OUR CIVIL WAR PHOTOGRAPHER

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Every few years Pilot Knob hosts its Battle of Pilot Knob Civil War reenactment.  One hundred and fifty-three years ago the actual Civil War battle was fought on September 27, 1864, at Fort Davidson in Pilot Knob.   Although outnumbered by more than ten-to-one, the Union defenders managed to repulse repeated Confederate assaults on their works and were able to slipped away during the night by exploiting a gap in the Southern siege lines. The attacking rebels took possession of the fort the next day but ended the South’s goal of seizing St. Louis for the Confederacy.  

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Today, the battle area and a museum are operated by the Missouri State Parks system as “Fort Davidson State Historic Site.” The earthworks of the fort are still generally intact, surrounding the huge hole that was caused by the powder explosion. Following the battle, the Confederates retained the field and were therefore responsible for burying the dead. The rifle pits were accordingly selected for use as a mass grave. Although the exact number of Confederate casualties are unknown, park historians estimate that total Southern losses were approximately 1,000 compared to 200 Union casualties, 28 of whom were killed. A granite monument now marks the mass grave. The site is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

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This year’s reenactment ran for two days with period vendors, foods, and a battle reenactment. To say the reenactors take this seriously would be an understatement.  The idea is historical accuracy from head to toe.  Period correct shoes, socks, headwear and everything in-between, including working rifles.  When the battle starts they use live five, no bullets of course, and live firing cannons.  The sound and smoke consume the spectators.  The cavalry charges in with horseback sword play, the infantry marches in, and both sides, the North and South, begin to fire and the actors start to fall.  The battle rages for approximately 15 minutes.

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To shake up the 573 Magazine’s coverage of the event, this year we thought we would get close and personal with one of the vendors – a Civil War period photographer who uses wet plate photography to make tintype photos.  The neat thing about the process is, and most people have no idea, but this was pretty much instant photography, and it was taking place in 1850.  Wet plate photography was cool then and is still very fascinating today.  

The process starts with activating a silver-based chemical on a metal plate.  Once this is done, the photographer has three minutes to put the plate in a holder, put the holder in the camera, shoot the picture and then develop the image.  The image develops right before your eyes, and then it is fixed and washed for a few minutes.  The entire process takes about 20 minutes.  For 1850, I am sure it was a magical thing.  We had to give it a try.

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573magazine - imageLoading - OUR CIVIL WAR PHOTOGRAPHER

573magazine - imageLoading - OUR CIVIL WAR PHOTOGRAPHER

573magazine - imageLoading - OUR CIVIL WAR PHOTOGRAPHER

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