Is It Really Lincoln? Gettsyburg Photo Stirs Debate

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln stirred the soul of an embattled nation with the famous speech he delivered in Gettysburg, Pa. And now, 150 years later, Lincoln has again aroused passions by being spotted -- possibly -- in a stereoscopic photograph taken on the day of the Gettysburg Address.

But is Abe Lincoln really in the photo? And, if so, which of two images of a bearded man in a black stovepipe hat is Lincoln? These questions have set off a dustup in the normally staid world of archival photography, according to Smithsonian magazine.

Six years ago, John Richter, an amateur historian and director of the Center for Civil War Photography, magnified a stereograph taken by photographer Alexander Gardner on the day of Lincoln's now-famous Gettysburg speech. Richter identified a tall figure on horseback, wearing a stovepipe hat and saluting the troops, as the 16th U.S. president. (Lincoln to Reagan: Top 10 Ailing Presidents)

PHOTOS: Faces of the Civil War

When John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, he was a part of a larger conspiracy that aimed to decapitate the Union government.
Kean Collection/Getty Images

Richter's finding was celebrated as a rare gem of a photo, since only one other image of Lincoln is known to exist from that fateful day. But ever since the finding was announced, skeptics questioned the veracity of the supposed Lincoln photo.

"For starters, the guy on the horse looks like a Cossack. His beard is longer and much fuller than the wispy, trimmed one the president wore in his studio session with Gardner 11 days before," William Frassanito, a historian and author of "Gettysburg: A Journey in Time" (Thomas Publications, 1996) told Smithsonian. "Lincoln had an unmistakable gap between his goatee and his sideburns. If you're going to spy him in a black speck in a distant background, at least get the beard right."

Earlier this year, Christopher Oakley -- a former Disney animator and Civil War buff -- was working on a 3D animation of Honest Abe as part of his Virtual Lincoln Project, a student collaboration. (Oakley also teaches new media at the University of North Carolina-Asheville.)

Recommended for you