NEW YORK — It’s a commonplace that the Civil War was the first modern military conflict. No previous war had been fought with ironclad ships, rifled artillery, extended trench warfare (the siege of Petersburg), or what we would now describe as total war (Sherman’s March to the Sea). Look at Alexander Gardner’s photograph “Ruins of Gallego Flour Mills, Richmond,” from 1865. If a label substituted “Dresden” or “Warsaw” for “Richmond” and dated the image 80 years later, it would seem utterly plausible.
Gardner’s photograph is one of well over 200 that appear in “Photography and the American Civil War,” a very large and often deeply moving show that runs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through Sept. 2. There are nearly 300 items in all, and that’s not counting the fabric arranged at the entrance to resemble a bivouac tent.