The American Civil War: Photography

Figure 1.--This photograph of children watching some officers of the Federal cavalry at Sudley Ford, Bull Run, Virginia was taken in March, 1862. Bull Run or Manasass was the scene of two important early battles. This photograph is notable because it is one of the few Civil War photograpgs, other than studio portraits, that show children at the time. Notice how the children are wearing uniform items. Click on the image to see the entore photograph.

No individual is more associated with Civil War photography than Mathew Brady. This is because he equipped traveling photigrapers to vist Union Army camps and battlefields. Given the lmits of photography of the time, the battlefirld shots were taken after the battles and depict scenses where the fighting took place and unburied corpses. Brady was of course not the only photographer at the time. There were photographic studios located throuhjout the Uninted States. Thus there are numerous studio portraits taken at the time of both the soldiers and civilians affected by the War.

Mathew Brady

Many existing Civil War photographs were taken under the supervision of Mathew B. Brady, who at the time had acquired a reputation as one of America's greatest photographers. He spent most of his time during the war supervising his corps of traveling photographers, preserving their negatives and buying others from private photographers freshly returned from the battlefield, so that his collection would be as comprehensive as possible. Brady's exhibition in 1862 of photographs of battlefield corpses marked the first time most people witnessed the carnage of war. Brady's work depicted enlisted men, officers, prisoners, freed slaves, the President, the dead, military installations, armaments, and many other aspects of the great conflict.

Photographic Processes

There were two principal types of studio portraits taken during the Civil War. Throughout 1850 at in 1860 the principal photographic process was the Dauerreotype. It was, however, expensive and had many limitations. The most serious was that because it was a positive, there were no negatives thus copies could not be made. The War actually broke out in 1861. This was the same year the popular carte de viste (CDV) appeared. CDVs rapidly replaced the Daguerreotype. The portraits were less expensive and because a negative was produced, copies coild be made.


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Created: 11:01 PM 10/31/2004
Last updated: 11:01 PM 10/31/2004