Lot 15    

Graphic CDV of Military Execution
2010, American History, Including the Civil War
Likely unpublished and rare, no backmark, captioned “The Deserters Fate” in symbolic red ink beneath dead soldier propped against a crude coffin. A disturbing photograph framing the corpse of a freshly executed boy-soldier in the foreground. Twenty paces distance from the unknown victim is the firing squad consisting of 14 armed men commanded by a sergeant — all appearing unfazed by the notoriety. The location is likewise unknown, but irregular patches of a lighter color amidst the bramble of dry grass suggest either melting snow or sand. The dead boy — displaying an illegible placard? — has been shot multiple times in the lower face, the blindfold removed and lying on the coffin revealing vacant eyes.

Robert I. Alotta’s Civil War Justice-Union Army Executions under Lincoln (1989), cites 276 military executions during the Civil War, 186 by firing squad and 90 by hanging. Multiple desertion was the leading cause with 147 soldiers formally executed in the name of deterrence.

This never-before-seen cdv bears some striking similarities to a pencil-and-chalk drawing of an early military execution that appeared in Harper’s Weekly on December 13, 1861. The scene in Virginia by artist Alfred Wordsworth Thompson captured the execution of Private William H. Johnston, Company D., 1st New York Cavalry who was illustrated wearing a light-colored shirt without military jacket. Johnston, who had been “singled out for very special treatment,” was the first Union soldier formally charged with desertion, and, as such, the court-martial proceeding received special attention from the Adjutant General and War Department. Alotta wrote that “(Johnston’s) trial and execution became a model for those that followed throughout the Civil War.”

In blatant juxtaposition to Victorian sensibilities, the anonymous photographer recorded the grisly aftermath of the sentence in detail still repellant — the Deserter’s Fate.


Condition:  
Sepia albumen with strong clarity. Mount is soiled with light wear and dented corners.
Sold: $2,467.50
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