Friday, March 1, 2013

The Military Photographer

Captain Andrew Joseph Russell a photographer became the first non-civilian Civil War photographer March 1st 1863, when he was assigned to the United States Military Railroad Construction Corps.

Andrew Joseph Russell was born March 20th 1829 in Walpole, New Hampshire the son of Joseph and Harriet (Robinson) Russell.  The family moved when Russell was young to Nunda, New York where he was raised.  Having interest and some talent in painting, he did portraits of local dignitaries and of railroads and trains.

Russell started his Civil War service by doing the painting on a diorama used for Union recruiting.  He joined the service August 22nd 1862 in Elmira, New York, and became a member of the 141st New York Infantry.  Russell was interested in photography, and so paid Egbert Guy Fowx a civilian photographer who did photos for Matthew B Brady to teach him wet-plate photography.  Some of Russell’s first photos were seen by Union Brigadier General Herman Haupt and they impressed the General enough to have Russell assigned on March 1st 1863 to the Union Military Railroad Construction Corps as a photographer.  This made Russell the first non-civilian Civil War photographer.  He mostly took photos of transportation subjects, but is thought to be the photographer of the “Confederate Dead Behind the Stone Wall” at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Following the end of the war, Russell worked for the Union Pacific Railroad photographing the construction of the eastern side of the transcontinental railroad.  One of his most iconic images is of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10th 1869.  He also did many spectacular photos of mountain scenery and desserts of the American west which the railroad was built across.  After he left the service of the Union Pacific, Russell opened a studio on Logan Street in Brooklyn, New York.  He died there September 22nd 1902.

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