Civil War Photography

By: Valeria Guillen

Photography During The Civil War

While photographs of earlier conflicts do exist, the American Civil War is considered the first major conflict to be extensively photographed. Not only did intrepid photographers venture onto the fields of battle, but those very images were then widely displayed and sold in ever larger quantities nationwide.

Photography during the Civil War, especially for those who ventured out to the battlefields with their cameras, was a difficult and time consuming process. Photographers had to carry all of their heavy equipment, including their darkroom, by wagon. They also had to be prepared to process cumbersome light-sensitive images in cramped wagons.

How was photography from then diffrent from now?

Today pictures are taken and stored digitally, but in 1861, the newest technology was wet-plate photography, a process in which an image is captured on chemically coated pieces of plate glass. This was a complicated process done exclusively by photographic professionals.

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What impact did photography have on the war?

Historians say that photography changed the war in several ways. It allowed families to have a keepsake representation of their fathers or sons as they were away from home. Photography also enhanced the image of political figures like President Lincoln, who famously joked that he wouldn't have been re-elected without the portrait of him taken by photographer Matthew Brady.

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