Little is known about Timothy H. O’Sullivan’s personal history – he may have been born in Ireland or born to Irish parents soon after they had emigrated to New York City around 1840.
His photograph of the rotting dead awaiting burial after the Battle of Gettysburg remains one of the best-known photographs from the American Civil War. It was published in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866), the first anthology of photographs published in the US. The Sketch Book features ten photographic plates of Gettysburg – eight by Timothy H. O’Sullivan, who served as a field operator for Alexander Gardner, and two by Gardner himself.
The extended caption that accompanies this photograph is among Gardner’s most poetic: “It was, indeed, a ‘harvest of death.’ . . . Such a picture conveys a useful moral: It shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry. Here are the dreadful details! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity falling upon the nation“.