Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) was a photographer best known for his portraits of President Abraham Lincoln, his American Civil War photographs, and his photographs of American Indian delegations.
Gardner was born in Paisley, Scotland on October 17, 1821 to James Gardner and Jean Glenn. He worked in a number of positions including as a jeweler, journalist, and editor before entering the field of photography circa 1855.
In 1856, Gardner immigrated to the United States with his wife Margaret Sinclair Gardner, his son Lawrence Gardner, and his daughter Eliza Gardner and later that year he began working as a photographer in Mathew Brady’s gallery in New York. While working for Brady, it is thought that Gardner invented the “imperial print,” a large photograph printed on approximately 21 x 17 inch paper that was often enhanced with hand-coloring and ink. Wealthy politicians and businessmen were among the clients who sat for their photographic portraits in the Brady studio and paid as much as $50- $500 per imperial print (today the equivalent of about $1,000 to 10,000).
By 1858, Gardner was managing Brady’s gallery at 352 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. When the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861, Gardner was part of Brady’s photography team that documented battle aftermaths and military campsites for the Union. Gardner left the Brady studio circa late 1862 and established his own studio in Washington, D.C. where he continued photographing the war along with his brother James Gardner, and other former Brady photographers including Timothy O’Sullivan.
During the war he documented the remnants of important battle scenes including the Battle of Antietam (1862) and the Battle of Gettysburg (1863). Gardner published 100 of his Civil War images in the publication
Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the War
. The two volume work included photographs shot by additional photographers including O’Sullivan and John Reekie.
In addition to war photography, Gardner was also a portrait photographer and photographed many civilians, soldiers, and politicians in Washington, D.C. Between the years 1861-1865, Gardner photographed President Abraham Lincoln on seven different occasions, including both inaugurations, as well as studio portrait sittings. On July 7, 1865, Gardner was the only photographer allowed to photograph the execution of four conspirators in the President Lincoln assassination.
In 1866, Gardner along with Antonio Zeno Shindler and Julian Vannerson were contracted to photograph portraits of American Indian delegates visiting Washington, D.C. Between the years 1866 to 1868, Gardner photographed many tribes in his studio including Iowa, Sac and Fox, Kaw (Kansa), Dakota, and Lakota. In 1868, Gardner was hired by the U.S. Government to serve as photographer for the peace talks that took place in Fort Laramie, Wyoming. During this trip, Gardner photographed the Lakota (Sioux), Apsáalooke (Crow/Absaroke), Northern Tsitsistas (Northern Cheyenne), and Northern Inunaina (Northern Arapaho) tribes. Among the government officials at Fort Laramie that Gardner photographed was General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891). Sherman served as a General for the Union Army during the Civil War and later in 1869 became the Commanding General of the U.S. Army under President Ulysses Grant’s administration. A member of the Peace Commission established in 1867, Sherman traveled to negotiate treaties with American Indian Plains tribes. Upon returning to Washington, D.C., Gardner published a set of his Fort Laramie photographs in the publication,
Scenes in Indian Country
. Members of the Peace Commission were given photo portfolios and it is believed that the photos in this collection may have been from General Sherman’s personal set. Gardner went on to become the official photographer for the Office of Indian Affairs in 1872.
In his later years, Gardner also was involved in philanthropic causes, such as helping to establish the Masonic Mutual Relief Association which aided widows and orphans of Master Masons. He also founded the Saint John’s Mite Association which provided aid to the poor in Washington, D.C. Alexander Gardner died in Washington, D.C. in 1882.