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The South Shoots First

The camera, that is:

Western Barracks and Parade, Fort Sumter, April 15, 1861 (Civil War Photograph File, PR 164)

Southern photographers took very few of the thousands of photographs that document the Civil War, especially as the war dragged on and union blockades cut off Southern access to the necessary photographic supplies.   However, with the camera, no less than the cannon, the South was the first to shoot.

Fort Sumter, April 15, 1861 (Civil War Photograph File, PR 164)

Shown here are three of 13 photographs of Forts Sumter and Moultrie which were taken on April 15th, 1861 — 150 years ago today — just after the evacuation of the defeated Union forces.

Fort Sumter, April 15, 1861 (Civil War Photograph File, PR 164)

Each mount bears a label with a full description of the image and its date, and features an autographed approval note by the victorious Confederate Brigadier General Pierre T. Beaureguard.

 Detail (Civil War Photograph File, PR 164)

Although the photographer of these images has not been identified, at least two Charleston photographers are known to have visited Fort Sumter immediately after its surrender.   On April 15th, Alma A. Pelot — assistant to Jess H. Bolles, the owner of one of Charleston’s leading photographic studios — took a series of “full and perfect representations of the internal appearance of Fort Sumter, on the morning after the surrender,” as reported in the next day’s Charlston Courier.   With these photographs, according to Civil War photography expert Bob Zeller, Pelot became the first photographer of the Civil War.

J.M. Osborn, half-partner in “Osborn & Durbec’s Southern Stereoscopic and Photographic Depot,” also took a number of photographs of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in the days immediately after the surrender.

We are working with experts from the Center for Civil War Photography to determine whether N-YHS’s intriguing images of Forts Sumter and Moultrie may be among the earliest images of the Civil War.  In the meantime, to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, you can view the many other Civil War Treasures from the New York Historical Society here.

Creative: Tronvig Group