Frame: 46.5 x 36.4 x 3.2 cm (18 5/16 x 14 5/16 x 1 1/4")
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gordon: American\African American
In March 1863, a man known only as Gordon escaped from slavery on a Louisiana plantation and after a harrowing journey found safety among Union soldiers encamped at Baton Rouge. Before enlisting in a black regiment, he was examined by military doctors, who discovered horrific scarring on his back—the result of a vicious whipping by his former overseer. This photograph documenting Gordon’s condition created a sensation when it reached the public, and quickly became one of the most powerful proofs of slavery’s brutality. As one journalist declared, "This Card Photograph should be multiplied by 100,000 and scattered over the States. It tells the story in a way that even Mrs. [Harriet Beecher] Stowe can not approach, because it tells the story to the eye." Sergeant Gordon was later reported to have fought bravely in the Union assault on Port Hudson, but nothing further is known about his life.