Rare photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg

Today’s post comes from National Archives Office of Strategy and Communications staff writer Rob Crotty.

The first photo discovered of Lincoln at Gettysburg

The first photo discovered of Lincoln at Gettysburg

In 1952, the chief of the Still Photo section at the National Archives, Josephine Cobb, discovered a glass plate negative taken by Mathew Brady of the speaker’s stand at Gettysburg on the day of its dedication as a National Cemetery. Edward Everett would speak from that stand later in the afternoon for two straight hours. Moments later, a tall, gaunt Abraham Lincoln would stand up and deliver a ten sentence speech in two minutes. It was the Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln delivered his famous speech 147 years ago today. His speech is revered as one of the greatest in American history, yet until Josephine Cobb looked closer at that Mathew Brady photo in 1952, it was thought that no photo existed of the Great Emancipator at Gettysburg on the day he delivered that address.

Based off the placement of people, the slight elevation of a few in the center left field of the photograph, and where the crowd was looking, Cobb bet that Lincoln would be in the photo. Photo enlargement later proved her theory true, making this the first–and possibly only–photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg.*

Cobb estimated that the photo was taken around noontime, before Edward Everett arrived, and about three hours before Lincoln delivered his famous address. Below is the original, uncropped photo.

The original uncropped photo of the speakers stand at Gettysburg

The original uncropped photo of the speakers stand at Gettysburg (Records of the Chief Signal Officer, 111-B-4975)

*It’s possible that three other photos all taken around the same time might also show Lincoln leaving Gettysburg on horseback. Some impressive sleuth work by historians comparing the photos to written accounts of the activities at Gettysburg that day indicate that they are very likely photos of Lincoln (albeit a pretty blurry Lincoln). You can view them at the Library of Congress website.

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3 Responses to Rare photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg

  1. Rob Crotty says:

    If you wrote us an e-mail regarding these photos, please know we’d love to read it, but it was quarantined for some reason! Please e-mail us again!

    Like

  2. heather andrews says:

    What would be more interesting to me would be to hear how archivists figured out *that* was Lincoln!

    Like

  3. Eric says:

    That looks nothing like Lincoln at all to me. How did they determine that was him in the photo?

    Like

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