RUSSELL, ANDREW J. United States Military Rail Road Photographic Album. ca. 1865.
117 ALBUMEN PHOTOGRAPHIC PRINTS, various sizes, mostly large format (approx. 9 x 13 in.), plus 20 smaller prints, mounted back to back on thick card with letterpress or manuscript labels neatly affixed to mounts recording title, number and date, some captions lettered in ink on the mounts, a few with additional pencilled notations. One print ("Ruins in Richmond") present in duplicate. Folio, original half morocco, gilt-lettered leather title label on upper cover, rebacked preserving original spine, hinges reinforced, rear endsheet repaired, two mounts with repairs not affecting images, mounts spotted, but plates surprisingly clean.
FIRST EDITION. ONE OF PERHAPS FOUR EXTANT COPIES OF AN IMPORTANT AND LITTLE-KNOWN COLLECTION OF CIVIL WAR PHOTOGRAPHS.
Russell was prescient in his assertion that "the memories of our Great War came down to us and will pass onto future generations with more accuracy and more truth-telling illustration than that of any previous struggle...and the world is indebted to the photographic art." He and fellow Civil War photographer Timothy O'Sullivan went on after the war to record the exploration and settlement of the American West. Russell's best-known work chronicled the mammoth effort made by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1868 and 1869 to complete the first transcontinental railraod. His "East Meets West at Laying Last Rail," taken at Promontory on May 18, 1869, has become a visual symbol of American technological progress. Russell's earlier work as Government photographer during the civil War is represented in this exceedingly rare album containing selected images taken between the Spring of 1863 and the Summer of 1865.
Captain Russell first served under Brigadier General Herman Haupt, Chief of Construction and Transportation of the United States Military Railroad Construction Corps. He was detached from his regiment and detailed to photograph Haupt's experiments "to determine the most practical and expeditious" ways for "construction, destruction and reconstruction of roads and bridges...to facilitate the movements of the armies of the Rappahannock of Virginia and of the Potomac." When Haupt resigned his commission in September 1863, Captain Russell received additional photograph orders from Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs and Gneral Daniel C. McCallum, Superintendent and General Manager of the U.S. Military Railroads.
Russell's striking photographs chronicle the destruction in Virginia and the improvements underway in Washington, D.C. to support the war effort. Arsenals, encampments, batteries, gun boats, ordinance, and of course, depots and trestle bridges on the Orange & Alexandria Rail Road, Aquia Creek Rail Road and City Point and Army Line are represented. His photographs were distributed to the President and his cabinet, to high ranking officers and to other important dignataires. They were highly regarded for their artistic quality and for their truthfullness in depicting the Construction Corps remarkable engineering feats. Unfortunately, Russell's renown was eclipsed by the end of the war and subsequently his work has been attributed to Mathew Brady or Brady's atelier.
While individual prints attributed to Russell occasionally appear on the market, this well documented bound series is remarkably rare. Some photographs, such as the "Block House, Near Alexandria," "Petersburg & Weldon R.R.'s Shops," and "Grand Review" are found in no other collections. The ordering of the plates is unique. The random sequencing of photographs is typical of Russell's U.S. Military Rail Road and Union Pacific Rail Road albums. When the photographs were reprinted in the Dover off set edition, The Civil War Photographs of A.J. Russell, the compilors termed the ordering a "jumble" and altered the plate sequence and edited the original captions to create an illustrated history of the war. The editing attempted to compensate for inconsistencies found in Russell's numbering system. The system is neither continuous nor chronological and could have been created to identify the size and location of negatives in storage. Titles in the album are sometimes inconsistent with image content and some duplications, substitutions and errors appear.
The photographs were assembled sometime in July 1865, well after the Grand Review of the armies and the mustering out of the troops. Although there is no notation in the ablum to document the original owner, the album was probably presented to a civilian engineer or railroad superintendent at the end of his employment with the U.S. Military Railroad Construction Corps to recognize his efforts in support of the Union. The bound album is a unique Civil War artifact. The only other known complete album is at The Virginia Historical Society, Richmond (136 plates); partial albums or groups of loose prints are in the Library of Congress, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Getty Museum and the Huntington Library.
Provenance: Anonymous owner (sale, Christie's East, 6 November 1984).
Christie's East would like to thank Susan Williams for her help in cataloguing this lot.