Civil War enthusiasts this weekend will get a rare glimpse at what a handful of scholars are calling the most significant find of its kind in generations: a pair of stereoscopic photos, purportedly of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg before he delivered his famous address.

Abraham Lincoln is seen in this photo, wearing his famous top hat, before delivering the Gettysburg Address.

Photos of Lincoln are incredibly rare; only about 130 exist. Until now, there was only one known photo of the 16th president at Gettysburg — sitting in a crowd of dignitaries on Nov. 19, 1863, just after delivering the legendary speech.


JUDGE FOR YOURSELF: Lincoln at Gettysburg

The new photos are enlarged details from much wider crowd shots; they were discovered by a Civil War hobbyist earlier this year in the vast trove of Library of Congress photographs digitized since 2000, and provided to USA TODAY.

They show a figure believed to be Lincoln, white-gloved and in his trademark stovepipe hat, in a military procession.
"It is just staggering to look at," said Harold Holzer, author of several books on Lincoln and vice chairman of the Lincoln Forum, a group of more than 250 enthusiasts who meet annually at Gettysburg. On Saturday, the group gets a chance to gaze at huge projections of the images and decide for themselves. Holzer will lead a discussion on the find, seen until now by only a few experts.

Thank modern technology — and a dogged amateur historian — for the discovery.

John Richter, 51, of Hanover, Pa., had loved Gettysburg since he was a kid; for 20 years had been collecting stereoviews or stereographs, which use special viewers to turn pairs of images into a 3-D view.

A board member of the non-profit Center for Civil War Photography, he had always been interested in the Gettysburg stereoviews, available free for the past several years on the Library of Congress website. When he saw negatives 1159 and 1160, taken seconds apart, he said to himself, "I think I see something going on."

Like the scientist who discovered Pluto because he knew where to look, Richter knew from historic descriptions of the ceremonies that the 4-by-7-inch plates of the troop procession ought to have Lincoln in there somewhere. "If I wouldn’t have seen Lincoln there, it would have been a surprise," he said.

So he asked the center’s president, Bob Zeller, to request much larger, more richly detailed computer files. Richter zoomed in tight and found what he was looking for: Lincoln on horseback — or so he believes.

He and Zeller haven’t distributed the images until now, so only one official at the Library of Congress has seen them. She hasn’t committed to a positive identification, but Holzer, for one, is convinced.

"I don’t see any reason to think it’s not Abraham Lincoln," he said. "I’m going to start the session by saying, ‘You may have seen the most important Lincoln photographic discovery in 40 years — what do you think?’ "

Holzer, who wrote The Lincoln Image and co-wrote The Lincoln Family Album and The Confederate Image: Prints of the Lost Cause, said he’ll begin a campaign next week to have the stereoviews displayed publicly. He hopes to persuade the Smithsonian Institution to exhibit them so the images are life-size and the public can decide for itself.

"All it takes is a wall," he said. "And they’ve got plenty of walls."

Via: USA Today