Combat Gallery Sunday : The Martial Art of Timothy H. O’Sullivan

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.

Combat Gallery Sunday : The Martial Art of Timothy H. O’Sullivan

Irish-born Timothy H. O’Sullivan came to the United States while still a toddler and, like many in the great Potato Famine diaspora, settled in the New York City area.

As a teen he found work with a man who had a daguerreotype studio in the great city by the name of Mathew B. Brady. While there, O’Sullivan was exposed to early and experimental ambrotype photography and later albumen print from glass negatives– including cheap cartes de visite studio portraits which Brady was a master of.

When the Civil War came, (according to some, there are skeptics) O’Sullivan, then 21, joined the Union Army as an officer in the U.S. Topographical Engineers and likely served with surveying teams where his knowledge of photography aided him. Eventually, he found himself as a civilian again working for Mr. Brady (who was going blind), along with no less than 20 other budding photographers which were in effect the first combat photojournalists.

Using a traveling darkroom, by July 1862 O’Sullivan was off to cover the war as a civilian again. He eventually found himself partnered up with Scotsman Alexander Gardner, who at one time had managed Brady’s Washington D.C. studio before the War and had worked with O’Sullivan as a Captain in the Topographical Engineers (and chief army photographer).

The two covered the Antietam Campaign and many of their images were misattributed to Brady himself.

The two covered Gettysburg, where they famously manipulated the setting of the Rebel Sharpshooter photograph, with O’Sullivan helping him drag the body to a more advantageous position of the Devil’s Den, complete with prop rifle.

Rocks could not save him at the battle of Gettysburg, Pa. July 1863. This image is not colorised, it is produced from the original glass negative at the LOC on color paper. It is perhaps O'Sullivan's most (in)famous image.

“Rocks could not save him at the battle of Gettysburg, Pa. July 1863.” This image is not colorized, it is produced from the original glass negative at the LOC on color paper. It is perhaps O’Sullivan’s most (in)famous image.

While the photographer took liberties with Confederate dead, he also had a good eye for then exotic military equipment, ruins of historic battles, and the staffs of generals, NCO messes, and rank and file alike.

High bridge, Appomattox, Va.

High bridge, Appomattox, Va.

Pontoon wagon and boat, 50th New York Engineers, Rappahannock (i.e. Brandy) Station, Va., March, (i.e. Feb.) 1864

Pontoon wagon and boat, 50th New York Engineers, Rappahannock (i.e. Brandy) Station, Va., March, (i.e. Feb.) 1864

Sherman

Sherman

[Petersburg, Va. Two youthful military telegraph operators at headquarters. O'Sullivan took photos of generals and enlisted alike

Petersburg, Va. Two youthful military telegraph operators at headquarters. O’Sullivan took photos of generals and enlisted alike

Bull Run, Virginia (vicinity). Col. Alfred Duffie, 1st Rhode Island Cavalry

Bull Run, Virginia (vicinity). Col. Alfred Duffie, 1st Rhode Island Cavalry

Gen. George G. Meade and staff, Culpeper, Va. Sept. 1863

Gen. George G. Meade and staff, Culpeper, Va. Sept. 1863

Co. B, U.S. Engineers in front of Petersburg, Va., August, 1864 Sgt. Harlan Cobb seated on the ground, third from left, wearing a vest.

Co. B, U.S. Engineers in front of Petersburg, Va., August, 1864 Sgt. Harlan Cobb seated on the ground, third from left, wearing a vest.

the Halt Captain Harry Page, quartermaster at Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac, his horse, and another man at rest, after locating a spot for camp

“The Halt” Captain Harry Page, quartermaster at Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac, his horse, and another man at rest, after locating a spot for camp

Gen. Joseph Hooker and staff, Falmouth, Va., June 1863

Gen. Joseph Hooker and staff, Falmouth, Va., June 1863

Fort Pulaski, Ga. Dismounted mortar feb 1862

Fort Pulaski, Ga. Dismounted mortar Feb 1862

Fort fisher Stereograph showing a Confederate soldier in the battery with an English Armstrong gun. Three men stand behind him

Fort Fisher Stereograph showing a Confederate soldier in the battery with an English Armstrong gun. Three men stand behind him

Quaker Guns! mock battery erected by the 79th New York Volunteers at Seabrook Point, Port Royal Island, South Carolina.

Quaker Guns! mock battery erected by the 79th New York Volunteers at Seabrook Point, Port Royal Island, South Carolina.

McLean's House, Appomattox, Va., scene of General Lee's surrender

McLean’s House, Appomattox, Va., scene of General Lee’s surrender

He was present at just about every major battle in Northern Virginia as well as the taking of several Rebel seacoast forts.

His former buddy Gardner ripped him off considerably, using many of O’Sullivan’s images from Antietam in his own Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War, but it was the Irishman who came out on top, being tapped to accompany several expeditions for the government to Panama, the American West, and elsewhere while Gardner’s book flopped.

Cereus giganteus, Arizona 1871. When images like this made it back to the East Coast, they were a magic portal to the exotic West that many could not imagine.

Cereus giganteus, Arizona 1871. When images like this made it back to the East Coast, they were a magic portal to the exotic West that many could not imagine.

War chief of the Zuni Indians.

War chief of the Zuni Indians.

Apache scouts, at Apache Lake, Sierra Blanca Range

Apache scouts, at Apache Lake, Sierra Blanca Range

Expedition exploring boat, Truckee River. O'Sullivan almost died when this boat collapsed, losing most of his equipment and hundreds of negatives.

Expedition exploring boat, Truckee River. O’Sullivan almost died when this boat collapsed, losing most of his equipment and hundreds of negatives.

Soldier and family Ft. Garland, Colo 1874

Soldier and family Ft. Garland, Colo 1874

Washakie Bad Lands, Wyoming 1872 Sullivan is in the shot.

Washakie Bad Lands, Wyoming 1872 Sullivan is in the shot.

Brady did not fare much better. Bankrupt after the war as the Government refused to actually buy any of his stack of more than 10,000 plates, he sold everything he owned and closed his New York City studio, dying penniless at Presbyterian Hospital and interred in a simple grave.

For O’Sullivan, though successful he did not get to enjoy a long life. In his 40s, his traveling days were over, having contracted TB. He settled in the Washington D.C. area, splitting his time as the official photographer for the U.S. Geological Survey and the Treasury Department. He died in 1882.

sulliavan

Over 1,300 of O’Sullivan’s works are in the Library of Congress and have been reproduced extensively across a myriad of formats.

Thank you for your work, sir.

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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