News / USA

Civil War Photographer's Work Draws Belated Praise

Traveling with the troops, George Houghton captured their daily life

George Houghton's image of members of the 4th Vermont Regiment's band during the Civil War.
George Houghton's image of members of the 4th Vermont Regiment's band during the Civil War.

Multimedia

Audio
Nina Keck

Civil War photographers Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner caused a sensation with their grisly pictures of corpse-strewn battlefields but it was a relatively unknown Vermont photographer who captured some of the most striking - though less sensational - images of the conflict.

Daily life

Traveling with Civil War troops, George Houghton managed to expertly capture the nuance of day-to-day life for soldiers.

“His composition is amazing," says historian Don Wickman. "Everything that you’re taught now about dividing pictures up into thirds, line of sight - he’s using back in 1859, 1860.”

Houghton operated a photo studio in Brattleboro, Vermont, when the Civil War broke out in 1861. He tried to enlist but was turned away for health reasons. So instead of fighting, Houghton followed Vermont soldiers to Virginia with his camera and became a pioneer in the budding field of photojournalism.

Camp of the 6th Vermont Regiment at Camp Griffin, Virginia, taken in 1861 by George Houghton.
Camp of the 6th Vermont Regiment at Camp Griffin, Virginia, taken in 1861 by George Houghton.

Pioneering photojournalist

“When we start looking at previous conflicts - from the French and Indian War and the Revolution, War of 1812 - photography wasn’t there," says Wickman. "So people would do oils, watercolors, pen and inks, so you had an artist’s interpretation of the scene. Photography now captured the scene as it was, bringing the war and the scenes associated with it back home.”

Wickman has gathered more than 100 of Houghton’s photographs in a new book, titled “A Very Fine Appearance.” The images are accompanied by excerpts from letters and diaries of Vermont soldiers.

There are long-range photos of union camps that show row upon row of white triangular tents tucked amidst the landscape. There are sobering scenes of men burying their comrades.

But Wickman says it’s the images of soldiers relaxing that may be the most haunting. They show the men in front of tents - their worn and dusty boots propped up on stools - fatigue etched into their young faces. Behind them, jackets and laundry hang on tent posts.

Officers of the 4th Vermont Regiment by George Houghton
Officers of the 4th Vermont Regiment by George Houghton

“They’re not all spit and polish. A real favorite that I have shows veterans of the 4th Vermont regiment returning at the expiration of their three year term of enlistment in 1864 to Brattleboro. They look totally opposite from the way they would have looked in September of 1861. They’re wrapped in blankets, their clothes are ragged. But they’ve just been through three full years of war and they’re showing it.”

'Arresting images'

Harold Holzer, a leading authority on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era, wrote the forward to Wickman’s book. He writes that “George Houghton produced some of the most comprehensive and visually arresting images of the war."

"It remains something of a mystery,” says Holzer, “that Houghton has remained all but unknown for nearly a century and a half.”

While Vermont soldiers fought in some of the most horrific battles of the day, Holzer thinks Houghton might have been a victim of geography. He lived too far from the reigning media centers where photographs were exhibited and reviewed.

However, his captivating images have stood the test of time and now author and historian Wickman hopes his new book will help Houghton finally win the recognition he deserves.

You May Like

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid