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Abraham Lincoln Photo at Gettysburg at Center of New Controversy

By Michael Mullins   |   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2013 01:28 PM

A photo showing a man believed to be President Abraham Lincoln at the famous battleground shortly before he delivered his famous Gettysburg Address in November 1863 is at the center of a new controversy.

The image was unearthed six years ago by amateur historian and director of the Center for Civil War Photography John Richter, who magnified a stereograph taken by photographer Alexander Gardner the day of the speech, LiveScience.com reported.

In it, a tall, bearded man wearing a black stovepipe hat is sitting atop a horse saluting troops.

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Though celebrated by some, considering there is only one other photo of Lincoln from the address, skeptics emerged almost immediately after Richter gave the image to the Library of Congress, according to Smithsonian magazine.

One of those who questioned the veracity of the image is William Frassanito, a historian and author of "Gettysburg: A Journey in Time."

"For starters, the guy on the horse looks like a Cossack," Frassanito told the Smithsonian. "His beard is longer and much fuller than the wispy, trimmed one the president wore in his studio session with Gardner 11 days before."

"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," Frassanito added.

Frassanito's doubt was reinforced by a former Disney animator and Civil War buff, Christopher Oakley, who earlier this year paid the Library of Congress $73 to have a high-resolution copy of the photo's left-sided negative created, Smithsonian magazine reported.

"It's the best $73 I ever spent," Oakley told USA Today. "As soon as I had that [negative] in my hands, I was able to look at it much more clearly."

The hi-res negative revealed two critical parts of the image which called into question Richter's claim that the picture was of Lincoln.

First, the man in question was wearing military-style epaulets on his shoulders. Lincoln had reportedly delivered the Gettysburg Address in a plain overcoat.

Second, Oakley identified another man in the same photo whom he believes was actually Lincoln, considering the tall individual was wearing a stovepipe hat, had a trimmed beard like the 16th president, and was standing in close proximity to then-Secretary of State William Seward, a likely position for the head of state before he delivered his speech.

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In response to the doubts raised by Oakley and Frassanito, Richter defended his find.

"The man I found had to be Lincoln," Richter told Smithsonian. "Who else might have been returning a salute but the commander in chief?"

Related stories:

Abraham Lincoln's Lost Lesson

Here's Why Oscar Snubbed 'Lincoln'

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