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HomeContentsThemes > American Civil War (1861-1865)

WARNING
Warning: The photographs within this theme and the sections on individual wars are of a graphic and violent nature - if you are sensitive to these issues then you should not view this theme.
 
Disclaimer: This section of the website uses examples from wars and rebellions to highlight the works of photographers - this is not to make a political point but to appreciate that there are different global perspectives on each event. If there is a general point it is about the inhumanity of war.
 
  
We are always interested in improving the content on this website so please get in contact if you have any suggestions...
 
  
The American Civil War was the first war where the common soldier had means to take along to battle the portraits of their families and loved ones and at the same time those at home could have portraits of those that had been called up to fight. There had been a rapid growth in photographic studios in the 1850's and the introduction of the tintype / ferrotype in 1853 that meant that photographs could be on metal sheets rather than on the glass plates used by ambrotypes. Robert Leggat on his excellent website on the History of Photography lists five reasons that made this signficant:
  • The chemical processes were simple making it ideal for travelling photographers.
  • The process is a single stage requiring no negative.
  • They were cheap to create making them ideal for soldiers and their relatives.
  • The metal base meant they could be placed in albums or mailed.
  • They could be cut with scissors or pincers making them perfect for jewellery.
American Civil War Portraits
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Unidentified photographer
Untitled 
n.d.
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Unidentified photographer/creator
Civil War Soldier 
n.d.
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Unidentified photographer
Untitled 
n.d.
 
The relatively low cost of portraits and the abundance of photographers led to the American Civil War being the first major conflict in which common soldiers had their portraits taken in large numbers.
[Checklist]Click on image for details 
[Copyright and Fair Use Issues]
For the officers carte-de visite were patented in 1854 and higher quality glass plates were also available. The plethora of techniques and the ways they could be displayed ensured that there was something appropriate for every pocket.
American Civil War Photograph Album
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Unidentified photographer/creator
Civil War photograph album 
1861-1865 (ca)
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Unidentified photographer/creator
Civil War photograph album - Single page 
1861-1865 (ca)
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Frederick Gutekunst
Civil War photograph album - McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885 
1861-1865 (ca)
 
In the James Wadsworth Family Papers archive at The Library of Congress there is a particularly fine photograph album of two hundred individuals thought to have been collected by John Hay (1838-1905) who was the personal secretary to President Abraham Lincoln.
 
The collecting and exchange of Cartes de visite was a craze during the American Civil War and it was common place to have them autographed by the sitter.
[Checklist]Click on image for details 
[Copyright and Fair Use Issues]

 
In the American Civil War - Mathew Brady (1823-1896), Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) and Timothy O’Sullivan (1840-1882) took many plates of the dead as they did not move and could, if current prevailing opinion suggests, be moved to appropriate locations. They brought home to the public the real chaos of war and the fact that it is rarely glorious. When the 10 volume 'Photographic History of the Civil War' edited by Henry Wysham Lanier came out there was a vast range of images to select from and this is still evident from the number of original Civil War images that can still be purchased on Ebay.
The Photographic History of the Civil War
 
The Photographic History of the Civil War, Volume 1: The Opening Battles 
  
Frank Oppel (Editor); & Theo F. Rodenbough
Click here to buy this book from Amazon
 
  
The Photographic History of the Civil War, Volume 2: Decisive Battles 
  
Frank Oppel (Editor); & Theo F. Rodenbough (Editor)
Click here to buy this book from Amazon
 
 
The Photographic History of the Civil War, Volume 3: Forts & Artillery 
  
Frank Oppel (Editor); Julian J. Landau; & O. E. Hunt (Editor)
Click here to buy this book from Amazon
 
  
The Photographic History of the Civil War, Volume 4: Soldier Life 
  
Frank Oppel (Editor); & Theo F. Rodenbough
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The Photographic History of the Civil War, Volume 5: Armies & Leaders 
  
Frank Oppel (Editor); Robert S. Lanier (Editor); & Theo F. Rodenbough
Click here to buy this book from Amazon
 
American Civil War
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Alexander__Gardner_RESERVED
Maryland, Antietam Bridge 
[Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War. Incidents of the War, pl. 19] 
1862, September
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Alexander__Gardner_RESERVED
Pennsylvania, Gettysburg. the Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter 
[Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War. Incidents of the War, pl. 41] 
1863, July
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Alexander__Gardner_RESERVED
Virginia, Richmond. Ruins of Arsenal 
[Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War. Incidents of the War, pl. 91] 
1865, April
 
The limitations of cameras of the 1860's meant that photographs of the American Civil War have little motion and appear like tableau of events rather than the chaos of war.
 
Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) was a Scot who worked with the Mathew Brady Studio from 1860 and took some of the best photographs of the war. Following the war in 1866 he made two albums of photographs that contained one hundred albumen prints. The exact number of these rare album sets Alexander Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War is unknown but thought to be around 125 copies.
[Checklist]Click on image for details 
[Copyright and Fair Use Issues]
 
Mathew Brady: His Life and Photographs 
  
George Sullivan
Click here to buy this book from Amazon
 
  
Brady's Civil War 
  
Webb Garrison
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Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War 
  
Alexander Gardner
Click here to buy this book from Amazon
 
  
Witness to an Era: The Life and Photographs of Alexander Gardner 
  
Mark Katz
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George N. Barnard - Retouched images
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George N. Barnard
Battlefield of Atlanta, Ga., 1864 [Original] 
1864
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George N. Barnard
Georgia, Atlanta Battlefield, July 22, 1864 [Retouched] 
1864, 24 July
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George N. Barnard
Confederate lines near Atlanta, Ga., and Potter House [Original] 
1860-1865 (ca)
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George N. Barnard
Georgia, Atlanta, Confederate works in front of [Retouched] 
1862-1865 (ca)
With wet collodion negatives the light sensitivity of the chemicals was such that one could get the correct exposure for the sky or for the landscape but rarely both. The French master of seascapes, Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884), got around this by taking two plates each exposed correctly for a part of the shot and then creating a final image that was a composite of the two.
 
With George N. Barnard (1819-1902) during the American Civil War these examples show both the original negative (presumably from a plate) and the retouched version where the clouds are both dramatic and visible. If you look at the skyline on the retouched version of the Potter House image and examine the trees on the right hand side you can clearly see where the two images have been joined.
 
Davis, Keith F., 1990, ‘George N. Barnard: Photographer of Sherman‘s Campaign‘, (Hallmark Cards) [Hardcover] [ISBN: 0875296270]
[Checklist]Click on image for details 
[Copyright and Fair Use Issues]
 
Cities Under the Gun: Images of Occupied Nashville and Chattanooga 
  
James A. Hoobler; & George N. Barnard (Photographer)
Click here to buy this book from Amazon
 

 
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