Artist: David B. Woodbury
Title: Harper's Ferry (Mathew Brady by pole)
17 1/8 x 21 3/4 in. (43.5 x 55.2 cm) Overall, Frame: 30 1/8 x 34 1/8 in. (76.5 x 86.7 cm)
Gift of David L. Hack and by exchange Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.
The photograph shows two large cliffs framing the edges of the photograph, while down the center is a railroad track extending from the foreground to the background. Three men, a boy, and a woman holding a baby are in the distance and appear to be looking off in different directions. Taken at the beginning of the American Civil War, the photograph includes the eminent photographer Mathew Brady, standing next to a pole near the railway. Not much information is known about the photographer David Woodbury, except that Brady had originally hired him as part of a team of photographers to document the war. In this photograph, neither the photographer nor the people in the photograph are as significant as the location itself, Harpers Ferry.
Now a national historic park, Harpers Ferry is located where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet. A well-connected site, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal linked Harpers Ferry to Washington, D.C., and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad connected Harpers Ferry with the port of Baltimore. The U.S. government established its second armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry, where over 10,000 federal troops were stationed. It was here that anti-slavery activist John Brown led a rebellion in 1859, taking possession of the arsenal for several days. The attack was intended to arm a slave uprising, but Brown was captured by then U.S. Army Colonel Robert E. Lee, tried for treason, and hanged. This event was an important precursor to the Civil War, adding to the building tensions. Harpers Ferry would change hands several times over the course of the Civil was owing to its strategic location at the point where the North and South connect.