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About Andrew J. Russell
Andrew Joseph Russell (20 March 1829, Walpole, New Hampshire–22 September 1902, Brooklyn, New York) was a 19th-century American photographer of the Civil War and Union Pacific Railroad. Russell was the official photographer of the eastern half of the first transcontinental railroad. His best known photograph shows the joining of the rails at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869.
Andrew Joseph Russell was born 20 March 1829 in Walpole, New Hampshire, the son of Harriet (née Robinson) and Joseph Russell. He was raised in Nunda, New York. He took an early interest in painting, and in addition to executing portraiture for local public figures, he was drawn to railroads and trains.
The Civil War
During the first two years of the Civil War, Russell painted a diorama used to recruit soldiers for the Union Army. On 22 August 1862, he volunteered at Elmira, New York, mustering in the following month as a captain in Company F, 141st New York Volunteer Regiment. In February 1863, Russell, who had become interested in the new art of photography, paid civilian photographer Egbert Guy Fowx $300 to teach him the collodion process of wet-plate photography. Fowx was a free-lance photographer who sold many of his negatives to Mathew B. Brady, who subsequently copyrighted and published many of them under his own name.
Russell's first photographs, taken with a camera borrowed from Fowx, were used by Brigadier General Herman Haupt to illustrate his reports. Impressed with his work, on 1 March 1863, Haupt arranged to have Russell detached from his regiment and assigned to the United States Military Railroad Construction Corps, making Russell the only non-civilian Civil War photographer. In that role he photographed primarily transportation subjects for the Union, but was responsible for a few photographs of more historical and graphical interest sold to and distributed by the Mathew Brady Studios. One such was "Confederate dead Behind the Stone Wall" after the battle of Chancellorsville, May 1863.
The Transcontinental Railroad
After the end of the Civil War, Russell was commissioned by the Union Pacific Railway Company to make pictures of every aspect of the construction of the eastern (Union Pacific constructed) portion of the transcontinental railroad. While he is perhaps most famous for his iconic image of the laying of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, his album-book, Sun Pictures of Rocky Mountain Scenery included often spectacular photographs of the technologies of railroad building laid across the wastelands of the American West.
On 17 October 1850, Russell married Catherine Adelia Duryee, daughter of Lanah (née Conklin) and William Reynex Duryee. The couple had two daughters, Cora Phillips and Harriet M. Russell. Russell's fragmented family life is evidenced by the fact that he does not appear with them on any census record, save in 1860. His wife and daughters made their home in Minnesota and Illinois, while after his service with the Union Pacific railroad, Russell set up a studio in Brooklyn, New York, and never went west again.
Later Years and Death
Following the completion of the transcontinental railway, Andrew J. Russell established a studio on Logan Street in Brooklyn, New York, where he died, 22 September 1902.