Photography as Propaganda

by Al Benson Jr.

Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America

With April being Confederate History Month it seems only appropriate to take some note of a bit of the “history” we have been informed about that really wasn’t.

Any of us who have looked at recent history realize that photography has often been used as one method of promoting propaganda. This was raised to an art form during the Viet Nam War, but that was not its origin. I can recall seeing pictures taken by Communists decades ago where someone in the photo had been removed because the Reds did not want him to appear with the rest of the people in the photo. So there are cases where photographic evidence of something is not really evidence of what you think it was. It is evidence of what the originators of the photo want you to see.

So it should not surprise us if this technique was in vogue back during the War of Southern Independence aka the War of Northern Aggression.

Tom DiLorenzo commented on this recently in a comment on lewrockwell.com Although he did not go into many specifics I am familiar enough with Tom Dilorenzo to know that if he did not have the evidence of this he would not have said anything about it.

So I did a bit of digging on my own and, sure enough, there was some paydirt to be found. I came across an article by Dave Rogers from back in January of 2008 that appeared on http://www.mybaycity.com It was an article about a talk given by Eric Jytha, a local historian in his area and he gave the talk to the 7th Michigan Cavalry Civil War Round Table.

The article noted that: “Many photographs taken by famed Civil War photographer Matthew Brady were staged…One particular shot, of five Union dead at Gettysburg, was passed off as taken at several battlefields…The photo, captioned ‘dead of the first day’ coouldn’t have been real because Brady didn’t get to Gettysburg until the fifth day, said Sailor Bob Boquette, of Saginaw Civil War Round table member who has studied photography of the era…Another commonly faked photo was entitled ‘rebel sharpshooter’ an image that was passed off as having been at ‘Devil’s Den’ and several other places, said Mr. Jytha.” The photo he is talking about used to be at the battlefield at Gettysburg. I saw it there years ago. I don’t know if it is still there or not. Maybe because it is a picture of a Confederate soldier it has been removed by now. After all, to be politically correct nowadays you must remove anything Southern or Confederate from all the battlefields, flags, monuments, etc. It never seems to occur to these social justice warriors that if you do that at all the “Civil War” battlefields you will have no reason for the battlefield any longer and you can just shut it down. Erasing and removing everything “Southern” from the battlefield removes the need for the battlefield doesn’t it?

By removing everything Southern from remembrance you have just cancelled the War of Northern Aggression and the supposed (not real) reason for it, slavery. You social justice warriors had best be careful. lest you remove the Deep State’s golden goose–the slavery issue–from remembrance!

It has been reported that many of the photos supposedly taken by Matthew Brady were actually taken by Alexander Gardner because Brady was supposedly losing his eyesight.

Another article on https://militaryhistorynow.com was posted on that site on 9/25/2015 and it observed: “They say that the first casualty of war is the truth. Case in point: Experts believe that the Civil War battlefield photographer Alexander Gardner physically arranged the corpses in this famous photo taken after the 1862 Battle of Antietam for dramatic effect… ” I can’t reproduce the photo here but most of you all will probably know the photo I am talking about.

The article continues: “Alexander Gardner’s famous picture ‘A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep’ features a corpse that looks a lot like the body in another photo taken elsewhere on the battlefield. Did Garner move the corpse? U.S. Civil War photographers like Matthew Brady famously snapped hundreds of haunting images of the aftermath of the conflict’s many battles. Yet in a number of cases, such scenes were shamelessly manipulated, with cameramen often physically arranging objects, debris and even dead bodies within the frame to add to the scenes of devastation Such is believed to be the case with Alexander Gardner’s post-Gettysburg image ‘A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep.’ The famous photo features a corpse strangely similar to one that appears in another shot taken on the same day entitled ‘Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter.’ Experts maintain that Gardner used the same fallen soldier for both pictures, reportedly dragging the body more than 40 yards between the two locations.”

Brady and his associates were one group the federal government did not seem to mind having on the battlefields with their cameras. That fact alone should tell you something. The feds knew Brady was going to give them the kind of photos they wanted out there for public consumption.

3 thoughts on “Photography as Propaganda

  1. Part of a presentation I made on War Crimes in the ACW that touched on the famous photographs of federal occupants of Andersonville:

    As for Andersonville: yes, there were war crimes, but they were not committed by either the Confederate government or camp commander, Col. Henry Wirz. The greatest crimes were committed by Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln. On August 19th, 1864, Grant wrote to Union Secretary of State Seward:

    “We ought not to make a single exchange nor release a prisoner on any pretext whatever until the war closes.”

