Framed Original Gardner Albumen Photo, Pontoon Bridge Across the James River - Pontoon bridge across the James River / negative by A. Gardner, positive by A. Gardner. Photograph shows a pontoon bridge across the James River, which was built by the Union Army and used by General Grant's army in his march from Coal Harbor to City Point. Several ships float on the river, as soldiers stand scattered across the bridge and sit along the riverbank in the foreground. The pontoon bridge across the James River was the longest one built during the Civil War—crosses the James River in 1864. Union engineers working from both sides of the river put 101 pontoons in place to construct a bridge that spanned some 700 yards. The current was so strong at this point in the river that several schooners were placed midway across the bridge to provide needed support. The bridge was built in about seven hours on June 14, 1864, and for three days after that a line of ambulance and supply wagons that stretched some fifty miles rumbled over the bridge. Troops were also shuttled across the bridge before it was hastily dismantled on the morning on June 18.
Numbered 69. C1864 June.
- Illustrated in: Gardner's photographic sketch book of the war / Alexander Gardner. Washington, D.C. : Philp & Solomons, [c1866], v. 2, no. 69.
Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) was born in Paisley, Scotland. He became an apprentice silversmith jeweler at the age of fourteen. In his youth, Gardner found out that his interests and talents lay in finance, journalism and a love of chemistry, which led him to experiment with photography. Deeply disturbed by the exploitation of the working class, and in the spirit of the early cooperative movements in Scotland, Gardner conceived of a like-minded utopian venture in the US called the "Clydesdale Joint Stock Agricultural and Commercial Company" in Iowa. By 1853, many at the Iowa colony were sick and dying of tuberculosis, then called "consumption", and the Clydesdale company was dissolved. In 1856 Gardner emigrated to America with his family and sought out the renown Mathew Brady for employment and was hired to manage Brady's Washington D.C. Gallery. Gardner's business acumen and expertise at wet-plate collodion photography and the "Imperial Print", a 17 by 21 inch enlargement, brought Brady enormous success. The developed plates, which had typically been used as positives to create individual portraits called ambrotypes, were now being widely used as negatives, which employed the use of sensitized papers, making possible the production of unlimited copies of stereocards, album cards, and the increasingly popular "carte-de-visite", or visiting card. In November 1861 Gardner was appointed to the staff of General George McClellan, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, and was given the honorary rank of captain. In 1862, Gardner and/or his operators photographed the 1st Bull Run battlefield, McClellan's Peninsula Campaign, and the battlefields of Cedar Mountain and Antietam. Since the battlefields of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville were Union defeats and remained in enemy hands, Northern photographers were unable to reach the fields.
By May 1863, Gardner had opened a gallery with his brother James, taking with him many of Mathew Brady's former staff. The circumstantial evidence suggests that Gardner's split with Brady was not caused by any altruistic concerns over the proper recognition of the photographers in published works. Gardner himself in 1867 stated in a deposition that although a photograph was identified on the mount as a "Photograph by A. Gardner", it simply meant that it was printed or copied in his gallery, and he was not necessarily the photographer. The split seems to have grown out of Brady's incompetent business practices and his failure to regularly meet his payroll.
In July, Gardner and employees James Gibson and Timothy O'Sullivan photographed the battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Grant's Overland Campaign and Petersburg operations were mostly photographed by Gardner's employee Timothy O'Sullivan, at a time when the designation of official photographer for Grant's headquarters command had devolved to Mathew Brady.
In April 1865, Gardner photographed Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Michael O'Laughlen, Edman Spangler and Samuel Arnold, who were arrested for conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Gardner, with the assistance of O'Sullivan, also took photographs of the execution of Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt and David Herold as they were hanged at Washington Penitentiary on July 7, 1865. Four months later, Gardner photographed the execution of Henry Wirz, commanding officer at the infamous prisoner of war camp in Andersonville, Georgia.
In 1866, "Lincoln's favorite photographer" published his two-volume anthology, Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War. Two editions were published in 1865 and 1866, consisting of two leather-bound volumes. Each volume contained 50 tipped-in, imperial size albumen prints, with an accompanying page of descriptive, letterpress. However, at $150 per set, it was not the success Gardner had hoped. When asked about his work he said, "It is designed to speak for itself. As mementos of the fearful struggle through which the country has just passed, it is confidently hoped that it will possess an enduring interest."
In 1867 Gardner closed his gallery, and with his son Lawrence and assistant William R. Pywell set out to photograph along the proposed route of the U.P.R.R., taking photographs along the 39th parallel. The result of Gardner's journey from Wyandotte, Kansas to Fort Wallace in west Kansas was the folio sized anthology, Across the Continent on the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division.
In 1875 the civic-minded Gardner worked at the D.C. Metropolitan Police Dept. copying nearly a thousand daguerreotypes to be used as "mug shots", the forerunner of the "Rogues Gallery." In 1879, Alexander Gardner formally retired from photography, devoting his remaining years improving and enlarging the scope of the co-operative life insurance business model of the Washington Beneficial Endowment Association, as well as continuing with his involvement in the Masonic Mutual Relief Association, becoming its president in 1882, and the St Andrews Society, a Scottish relief organization.
Inventory Number: CDV 250