Graphics International, Ltd. Washington D.C.
Mary S. and Louis S. Myers, Akron, Ohio
Gift to Akron Art Museum, 1981
1986: "Photographs from the Permanent Collection" 1/28/86 - 4/6/86, Akron Art Museum
1979: "Acquisitions 1979" 6/30/79 - 9/02/79, Akron Art Museum
1978: "Barnard Civil War Photographs" 9/16/78 - 10/29/78, Akron Art Museum
George N. Barnard
Destruction of Hood's Ordnance Train, 1864 (Plate 44, Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign, 1866)
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
One of the most original and respected photographers in nineteenth-century America, George Barnard entered the profession in 1846 in Oswego, New York, seven years after the invention of photography. He quickly achieved national stature for both the quality of his work and the eloquence of his ideas on the medium's artistic potential. In essays of the early 1850s, Barnard expressed the hope that photography would soon achieve the high artistic status accorded painting and sculpture.
After successfully operating portrait galleries in upstate New York, Barnard worked in New York City with the firms of Edward Anthony and Mathew Brady, and in Washington, D.C., for Alexander Gardner's gallery. Barnard, one of the earliest Civil War photographers, worked in the field in 1861–62. At the end of 1863, he became chief photographer for the Union Army's Military Division of the Mississippi, and accompanied troops in the 1864 occupation of Atlanta and on Sherman's notorious March to the Sea. After the war, he operated galleries in Charleston, Chicago, and Painesville (Ohio).
Today Barnard is best known for his self-published album Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign (1866). Each of its one hundred to one hundred fifty copies contained sixty-one original prints and sold for $100; the albums were aimed at an elite audience of wealthy military men and government officials. While many of the photographs were made during the war in 1864–65, Barnard made a special trip a full year after the war's end to fill gaps in the visual record. The two sets of photographs were combined in a sequence following the Union Army's advance to Atlanta, with concluding views of the decimated cities of Savannah, Columbia, and Charleston.
Sherman's Campaign contains a curious variety of subjects, including scarred battlefields, ruined buildings, scenic landscapes, and bridges, trenches, and forts. Barnard conceived of his pictures as artistic documents that would be both informative and beautiful. To this end, he composed his views precisely, later taking the trouble to print clouds into his skies from separate negatives. While these clouds added nothing to the factual value of his views, they were essential to the making of aesthetically satisfying pictures.
Since he never recorded actual conflict, Barnard's album is permeated by a mood of melancholy stillness. In fact, these quiet scenes symbolically suggest the overwhelming violence and profound cultural trauma of the war. Mute images of shell-blasted forests, for example, trace the path of a man-made firestorm of desolation.
In Destruction of Hood's Ordnance Train the themes of violence and cultural trauma come together in a particularly powerful form. Barnard's photograph shows the remains of an ammunition train that had been ignited several weeks earlier by Confederate troops evacuating Atlanta. The result was a cataclysmic explosion. Here, a ghostly figure stands in the epicenter of the blast, providing a measure of human scale. Incongruously, the sky above is filled with beautiful clouds.
In part, the power of this image stems from what it does not do: it depicts not the violent event but its aftermath, denying in its moody stillness any romantic interpretations of war. Barnard's vision was a product of who he was: a deeply religious northerner who abhorred slavery. While he believed in the Union cause, he had a deep sympathy for the people and the land of the South. Troubled by massive destruction and loss of life, he saw the war as both a political necessity and a cultural tragedy. Through his photographs Barnard sought to document the war and to understand it. His deeply thoughtful images pose a question that haunts us today: how can violence be used as an instrument of justice?
- Keith F. Davis, 2001
1. On the margins of this photograph the title is printed as Destruction of Hood's Ordinance Train. Since "ordinance" does not reflect correct usage, it has been changed to "ordnance" for the sake of clarity.
Davis, Keith F. George N. Barnard: Photographer of Sherman's Campaign. Kansas City: Hallmark Cards, 1990.
Sandweiss, Martha A., ed. Photography in Nineteenth-Century America. Fort Worth and New York: Amon Carter Museum and Harry N. Abrams, 1991.