    Now the exchange problem between the two sides—hampered by former slaves found fighting for the Union—was by no means all the fault of the Union. But with regards Andersonville, there was a much greater crime than the problem of exchange. The South, starving and destitute, could not feed or care for its own people much less its prisoners. Exchange allowed the Confederacy to get rid of those consuming its limited resources as well as regain soldiers. Grant understood the situation, but chose to leave Union soldiers in durance vile in order to prevent any soldiers going to Lee. Strategically, it was understandable but Grant also knew he was condemning thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of federal soldiers to slow death, something of which the South was well aware. The greatest problem lay in Andersonville where the prisoners ate the same food as their guards—and in the same amount—but that was not sufficient, neither was there enough medicine to care for those who became ill. Conditions were such that a small cut could result in gangrene and a hideous death.

    Col. Robert Ould, who had been in charge of exchanges since the beginning of the war, wrote about the situation in Andersonville to his Union counterpart Gen. Mulford. Ould recites the efforts made by the Confederate government to succor the federal prisoners even after prisoner exchange had ended.

    “My government instructs me to waive all formalities and what it considers some of the equities in this matter of exchange. I need not try to conceal from you that we cannot feed and provide for the prisoners in our hands. We cannot half feed or clothe them. You have closed our ports till we cannot get medical stores for them. You will not send us quinine and other needed medicines, even for their exclusive use. They are suffering greatly and the mortality is excessive. I tell you all this plainly, and still you refuse to exchange. What does your government demand? Name your own conditions and I will show you my authority to accept them. You are silent! Great God!, can it be that your people are monsters? If you will not exchange, I will give you your men for nothing. I will deliver ten thousand Union prisoners at Wilmington any day that you will receive them. I will deliver five thousand here on the same terms. Come and get them. If your government is so damnably dishonest to want them for nothing, you shall have them. You can at least feed them and we cannot. You can give us what you please in return for them.”

    Was there a war crime at Andersonville? Yes! Upon the cessation of exchange, the Confederate government asked for medicine for the exclusive use of the imprisoned federal soldiers and were ignored! The anguish, frustration and bitterness of Ould are voiced in the sentence: “Great God! can it be that your people are monsters?!” The answer to that was, “yes.” Their own men were considered expendable in this campaign of genocide. Edward Wellington Boate was a soldier in the 42nd New York Infantry and a prisoner at Andersonville in 1864. He wrote of his experiences in the New York Times shortly after the war and commented on whom he held responsible for Andersonville’s legacy.

    “You rulers who make the charge that the rebels intentionally killed off our men, when I can honestly swear they were doing everything in their power to sustain us, do not lay this flattering unction to your souls. You abandoned your brave men in the hour of their cruelest need. They fought for the Union and you reached no hand out to save the old faithful, loyal and devoted servants of the country. You may try to shift the blame from your own shoulders, but posterity will saddle the responsibility where it justly belongs.”

    When the worst of the Andersonville prisoners were returned to the North without exchange, these poor animated skeletons were taken, photographed and used to generate hatred in the North for the evil, wicked, brutal people of the South. Shortly after the photographs were released, the United States Senate passed the following:

    PREAMBLE TO HOUSE RESOLUTION #97 Also known as the Retaliatory Orders
    “Rebel prisoners in our hands are to be subjected to a treatment finding its parallels only in the conduct of savage tribes and resulting in the death of multitudes by the slow but designed process of starvation and by mortal diseases occasioned by insufficient and unhealthy food and wanton exposure of their persons to the inclemency of the weather.” ….passed by both houses, January 1865.

    Of course, this very policy had been ongoing in most of the federal prisoner of war camps since the beginning of the war. The Andersonville photographs merely gave an excuse for a policy of long standing.

  2. I agree with you. The Confederate government did all it could do to help the Yankee prisoners. I even read where Wirz spent his own money trying to buy produce so the Pow’s would have something decent to eat. The Confederacy was just not able to handle that many prisoners. Something else they never tell you–the Confederate guards ate the same food that the prisoners did–unlike that occurred in places like “Hellmira.”

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