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George N. Barnard, Nashville from the Capitol – The American Museum of Photography: Masterworks

George N. Barnard, Nashville from the Capitol – The American Museum of Photography: Masterworks



George N. Barnard (U.S., 1819-1902): Nashville From the Capitol

Albumen Print, approx. 11 x 14 inches, 1864

This image appears, in a variant form, as Plate 3 of Barnard’s Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign, an album of 61 albumen prints published by Barnard in 1866.

Barnard started his career as a daguerreotypist in New York state and worked for Mathew Brady early in the Civil War. He became an official photographer of the Military Division of the Mississippi in time to record the march of Sherman’s Army from Tennessee through Georgia to the sea, and then north through the Carolinas. To the North, it was a brilliant, bold and decisive military campaign–a triumph worthy of the monumental commemorative album Barnard issued after the war. To Southerners, Sherman’s campaign was vicious, bloody, and destructive.

The Tennessee state capitol at Nashville was under construction at the outbreak of the Civil War. Barnard’s descriptive text explains…

The location selected [for the building] was a commanding elevation in the center of the city, which places the base of the capitol somewhat higher than the roofs of the majority of the buildings near. During the siege of [Nashville] by General Breckinridge in 1862, the capitol was strongly fortified by J. St. C. Morton, of the Engineer Corps, U.S.A., and converted into the citadel of the fortifications above the city… This edifice was the only State capitol that was fortified during the late war.

Barnard’s photograph, with its row of threatening cannons interspersed by decorative statuary groups, shows the capitol as a great stone sentry looming over the rooftops of the rebel city. The tiny silhouetted figures near the columns enhance the monumentality of this statehouse-turned-fortress.

This particular print of “Nashville From the Capitol” was not produced for Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign. It is a rare variant without the addition of clouds in the sky from a second negative. The irregularities evident in the sky region may have been due to improper coating of the negative (understandable in the rigorous wartime conditions). Whatever the cause, this unusual print demonstrates that the addition of a cloud negative was a practical matter of covering up a picture’s technical flaws, and not purely an artistic decision by Barnard.


Reference: Keith F. Davis, George N. Barnard: Photographer of Sherman’s Campaign (Hallmark Cards, Inc., Kansas City, Missouri: 1990)

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