1860 to 1880.

The Seventh Regiment was organized in 1806 as a unit of the Volunteer Militia. Also known as the Silk Stocking Regiment, it was populated by scions of the City’s leading families. New York’s Seventh Regiment was the darling of the City, and the nation. Although they didn’t see any real action during the Civil War, their gallant march to reinforce the Capital in April 1861 (just at the beginning of the war) is credited with inspiring much of the bravery and sacrifice that followed.

Seventh Regiment
From the United States National Archive

No wonder that Brady, one of the most famous photographers then and still (thanks in part to his work during the Civil War), was sought by the elite Seventh Regiment. And no wonder that Brady was ready to ally himself with the North’s star regiment. Needless to say, Brady took a number of photographs of his fellow guardsmen, including this stereoscopic view of the men lounging outside their tent. I only wish I had a stereopticon plug-in for my blog.

*Interesting note about the 7th Regiment Armory building — the Regiment only occupied the higher floors. The ground floor belonged to the Tompkins farmers market! What an interesting juxtaposition that must have been.