Echoes of the past

September 19, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

Battlefield photos by Tim Johnson

In honor of today's 144th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam - the bloodiest single day of battle in American history, here are some of Tim Johnson's images from Antietam.

At first glance, the "ghosts" aren't always obvious.

Looking out over a cornfield or a sunken road north of Sharpsburg, the true gruesomeness of war isn't, either.

"I just think it's a way to let people try to remember it's not just a field," photographer Tim Johnson says of the images he creates at Civil War battlefields such as Antietam.

Johnson, using double exposures, photographs a scenic view once with re-enactors posing as soldiers and once without them. The result is the appearance of Civil War ghosts on hallowed ground.


The black-and-white images touch a nerve with people, says Johnson, who sells the images at 25 to 30 fairs a year. Some people, including a Marine sergeant and a woman who served as a nurse in the Korean and Vietnam wars, have wept upon seeing the images.

Johnson, 48, of Falling Waters, W.Va., took his first such photo on a whim while at Gettysburg battlefield with fellow Civil War re-enactors in the late 1970s.

After working for newspapers for more than 10 years, he remembered that image at Gettysburg and decided to pursue photographing ghost images for a living. The photos are available for purchase at and Johnson will have a booth at Fall Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival next weekend at Sam Michaels Park in Jefferson County, W.Va.

For the last 11 years, Johnson has run Living Images, creating ghost images at about 25 sites, mostly Civil War battlefields, in eight states.


Two "fallen soldiers" pay their respects at Antietam National Cemetery.

'September Fire'

This was a Confederate artillery position. In the background is the Piper Farm, which served as headquarters for Gen. James Longstreet and Gen. D.H. Hill.

'The Dunker Church'

The church in the West Woods was pockmarked with battle scars. This is a reconstruction of the Dunker Church, which survived the battle but was torn down by a tornado in 1921, says Brian Baracz, a park ranger at Antietam National Battlefield.

'Cornfields and Rail Fences'

This site, near Hagerstown Pike, isn't Miller's Cornfield, though it might remind people of the cornfield where Federal and Confederate forces clashed for the first four hours of battle in the early morning of Sept. 17, 1862. This cornfield is near the site where Confederate Gen. William Starke was mortally wounded while leading his brigade of Louisiana infantry. If you're having trouble seeing the two Confederate "ghosts," look at the wooden rails to spot their outlines.

'Burnside Bridge'

At first glance the viewer might miss both "ghosts." At second glance, the one on the left still might be missed. The stone bridge was one of Antietam Creek's few crossing points during the Battle of Antietam.

'The Sunken Road'

This Sunken Road also is known as Bloody Lane after being filled with the bodies of wounded and slain Confederates during the battle. For four hours, Confederate soldiers used the sunken road to hold off a larger number of Union troops. Then, Federal soldiers achieved a crest above the road and could fire on the Confederates for the length of the road. Thousands died.

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