Captain A. J. Russell did not photograph celebrities, run fashionable photo galleries, or publish collections of his "views"; most histories of American photography can barely stretch his biographical data into a paragraph. His peers and superiors recognized the quality of his works, but as with other unassuming photographs of the Civil War, many of his pictures were later attributed to Brady. Yet he is unquestionably a major figure in 10th-century American photography, a pioneer in every sense: he was one of the only two or three official Civil War photographers, perhaps the only one who was also a soldier; after the war he headed west to become the official photographer of the Union Pacific Railroad as it breached the frontier.
Russell's frontier photographs came to be better known than those he took as engineer-photographer with the elite Railroad Construction Corps, attached to General Grant's Military Railroad. These early experiences in military photography, however, aside from their contribution to photo-technological development, prove Russell a remarkable camera artist. Here, reproduced from one of the few surviving scrapbooks of his photographs, are 116 rare prints, many never before published, restoring a largely forgotten artist to an audience ready to appreciate him.
Russell's duty included recording the activities of the crucial Railroad Corps as it helped move the Union Army through Virginia. At the same time, he witnessed and chronicled the campaigns of Fredericksburg, Petersburg, Brandy, and Alexandria, and was there to photograph Richmond in ruins. He documents not only tracks, bridges, depots, and engines of war, but surrounding scenes: Bull Run, Meade's headquarters at Culpepper and Brandy, burying the dead after the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, Lee's residence at Arlington, "Fort Hell" and "Fort Damnation," Libby Prison in Richmond, the Smithsonian Institution, the Capitol, and a heretofore unseen photograph of Lincoln's funeral car.
The full-page panoramas capture the wastage of war that so shocked the civilian public when first exposed to photographs of battles. There are also "aesthetic" shots, landscapes such as that as Great Falls on the Potomac, which offer relief. New captions and a Preface fill in historical, biographical, bibliographical, and photographic detail. This collection of views by a professional military photographer, perhaps the very first in his profession, is an archive of engineering triumphs and human loss; students of the Civil War will discover views unseen in the standard works, while lovers of photography will rediscover in Russell an early master of the art.
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|Author/Editor||Captain A. J. Russell|
|Dimensions||9 3/8 x 12 1/4|