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The Civil War: A History in 3-D

by Richard L. Copley, Copleys Graphics LLC

The Library of Congress is the nation’s leading repository of original Civil War documentary photographic negatives. Of about 3,000 such images from the field preserved on original glass plates that still exist, about two-thirds are stereoscopic, meaning they are 3-D images. Richard Loren Copley’s self-published treatise highlights 73 of these photos in the authentic stereoscopic format.

The Civil War: A History in 3-D’s deficiencies are far overshadowed by the visual splendor of its images, presented in the anaglyph (red-blue, or more accurately, red-cyan) 3-D format. Copley discovered that anaglyph 3-D works better with black-and-white photos than with color ones, and that large super-sharp black-and-white glass plate negatives are superb candidates for anaglyph 3-D images. Copley also realized that the bigger the photos are published, the better they look.

With a count of only 73 images, the book is not so much a history as a sampling. Then too, one photo of wounded soldiers in Fredericksburg in 1864 is misidentified as being from 1862, and there are other minor mistakes. The text could be more polished, and the arrangement of images is confusing at times, such as the placement of slavery-related images near the end of the book.

But Copley’s book is the first to take advantage of the anaglyph potential of the LOC’s archive of original stereoscopic negatives and its remarkable online resource of low- and high-resolution scans of every negative, all of them downloadable for free. He has also digitally restored the images, removing spots, scratches and other imperfections.

Under sunlight or good lighting, these photos still come alive. Copley’s work is bound to thrill the history buffs who are unaware that the photographic history of the Civil War was actually captured in stereo.


Originally published in the December 2009 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here