A pioneer of nineteenth-century photography, George N. Barnard is best known for his work during the Civil War (1861-65) as the official army photographer for the Military Division of the Mississippi, commanded by Union general William T. Sherman. His images, first published in 1866 as a limited collector’s edition entitled Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign, record the destroyed landscapes and gutted cities left in the wake of Sherman’s Atlanta campaign and subsequent march to the sea.

Confederate Works, Atlanta
Confederate Works, Atlanta

From Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign, by George N. Barnard

Born in Connecticut on December 23, 1819, George Norman Barnard was producing daguerreotypes (the first photographs commercially available to the public) by the age of twenty-three, and in 1846 he opened his first studio in Oswego, New York. In 1853 fire destroyed the massive grain elevators in Oswego, and Barnard, capturing the event with his camera, created some of the first “news” photographs known to historians.

Railroad Depot, Atlanta
Railroad Depot, Atlanta

Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Barnard opened a studio in Syracuse, New York, in 1854, but a poor economy forced its closure. Finding employment with Edward Anthony’s studio in 1859, Barnard worked in New York City on stereoscopes (a double photograph that, when seen through a special viewer, becomes fused into a single image with a three-dimensional quality). Mathew Brady, a famous daguerreotypist with studios in New York and Washington, D.C., hired Barnard as a portrait photographer and sent him to Washington to photograph Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inauguration as president of the United States.

By the late 1850s the daguerreotype had given way to the new collodion process, which required the near proximity of a darkroom, where negatives could be developed on the spot. (Called the “wet plate” process, glass plates coated with a collodion and halide salt mixture were dipped in a silver-nitrate solution and exposed while moist, developing the negative at once. Once the collodion dried, the photograph could not be processed.)

General William T. Sherman
General William T. Sherman

Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

When the Civil War broke out, Brady formed a crew of cameramen, “Brady’s Photographic Corps,” to document the conflict and the men who fought in it. In 1862, using a tent or wagon as his darkroom, Barnard produced the earliest known collodion photographs at the site of the Bull Run battle in Virginia.

In December 1863 the veteran photographer returned to the battlefield, this time as the official photographer for the Military Division of the Mississippi, with headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. Barnard’s main function, as an employee of the Topographic Branch of the Department of Engineers, was to duplicate maps and documents and to photograph fortifications and bridges. During the early months of 1864, Barnard photographed the landscape of East Tennessee and then worked in Nashville to create detailed topographic maps, which Sherman utilized as his troops moved from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Atlanta.

Atlanta during the Civil War
Atlanta during the Civil War

From Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign, by G. N. Barnard

Barnard traveled to the Atlanta front on September 11, 1864, after Sherman had captured the city. Over the next two months, he photographed Confederate fortifications, railroad yards, private homes, and city streets. Sherman’s troops departed Atlanta in November and marched toward the coast. Barnard took no photographs during the march until he reached Fort McAllister, near Savannah, which Union forces captured in December. He remained in Savannah, duplicating maps of the march route, until late January.

Barnard’s equipment was cumbersome, and with Sherman’s army almost constantly on the move, the photographer could not take all the images he wanted to during the campaign. Following Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender to Sherman in 1865, Barnard revisited many of the key battle sites in Georgia to produce the body of work for which he is now best known. The majority of the finished sixty-one prints illustrate a landscape of trees shorn by gunfire and cities of empty streets and ruined buildings, an eerie and mute testament to the brutal power of war.

Damaged Potter House
Damaged Potter House

Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

One of these photographs depicts the death site of Union general James B. McPherson. While surveying the Union lines along the outskirts of Atlanta on July 22, 1864, McPherson, surprised by several Confederate troops, ignored their call to surrender. Attempting to escape on horseback into the trees, he was struck in the back by a rifle bullet, dying within minutes.

Barnard had taken several photographs of the scene soon after his arrival in Atlanta in 1864. Returning after the war, he found the death site largely preserved; however, this time he was able to experiment, shooting the scene from different angles and adjusting several elements, such as the amount of visible foliage and debris in the frame. The resulting photograph highlights the bleached-out bones of a horse skeleton, suggesting the general’s failed attempt to escape on horseback. Balancing an awareness of history with an understanding of aesthetics, Barnard’s landscape is a haunting testament to the war’s destruction.

McPherson’s Death Site
McPherson’s Death Site

Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

By 1869 Barnard had established a new studio in Chicago, Illinois, but it was destroyed in the great fire of 1871. Using borrowed equipment, he then recorded the process of rebuilding the city in a series of photographs that recall his Civil War scenes. He went on to promote the new gelatin dry process in collaboration with George Eastman in New York and later opened a studio in Painesville, Ohio, in 1884. Barnard died at his daughter’s home in New York, on February 4, 1902, not far from his first studio.

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Confederate Works, Atlanta

Confederate Works, Atlanta

George N. Barnard made this photograph of Confederate works in Atlanta in September 1864, after Confederate troops had evacuated the city to escape Union general William T. Sherman's forces. Barnard, the official photographer for the Military Division the Mississippi, took many photographs of battlefield remains in Atlanta.

From Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign, by George N. Barnard

Railroad Depot, Atlanta

Railroad Depot, Atlanta

As the official photographer for the Military Division of the Mississippi, George N. Barnard traveled with Union general William T. Sherman's troops. This photo shows an Atlanta railroad depot in 1864, after the city's capture by Union troops.

Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Photgraph by George N. Barnard, #LC-B8171-2712.

General William T. Sherman

General William T. Sherman

In this photograph, taken by George N. Barnard, Union general William T. Sherman sits astride his horse at Federal Fort No. 7 in Atlanta. Sherman's Atlanta campaign, which lasted through the spring and summer of 1864, resulted in the fall of the city on September 2.

Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Photograph by George N. Barnard, #LC-DIG-cwpb-03628.

Atlanta during the Civil War

Atlanta during the Civil War

An Atlanta street, showing the destruction inflicted on the city by Union general William T. Sherman's troops, in 1864. The picture was taken by George N. Barnard, the official photographer for the Military Division of the Mississippi, commanded by Sherman.

From Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign, by G. N. Barnard

Damaged Potter House

Damaged Potter House

This photograph shows the shell-damaged Potter House in Atlanta. As the official photographer for the Military Division of the Mississippi, George N. Barnard documented in 1864-65 some of the destruction left in the wake of the Civil War.

Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Photograph by George N. Barnard, #LC-B8171-2717.

McPherson’s Death Site

McPherson’s Death Site

The death site of Union general James B. McPherson was photographed by George N. Barnard after the Civil War ended. McPherson was killed on horseback during the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864. A horse skeleton is visible in the left background.

Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Photgraph by George N. Barnard.