Baltimore Sun photographer Karl Merton Ferron retraces the steps of famed Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner and shows a modern perspective on the carnage Gardner documented in 1862 when 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after 12 hours of fighting in the Battle of Antietam.
I became interested in the Civil War after watching the Ken Burns PBS series and visiting Antietam National Battlefield while on assignment for The Sun. So when the opportunity presented itself to visit several iconic locations made famous by the work of Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner, I came up with the idea of revisiting some of the battle scenes he photographed.
Gardner documented the carnage only a few days after the infamous battle on Sept. 17, 1862, during which 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of combat, according to the National Park Service. He took his photos with a 3D 4-inch by 10-inch stereographic camera while traveling in a horse-drawn carriage.
The task – finding locations as close as possible to what was witnessed by Gardner as he captured the horrors of Americans killed by Americans – proved to be quite daunting. Two books helped ease my work: “Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day” by William A. Frassanito and “Shadows of Antietam” by Robert J. Kalasky.
The modern images I captured seem more like snapshots when compared with the scenes on the battlefield taken by Gardner shortly after the battle in Sharpsburg. Framing the viewfinder where each photo was possibly taken was chilling.
While Gardner’s images captured horrors of war and young men killed while fighting for what they believed in, my photographs showed life had gone on. People now exercise off Cornfield Avenue, they drive along Dunker Church Lane and walk over Burnside Bridge to play guitar along the creek — not to bury the dead.