Photographing the Battle of Gettysburg: Timothy O’Sullivan’s A Harvest of Death

A landscape of horror

Timothy O’Sullivan, A Harvest of Death, 1863, albumen print, 17.2 × 22.5 cm, illustration in Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the War, 1866 (Library of Congress); a conversation between Dr. Kimberly Kutz Elliott and Dr. Steven Zucker

Important concepts

  • war photography
  • collodion process
  • The Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg

This photograph was included in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866). Each photograph had a lengthy caption that explained what was captured in each scene.

harvest of death caption

Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War, 1866 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

For the “Harvest of Death” photo the caption read: “It was, indeed, a ‘harvest of death.’ . . . Such a picture conveys a useful moral: It shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry. Here are the dreadful details! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity falling upon the nation.”

Additional resources

The Gettysburg Address—setting and context, with Dr. Kimberly Kutz Elliott

The Gettysburg Address—full text and analysis, with Dr. Kimberly Kutz Elliott

See more photos from Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War at the Met 

Learn more about the wet plate photography process from PBS

William A. Frassanito, Gettysburg: A Journey in Time (Scribner, 1975), and Early Photography at Gettysburg (Thomas, 1996).

D. Mark Katz, Witness to an Era: The Life and Photographs of Alexander Gardner (Rutledge Hill Press, 1999).

Richard S. Lowry, The Photographer and the President: Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Gardner, and the Images that Made a Presidency (Rizzoli, 2015).

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.