02539 - A Dead Rebel Soldier; Storming of Petersburg, VA; April 3rd, 1865 [LC-DIG-cwpb-02539]
As the evening of April 2nd arrived it was clear that Petersburg was finished. By dawn the next day it was all over and the city surrendered. With delays in communication the news was too late for soldiers such as this to survive. One of the last killed in defense of the city that sadly had already capitulated. This image was taken later that day as the Union forces arrived to occupy the city. His last act of valor was recorded here along with many of his fellow soldiers.
While it may appear macabre to photograph the dead it did serve a valuable function and has remained historically part our culture. During the early part of the war soldiers were photographed only in camp and the battle field was photographed as a visual record of the campaign. As the war dragged on both sides became weary and began to lose interest in their cause. To help bring home the war, photographs such as this provided for the first time soldiers on the battlefield. These gripping photos were popular to show support for the cause that each was fighting for. This same technique of photographing the dead in battle has continued ever since. For example, during the Second World War bodies of the dead floating in the surf or lying in a fox hole were shown in newsreels to help bring the sacrifice of these men to the general public. Due to some of limitations of public media being able to print images in the newspaper this is a rare example of these type of photos being created and then sold directly to the public for profit.