Stereographs of South Carolina
during the Civil War

In the late 1850s the three-dimensional image began to appear, giving people an amazing realistic perspective through photography. To make scenes of the Civil War come alive for those following the war, stereoscopic views drew many customers.

The South Carolina State Museum’s collection of 54 stereographic images is fascinating for its depiction of conditions in South Carolina. The first group was taken soon after the Union garrison in Fort Sumter surrendered to Confederate forces April 14, 1861 after a 33-hour bombardment. The rest are views of Charleston and the Beaufort/Hilton Head area late in the war and also of the war’s immediate aftermath.

Except for the early Fort Sumter images that were taken by Charleston photographers J. M. Osborn and W. Durbecm, and published after the war by S.T. Souder, the rest were by Northern photographers commissioned by the Union Army. They range from views of garrisons on Hilton Head Island and Beaufort to several images of Charleston’s war-damaged streets and buildings within months of the city’s occupation by Union troops in February 1865.

How it Works:

All 3D photography, from the first 3D photograph in 1842 through the recent cinematic advances, is based on the simple principle of dual images captured from the same angle but spaced left and right to emulate natural human vision. The three dimensional effect is achieved when the viewer utilizes a device that marries these two images into a single three-dimensional visual object. Some optical device is required in all technologies to render the image. The first devices were the stereo viewers popular in Victorian times.

For this online exhibition, the State Museum’s collection of stereoscopes were scanned by Alloneword Design at a high resolution and then converted into the single anaglyphic images that you see here. Anaglyphs rely on two overlaid images with color shifts that become interpolated by cyan and blue tinted cardboard-framed glasses. This technology was popularized by Hollywood in the 1950’s but pioneered in 1891. Those original anaglyphs were similarly processed from steoscopic cards.

Due to the antiquity of the collection, certain images translated better than others. The effect is, at times, obfuscated by damage to the original cards ranging from light exposure to physical damage, foxing and an array of other factors from the intervening 140 years. The image captions were deduced from printed captions and handwritten notes. Any inaccuracies can be attributed to the original documentation and will be subject to correction.

To learn more about stereoscopic history and the other processes described above, please visit the RESOURCES SECTION »