Photography and the Civil War

Confederate Stars and Bars - 1863

 Photography brought the Civil War to life for Americans. The camera was around before the Civil War, but photographers like Matthew Brady became instant celebrities as they took pictures of battle scenes, generals, and the devastation that afflicted the American soldiers. When we think of photojournalists today, we remember pictures taken during the Viet Nam War, World War II, and more recently Afghanistan.  Through American history, the battles have been brought to us through photographs.  What most people do not realize is that while we think photography first brought war to us during the Civil War, photographs were being taken earlier than that.

The cameras were huge and difficult to carry around. This did not keep the photographers from hauling their equipment across battlefields as they set up their tripods and took pictures of the wounded and dead.  The photographers would follow the soldiers and take pictures of them as they relaxed or prepared for battle.  
Union Flag with 34 stars

camera used during Civil War
 The camera used here would be set on a tripod and the picture would be exposed on a piece of glass.  It was quite heavy and had to be developed in a special room.  A dark room, where the light would not ruin the chemicals needed to trap the picture on the glass before it could be transferred to the paper for a photograph.

Mosaic of portraits from Civil War era
 Many people would pay to sit for a photograph.  Imagine how much easier it was to sit for a picture than to sit for a painter.  Previously if you wanted a portrait done, you would need to sit for days upon days before the artist was finished.  With the use of a camera, the person need only sit the one time.  And even then, that was a short period of time.  The results were mesmerizing for the people.

delegation of Native Americans at White House
 This delegation of American Indians standing in front of the White House could not be captured without the use of a camera.  For many Native Americans, taking a photograph was thought to be magic.  To see so many Native Americans in one photograph is an amazing feat.

Lincoln and his son
 Just imagine how special this photograph was to Abraham Lincoln.

General Ulysses S. Grant

Lincoln at his second inauguration

 Here is a picture of Abraham Lincoln at his second inauguration.  Not long after this, he would be assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.  In the photograph, you can see him reading his speech.

Camp picture
 These pictures were taken by Matthew Brady who would follow the troops while they camped and he would even set up his camera after a battle to show people what happened.  What many people do not know is that Brady would often pose the dead figures to create the desired effect.

camp life

Union soldiers
With the invention of the camera and the photojournalist, the depiction of war would never be the same.

Just think, the picture below is of the Battle of Bull Run.  If the camera had not been used to capture the battles, this would be our memory of the events of a time in our lives that is so deeply embedded in our minds that we will not forget them.

painting of the Battle of Bull Run

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