Mathew B. Brady (American, 1823?–1896)
Albumen silver print from glass negative
8 11/16 x 7 7/16 in. (22.1 x 18.9 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joseph M. Cohen Gift, 2005 (2005.100.98)
Clara Barton, the first president of the American Red Cross, began her philanthropic career by distributing supplies for the relief of wounded soldiers during the Civil War. At its close, she organized the first bureau of records in Washington, D.C., to aid in the search for missing men. In connection with this work, Barton identified and marked the graves of more than 12,000 soldiers in the National Cemetery at Andersonville, Georgia. The site of the most notorious Confederate prison, Andersonville was one of the most deadly places in the war. Of the more than 40,000 Union soldiers imprisoned, 13,000 died of starvation and diseasea ratio of one in three.
To support her effort for proper burial of the Andersonville dead, and to raise money for veteran relief in general, Barton displayed and sold souvenirs of Andersonville. As early as 1866, the year this photograph was copyrighted by Brady, Barton discovered that veterans had already begun to collect relics of the war. Carefully identified by descriptive labels and placed on a crudely built stepped display, the artifacts are a heinous spectacle, a brutal tableau composed for the camera to attract alms from survivors. The largest item for sale was a portion of the infamous Dead Line, a wooden fence that prisoners were prohibited from crossing on pain of death.