Chambersburg 1864: A Classic Civil War Photograph
Because of the constraints of photography in the art form’s early days, photographs of the Civil War tended to be either posed portraits, camp scenes, or—most haunting of all—images of a battle’s aftermath. Taken days or even weeks after the violent events had passed into history, the aftermath images depict tragedy recollected in tranquility.
Sometime in August 1864, Charles L. Lochman of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, drove a wagonload of photographic equipment 30 miles southwest to Chambersburg. He found a city in ruins. On July 30, 1864, Confederate troops under the command of General John McCausland had set fires throughout downtown Chambersburg, burning the center of town to the ground. It was the third and worst of three Confederate incursions into Chambersburg during the war, and left approximately 3,000 people destitute, their homes and businesses destroyed.
Lochman captured the devastation through his lenses. In order to accommodate the vast scope of the damage, he opted to create a panoramic photograph. Usually at least twice as wide as it is high, a panoramic image is ideal for depicting a broad landscape, either natural or urban. Compared to a standard photograph, it conveys an almost epic vision—not what the eye sees when looking straight ahead, but the world as perceived when you scan the horizon.
From the roof of the Chambersburg Market House on Second and Queen Streets, Lochman framed a view that looked down upon the western side of town, which had sustained the greatest damage. Using his heavy and cumbersome equipment, he took three glass plate negative images, pivoting the camera to a new position for each shot, carefully allowing for image overlap. After making three albumen prints from the negatives, Lochman cut and pasted the pieces together to create a final panoramic image. The resulting photograph, labeled “View of the Ruins of Chambersburg,” is nearly two feet in length and 7¾ inches high.