Timothy O’Sullivan took this image as part of a set of three images taken at massaponax Church, VA on May 21, 1864. All three of which have been restored and are shown on the site under “The Commanders”. You will notice that the image is cropped to show just the area around Grant. During the Civil War it was not possible to “zoom in” like this and the card would have had the entire image. Since much of the background is blurred, due to a wagon train moving, it has been removed from the final image, but remains in the uncut versions.
Timothy O’Sullivan began his photography career as an assistant to Mathew Brady while he was still a teenager. When the Civil War started, he was twenty one and received a commission as a First Lieutenant in the Army. After serving a year, he was honorably discharged and back to working for Brady. The following year, 1863, he joined Alexander Gardner who had left Brady, to form his own studio. This gave O’Sullivan an opportunity to participate in some of the most famous photographs taken of the war at Gettysburg, Petersburg and Appomattox.
On May 21st, he caught up with Grant and Meade and climbed the stairs of the church to setup his camera. The soldiers had brought out the church pews due to the heat of the day. O’Sullivan managed to take three views of this scene. Each is similar, but has distinct differences, principally with location and activities of Grant. In one, Grant is leaning over Meade’s shoulder, in another, smoking a cigar and in this one writing in a notebook. This image has been cropped to allow a better view of Meade and Grant. In the un-cropped image, wagon trains can be seen moving along the road behind them.
Following the war, O’Sullivan became the official photographer for the U.S. Geological society and the Treasury department. He took the official photographs of what is now, Colorado and Nevada, to encourage settlement of the west. At the age of 42, he contracted Tuberculosis and died in his home state of New York.