P is for photography of the Civil War

Civil War photography changed war from something remote to something with visceral impact.

civil-war-005Photography of the Civil War has fascinated me for many years. The Wikipedia says: “The American Civil War was the fifth war in history to be photographed [without specifying the first four], and was the most widely covered conflict of the 19th century.” The most famous photographer of the conflict was Mathew Brady, but there were several other men behind the camera.

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art: President Abraham Lincoln “called up 75,000 militiamen to put down an insurrection of Southern states,” in what proved to be a painfully optimistic assessment of the length of the struggle. ”
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“Brady secured permission from Lincoln to follow the troops in what was expected to be a short and glorious war.” Ultimately, Brady instead financed a corps of field photographers who, together with those employed by the Union military command and by Alexander Gardner, made the first extended photographic coverage of a war.

“The terrible contest proceeded erratically; just as the soldiers learned to fight this war in the field, so the photographers improvised their reports. Because the battlefields were too chaotic and dangerous for the painstaking wet-plate procedures to be carried out, photographers could depict only strategic sites camp scenes, preparations for or retreat from action, and, on rare occasions, the grisly aftermath of battle.”

Yes, this picture is likely who you think it is. Check out how to replicate the wet-plate process today.

It is clear that phtography of the Civil War changed war from something remote to something with visceral impact.
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The Library of Congress has an online collection [which] “provides access to about 7,000 different views and portraits made during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and its immediate aftermath.” Some of them are much more gruesome than what you see here.

abc18
ABC Wednesday – Round 18

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

15 thoughts on “P is for photography of the Civil War”

  1. I assume they’re European wars – the Crimean War definitely has to be one, I suppose. I assume Napoleon III’s war against the Italians in 1859 was another one. That’s annoying that they don’t specify.

  2. War-photography….i’ve heard in a documentary some time ago…that it saved people… and in hindsight… we have learned from it, still do…and that is good. although war never is ofcourse

    have a nice evening Rog.

  3. Although we don’t study the Civil War in Canada, we are all fully aware of it, but most people equate it totally with freeing the slaves. I know there was a lot more to it. I am glad that the photographs have survived. A sad state of affairs then. And will it ever end?

    Leslie
    abcw team

  4. I had no idea that so many photos were taken of the Civil War. That’s amazing! Having visited Gettysburg 11 years ago, it gave my husband and me a better understanding of that battle and the war itself.

  5. I think of the famous war photographers and journalists of the last two world wars – and the artists. Some pictures are very poignant, – others so violent….

  6. Most interesting post Roger, I too was under the misapprehension
    that the war was all about abolishing slavery but there was a lot
    more to it than common belief endorses.
    Se now you’ve got me interested in another topic to research, when
    I already have so much to do.
    It’s amazing how much one can achieve from the recliner!
    I’ve not yet completed my weekly on-line shop!

    best wishes,
    Di.
    ABCW team.xx

  7. Fascinating stuff. The Crimean War was definitely one of the other four. There some photos taken during the Taiping Rebellion I think, but that overlapped the Civil War. As for the rest, I would be guessing.

  8. I remember seeing a photographic exhibition in Belgium of giant photographs of civil war sites taken by a modern photographer using the cameras from the era. Must admit the originals were more interesting.

  9. So it wasn’t just Brady who took photos. That’s good to know. Now to find out who the others are. Not sure if I’m ready to see gruesome photos of the Civil War yet. If only gruesome photos would influence people to not take part in wars.

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