Book Review: The Civil War in Depth, Volume II, by Bob Zeller

by Jonah Begone

War and bloodshed in 19th C. 3-D technology

Book Review: The Civil War in Depth by Bob Zeller (Chronicle Books; ISBN: 0811825248)

I found a terrific $5 deal at Border's Books one night: "The Civil War in Depth, Volume II." This is a printed collection of 19th C. stereopticon cards, many published for the first time. Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner roamed the battlefields of Antietam, Gettysburg, etc. days after the battles with daguerreotype cameras that took double images. When viewed with a stereopticon, sort of a wooden version of a View-Master viewer, the images have depth. (Some of the images, the ones with branches, etc. in the foreground, or ones taken from hills, look especially good.)

Many of the images you see in Civil War books are produced from half of the original glass plate images. When viewed together, as was originally intended, through the plastic viewer supplied with the book, these images take on an appearance that is truly amazing. Some have written that it is like peering into history, and indeed, it is.

There are some images of the dead at Gettysburg and Antietam, as well as unburied bones and skulls in the Wilderness, which I have seen for years in books. Looking at them in the original stereo imagery changes the whole experience. It's not like looking at a picture, it's like looking through a small window - that "Window into the Past" we're always talking about.

And the amazing thing is, for all the time, effort, money and passion I spent on Civil War reenacting, for as many years as I did, I got closer to the actual event by peering at these cards. They are incontrovertibly authentic.

I have read more books about the Civil War than I care to name - this one is unique.