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Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

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Dec 30

Bob Zeller and Civil War Photography

Posted on December 30, 2019 at 8:40 AM by Jenny Levins

The Iredell County Public Library will be hosting Civil War photo expert Bob Zeller on Tuesday, June 2, 2015, at 7 pm at the library in Statesville. Mr. Zeller will present a digital stereoscopic slide show and lecture on “The Civil War in 3-D.” Audience members, wearing 3-D glasses, will view more than 100 historic Civil War photographs in 3-D as Mr. Zeller provides the historic background to the images and the events they depict.

When you say 3-D most people think of the 3-D movies that come out now and assume its modern technology, but Bob Zeller says that these Civil War photos were originally created in a stereoscopic format. A stereoscope is a device used for viewing a stereoscopic pair of separate images so that you are seeing the images with both left and right eye views. The effect is that you obtain an illusion of depth that makes what you see appear in 3-D.  Remember the red “View-Master” toys you had as a kid. You inserted a round piece of cardboard with images on it and then held it up to your eyes to see in 3-D. In 1861 Oliver Wendell Holmes designed what would become the most popular form of 19th century stereoscope.  It was a hand-held wooden device resembling binoculars. You held it up to your face and looked through two separate holes at a card containing two separate offset images of the same scene. Most Americans saw Civil War photographs in 3-D.

The images Bob Zeller will be showing Tuesday night are ultra high-resolution scans made directly from the original 150-year-old glass plate negatives.  Commercial photography was introduced in the United States in 1839.  By 1861 photography had developed to the point that Civil War photographers like Matthew Brady were taking photos on glass plate negatives that were then printed on albumen photographic paper. Zeller says that more than a million images were produced during the war. The Civil War is the first large scale war to be depicted in photographs. For the first time people were able to see the horrors of war. War would never again be viewed as a romantic adventure. On Oct. 20, 1862, the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”

Bob Zeller is the co-founder and president of the non-profit Center for Civil War Photography located online at and has published three 3-D books on Civil War photography one of which, “The Civil War in Depth” was the first to present Civil War photos in their original stereographic format.  He has presented his 3-D slide shows at the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the National Archives, the Museum of the Confederacy, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and over 150 other venues. He is also an award-winning NASCAR motorsports writer who has written or co-written books with drivers Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, and Rusty Wallace, and former crew chief Larry McReynolds.


Joel Reese, Local History Librarian

Iredell County Public Library

This article was published in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Civil War in 3-D Tuesday at library” on June 1, 2015