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Civil War photo book is a window to the past

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 8:59 p.m.
A photo of a Rodman Gun, made at the Fort Pitt Foundry along the Allegheny River near where the Senator John Heinz History Center is today, is included in the new book 'The Civil War in Pennsylvania: A Photographic History.' Each Rodman gun weighed 117,000 pounds and were the largest guns made at the time. The photo is from the Ken Turner Collection. Senator John Heinz History Center
Cover of “The Civil War in Pennsylvania: A Photographic History” Senator John Heinz History Center

Brian Butko says “The Civil War in Pennsylvania: A Photographic History” is letting him ward off one of the fears that haunted him.

“I keep looking at it and I am not disappointed,” says the editor of the 312-page collection of images that depict the variety of ways the Civil War affected the state. The book was published by the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District as part of the Pennsylvania Civil War 150 initiative examining the sesquicentennial of the war.

Butko, who is the director of publications for the history center, says the book — a nearly five-year project — is the first photographic history of the conflict in the state.

He is proud of the collection of images that deal with the battle of Gettysburg as well as events and their participants elsewhere in the state.

The book is the work of authors Michael G. Kraus, curator of collections at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum; David M. Neville, publisher of Military Images magazine; and Kenneth C. Turner, a Civil War historian and author with one of the largest private collection of Civil War material.

The book consists of nearly 500 images, Butko says, which presented a challenge to organize.

Obviously, he says, it would be easy to do the work chronologically. But that does not quite get the job done.

So, each year-oriented section is divided into sub-sections, such as looks at battle flags, arsenals, Medals of Honor winners and chaplains.

Some pictures have been seen often in other publications, such as Alexander Gardner's photos of bodies on Gettysburg fields. Others, Butko says, have never been seen, such as one of a Philadelphia militia unit.

“I just love that muddy street,” he says.

He says the work of organizing the book and designing it — done by Pammy Pieretti of PARK Creative Design from Washington County — created the need for many “15- to 17-hour days” as they all worked on ways of presenting information and images.

The book is the first of three publications the history center will be involved in. In May, it will present “The Civil War in Pennsylvania: The African American Experience” and then be involved in a magazine focusing entirely on the war also put together with the state Historical and Museum Commission and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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