Photographs of Civil Engineering from the Civil War

The Herman Haupt Civil War Military Transportation Photographs collection, which includes sixty photographs showing the Union Army’s construction of roads and bridges, has been digitized and is now available online. Brigadier General Herman Haupt, responsible for the publication of these photographs, was chief of construction and transportation on the United States military railroads from 1863 to 1865. Many of the photographs in this collection show truss bridges designed by Haupt, whose bridge design made such a distinct impression President Abraham Lincoln that he remarked “That man Haupt has built a bridge four hundred feet long and eighty feet high, across Potomac Creek, on which loaded trains are passing every hour, and upon my word, gentlemen, there is nothing in it but cornstalks and beanpoles.”

On the cover of the book containing the descriptions of the photographs is a hand written note reading “Photographs were taken by Capt. A.J. Russell Chief of Photograph Corps. U.S. Military Railroads.” A second handwritten note reads “This handwriting is that of Herman Haupt with which I am familiar. Edward Haupt July 19/1928.” Andrew J. Russell was the first official photographer of the Union Army and captured many of its engineering projects, including those overseen by Haupt. Russell is perhaps best known for his later work with the Union Pacific Railroad, capturing the historic meeting of the Transcontinental Rail at Promontory Summit, Utah.

SC PHOTO 0001- Photograph 13
SC PHOTO 0001- Photograph 13

Haupt was adept at rapidly constructing bridges that helped the advancement of the Union Army. He was also skilled at damaging railroads to prevent their use by the Confederate Army and repairing the damage done to railroads by the Confederate Army. Many of the photographs depict the bending and straightening of rails by various different methods.

SC PHOTO 0001- Photograph 56
SC PHOTO 0001- Photograph 56

This collection also includes illustrated recreations of many of Haupt’s and Russell’s photographs. A brief comparison of the illustrations with the original photographs reveals some subtle alterations. While many of the photographs feature black laborers, some the laborers in the illustrated reproductions are inaccurately portrayed as white.

The digitized photographs and their descriptions can be found at Lehigh’s digital collections. Additional information about Lehigh’s holdings can be accessed in the finding aid for this collection.

Read more about Herman Haupt at the National Archives website.

See a complete set of these photographs at the Library of Congress.