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  A. J. Russell (Photographer)

Andrew Joseph Russell was born to Joseph and Harriet (Robinson) Russell on March 20, 1829 in Walpole, New Hampshire. His family relocated to Nunda, New York, where the junior Russell showed early promise as a portrait and landscape painter. With the commissions he earned, the young artist opened a studio in New York, where he supported himself by painting theatrical sets. His budding career was interrupted by the Civil War, and Mr. Russell assisted the local militia in recruitment and also painted the three-dimensional combat backdrop that was utilized in enlistment rallies. In 1862, he became a member of Co. F, 141st New York Infantry, where he earned the rank of Captain.

By February of 1863, the 141st Infantry was dispatched to Washington, DC, where a fateful meeting with civilian photographer Egbert G. Fowx shifted Captain Russell's artistic focus. For a payment of $300, Mr. Fowx (who had learned photography from his former employer Mathew Brady) taught the fledgling amateur the newly developed wet collodion glass-plate process. By using a wet plate that had greater light sensitivity than its dry daguerreotype counterpart, contact prints could be mass produced from one negative and quickly satisfy the growing consumer market for combat images. The following month, Captain Russell employed his newfound skills in creating a photographic record of the War Department's railroad and bridge construction in Virginia. Armed with Mr. Fowx's 6.5 x 8.5-inch camera, he documented the meticulous engineering efforts, which were later published by Brigadier General Herman Haupt as Photographs Illustrative of Operations in Construction and Transportation. While rummaging through a military warehouse, Captain Russell discovered an 8x10" stereo camera that became his camera choice for the remainder of the war.

To meet the punishing demands posed by field photography, Captain Russell designed two lightweight camera boxes that could be easily transported over rugged terrain and successfully withstand the oftentimes brutal weather conditions. His mobile darkroom recorded thousands of military construction and technological innovations that were later presented to U.S. politicians and world leaders. After the war, Captain Russell photographed the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, which culminated in its conjoining with the Central Pacific Railroad at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869. He also captured the settlement of the Midwest and Far West interiors that cross-country rail travel encouraged, and when his independent New York studio failed, he became a photojournalist for Frank Leslie's various publications.

Captain A. J. Russell continued as a contributing photojournalist for Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper until September 20, 1902, when he died from congestive heart failure at the age of 73. His April1865 stereoview of downtown Richmond's Canal Basin is one of 132 prints featured in the Virginia Historical Society's Civil War album. The Library of Congress's Civil War collection contains approximately 350 photographs that have been attributed to Captain Russell. In addition, more than 200 of his (10x13") glass plate negatives and an excess of 400 stereographic negatives are housed at the Oakland Museum of California; and several of Captain Russell's railroad images can be found within Yale University's Collection of Western Americana in New Haven, Connecticut.

2019 After Promontory edited by Center for Railroad Photography & Art (Bloomington, IN: Center for Railroad Photography & Art/Indiana University Press), p. 316.

2021 Construction of the Union Pacific Railroad (URL:

2004 Encyclopedia of the Great Plains edited by David J. Wishart (Lincoln, NE: Center for Great Plains Studies), p. 128.

1982 Exploring the American West, 1803-1879, Vol. CXVI (Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office), p. 113.

2021 The Petersburg Photographs: Andrew J. Russell (URL:

2013 Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection edited by Neil Kagan and Stephen Garrison Hyslop (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books), pp. 128-129.

2002 The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. CX, No. 4 (Richmond, VA: Virginia Historical Society), pp. 437-460.

2001 Wilderness A to Z: An Essential Guide to the Great Outdoors by Rachel Carley (New York: Fireside/Simon & Schuster), p. 250.

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2021-05-12 18:47:22

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