Confederate Dead
Original Author: Timothy H. O'Sullivan
Created: May 20, 1864
Medium: Wet collodion glass-plate negative; one half of stereograph
Publisher: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

Confederate Dead

A dead Confederate soldier lies unburied the morning after the Battle of Harris's Farm, an engagement that was part of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House that took place in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, over a nearly two-week period in May 1864. This image, part of a photographic death study produced by Timothy O'Sullivan, represents the first time the Union photographer made a series of plates independent of his former employer, Alexander Gardner. O'Sullivan's original caption reads, "Scene at Mrs. Allsop's Pine Forest, near Spotsylvania, on the morning of the 20th May, after Ewell's Corps had been repulsed in their attack of the 19th on the right." This glass-plate stereograph shows one of many dead Confederate soldiers strewn across the battlefield that morning. Images of Confederate, as opposed to Union, casualties, tended to dominate the lenses of Union photographers like O'Sullivan. This was in part because the Union dead were buried first on battlefields controlled by Union troops, meaning that photographers were less likely to encounter blue-coated bodies. Pictures of Union dead were also, for obvious reasons, more difficult to sell to Northern galleries. For this photograph, it seems likely that O'Sullivan, as was commonplace, rearranged objects to fit his compositional desires. For instance, the rifle seen resting upon the soldier's body in this image was probably found in the field by O'Sullivan and positioned as a prop; it appears in several frames of the same series.