Commentary

Gettysburg Photo Mystery Solved

Posted 11/4/2021 By Patrick Brennan

With the help of an Artificial Intelligence-based, computerized color identifier and cutting-edge software that created a 3D rendering of McPherson Ridge in 1868, a group of Civil War detectives have pinpointed the camera location of an iconic, and previously unidentified, Gettysburg battle image. Patrick Brennan, a longtime editorial advisor for The Civil War Monitor, has been working on a book for Savas Beatie Publishing titled Gettysburg in Color, which will include almost 300 photos, paintings, drawings, and woodcuts that have been colorized utilizing the latest in color-recognition software and Brennan’s own extensive research. Through a series of fortuitous discoveries and multi-day field analyses by Brennan and Gettysburgers John Kamerer (Monumental Photography Gallery) and John Peterson (The Horse Soldier), Brennan has determined the location of Timothy O’Sullivan’s “View in field on right wing,” a photograph of what we now know are five Union and two Confederate dead. The location on the western slope of Seminary Ridge looks across the field to a section of McPherson Ridge whose topography has changed dramatically since the battle. To offset the changes to the historic landscape, Brennan hired Chicago 3D artist Zachary Lindemann to recreate McPherson Ridge from the 1868 Warren Topographic Map of the battlefield and discovered that the O’Sullivan photo matched the 3D image perfectly.
 


Brennan’s co-author and daughter Dylan Brennan created a GIF that fades from O’Sullivan’s photo to Lindemann’s wire mesh 3D recreation, and the results are startling. Two particular points stand out. First, what was considered nothing more than the remains of a downed fence across the center of the photo are actually the fieldworks hastily constructed on July 1 by elements of General Gabriel Paul's I Corps brigade. Second, the left rear tree line is actually on the high ground west of Willoughby’s Run.

An account of the entire process will be published in The Civil War Monitor's Spring 2022 issue. The article will include a good number of maps and a variety of 3D reconstructions along with the photo analysis that led to this important discovery. The photo will also be highlighted in Brennan's forthcoming book Gettysburg in Color on the Savas Beatie imprint, due in 2022.

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