Briana Casey

Introduction: The Civil War was the second American war documented by photography. Photography played an important role on the soldiers' and the soldiers' families' lives. It captured many battles that would not be known if photography had not been around. It also educated the American people about the war more than any other war. For the first time, American's were able to see how horrifying war actually was and had more visual information.

Background Information & Facts:

  • In 1827, Joseph Nicephore Niepce created the first photographic image.
  • Before the war, many soldiers got their portraits taken to give to their family and friends just in case they did not come back.
  • The families did the same thing for the soldiers, taking family pictures, so the soldiers did not feel as "home sick" while fighting.
  • In addition to photography, drawings and paintings of battle fields were also very popular forms of visual art during the Civil War.
    Mathew Brady
  • Mathew Brady, Timothy O'Sullivan, and Alexander Gardner were three of the most famous Civil War Photographers.
  • The first photos of a war were published in New York Times and Harper's Weekly. The photo's were credited to Mathew Brady, however, they were really taken by Alexander Gardner.
  • Mathew Brady is credited for more photo's than he actually took. This led to many of his photographers leaving his studio.
  • At first, photographers only took pictures of the battle fields after the battles because they had to get to a dark room as soon as possible. Taking pictures of the actual fighting were not possible.
  • Alexander Gardner was able to find a way to take pictures of the fighting and not just the battle field's after.

North and South Photographers:

There were a lot more known photographers in the Union than there were in the Confederacy.
George S. Cook- (1819) - Confederate Photographer.
Cook was born in Connecticut in 1819. He originally set out to work in the mercantile business, but was unsuccessful. Cook left the North to go to New Orleans to become a painter, but he soon found to became more interested with with daguerreotype. Cook's most famous work in the Civil War were the captures he had from Fort Sumter. He was able to capture the ironclads in action, which became very popular throughout the world. After the war, most of Cook's photo's were destroyed in a fire, but still continued photography for the rest of his life.
Mathew B. Brady- (1822) - Union Photographer.
Mathew Brady was born in New York. He was a son of an Irish Immigrant and was known as the father of journalism. Before the war, He became acquainted with William Page, who helped him learn how to paint. In 1839, Page introduced Brady to Samuel Morse, who introduced Brady to the camera, a new invention that Morse had just discovered while over in Europe. Brady quickly became interested in photography. He opened his own studio in New York, which contained photo's of famous American's, containing every president from John Quincy Adam to William McKinley. When the Civil War started, Brady was at his highest point in his career, so he took this as an advantage to document the war. During the war, Brady spent a lot of his own money on photography.
Alexander Gardner's Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter
He hired other photographers to follow different troops while they were marching and battling in the war. He would try to get him and his other photographers as close to the field as possible. Brady was almost captured and killed by the Confederacy army during the battle of Bull Run in Virginia. After the war, Brady had many of "his" photo's hung in a museum. The photographs contained pictures of battles and dead bodies on the battle fields. Although before and during the Civil War Brady was the most famous photographer, Brady soon became completely broke from spending all his money on documenting the war. He soon became forgotten, as his fame died down.
Alexander Gardner- (1821) - Union Photographer.
Alexander Gardner was originally born in Scotland. He was a journalist and a jeweler until 1856, when he went to Mathew Brady seeking a job. Gardner became the official photographer of the Union Armies. He took many famous pictures, which included the most famous picture from the war, which he named, "Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter." In 1863, Gardner left Brady's studio, along with other photographers, because of Brady crediting Gardner's work to be his own. Gardner opened up his own studio, which some of the photographer's from Brady's studio joined him. In 1867, Gardner became the official photographer of the Union Pacific Railroad and continued to photograph throughout the rest of his life until he died.
George Barnard- (1819) - Union Photographer.
George Barnard was born in Connecticut in 1819. While he was a kid, he moved to Tennessee, but soon returned to the North after finishing his schooling. He became a photographer and opened up his own studio in Oswego and also worked in Cuba for a little while. Later, he returned to New York, where he was employed to work in Mathew Brady's studio. He captured many pictures of the Civil War, even though like other photographers, he wasn't given credit for most of them. Barnard got tired of Brady taking credit of his work, so Barnard left Brady's studio in 1863. In 1864, Barnard became a photographer for the Military Department of the Mississippi. He accompanied General William Sherman in his Atlanta Campaign documenting it. After the war, Barnard moved to Chicago and tried to open up his own studio. His studio's kept being burned down and destroyed.
Timothy O'Sullivan- (1840) - Union Photographer.
Timothy O'Sullivan started his career in photography as an apprentice to Mathew Brady. He joined Brady's studio, but left once the Civil War started, because he wanted to photograph the battlefields on his own. After Alexander Gardner left Brady's studio as well, O'Sullivan joined Gardner's studio. O'Sullivan started photographing at the Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, which was the first governmental survey of the West. In 1880, O'Sullivan was named chief photographer of the United States Treasury.

Civil War Pictures Throughout America and the World:

A Camera from the 1800's
Before photography, the only way that different parts of the world heard about wars was by hearing stories. Photography changed that and made it so during the Civil War, the whole world was aware of how brutal things really were. It revealed the truth of what was going on.
In America, the photographs that were shown and displayed to the publics eye horrified the public and gave them a new perspective on what war really was like. The photograph's were not allowed to be displayed in newspapers and other things like that, but there were exhibits created to show people what actually was going on. The exhibits showed families how their own family members were wounded and killed.
Before the Civil War, England and Spain had the world's two strongest armies. During the Civil War, Ironclads were invented, which was one of the main reasons why America then became to have the strongest army in the world. Photography helped show the rest of the world how strong America was becoming and all the new inventions they were starting to make. Photography was the newest invention, being used not to fight, but to educate.


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"Mathew Brady." Mathew Brady. 19 May 2009.

"Alexander Gardener." Spartacus Educational. 14 May 2009.

"The Highest Form of Hope: How photography changed the world..." Rev. of Photography throughout the war by Jessica. Weblog post. 17 Jan. 2006. 18 May 2009.

"George Barnard." Spartacus Educational. 19 May 2009.

"Timothy H. O'Sullivan." The Getty. J. Paul Getty Trust. 19 May 2009.

Kinsel, Amy J. "Civil War photography." In Waugh, Joan, and Gary B. Nash, eds. Encyclopedia of American History: Civil War and Reconstruction, 1856 to 1869, vol. 5.
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