Summary

Photographer famous for his portraits and for working with a corps of photographers to capture the Civil War.

Birth:
18 May 1822 1
Warren County, NY 1
Death:
15 Jan 1896 1
New York City, NY 1
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Pictures & Records (13)

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Brady, Mathew
Brady, Mathew
B-1229 Mr. M.B. Brady, Photographer.
B-1229 Mr. M.B. Brady, Photographer.
B-1074 M.B. Brady, Photographer.
B-1074 M.B. Brady, Photographer.
Page 1
Page 1
Page 155
Page 155
B-6346 Photograph of President Abraham Lincoln
B-6346 Photograph of President Abraham Lincoln
B-4246 President Lincoln
B-4246 President Lincoln
B-5153 Jefferson Davis President of Confederate
B-5153 Jefferson Davis President of Confederate
B-349 Wounded soldiers under trees, Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg. After the battle of Spotsylvania, 1864.
B-349 Wounded soldiers under trees, Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg. After the battle of Spotsylvania, 1864.
B-36 Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant Standing by a Tree in Front of a Tent, Cold Harbor, Virginia.
B-36 Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant Standing by a Tree in Front of a Tent, Cold Harbor, Virginia.
B-1564 Robert E Lee
B-1564 Robert E Lee
B-1867 General Jackson
B-1867 General Jackson
B-2860 Major General William T Sherman
B-2860 Major General William T Sherman

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Personal Details

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Person:
Mathew B. Brady 2
Mathew Brady 3
Age in 1860: 35 3
Birth:
18 May 1822 1
Warren County, NY 1
Male 1
Birth:
c. 1823 4
Warren County, New York 4
Male 4
Birth:
Ireland 3
Male 3
Estimated Birth Year: 1825 3
Death:
15 Jan 1896 1
New York City, NY 1
Burial:
Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. 1
Residence:
Place: Richmond County, New York 3
From: 1860 3
Minor Civil Division: The Town Of Middleton 3
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Birth:
Mother: Julia Brady 5
Father: Andrew Brady 5
Marriage:
Juliette (Julia) Elizabeth Handy 5
1851 6
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Quote:
"I had to go. A spirit in my feet said 'Go,' and I went." 6
Occupation:
Photographer 3

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Stories

"A spirit in my feet said ‘Go,’ and I went.”

Mathew Brady dedicated his life to photographing the Civil War. At his death in 1896 he was penniless and unappreciated. Now, over a century later, his negatives are prized mementos of a defining time in our country’s history.

As a young man, Mathew Brady moved to New York City and began working as a jewelry case maker. During this time he was introduced to the inventor Samuel Morse, who showed Brady the daguerreotype photo process.

Soon after this, Brady’s interest and affinity toward photography soared. He opened his own studio in 1844, and by the next year began exhibiting his portraits of famous Americans. Soon enough, Brady had become one of America’s most well-known photographers. In 1856 he opened a new studio in Washington D. C., a better location for photographing prominent leaders, both American and foreign.

At the height of his popularity as a portrait photographer, Brady turned his attention to the Civil War. He organized a corps of photographers to sally forth with the soldiers, taking photographs of their camps, generals, and troops. Friends warned him of the dangers of being so close to the action of battle, but he persisted anyway, saying, “I had to go. A spirit in my feet said ‘Go,’ and I went.”

Though many photographs from this war are attributed to Brady, he usually only personally photographed the most prominent subjects while his troop of photographers did the rest. Brady worked more as a project manager, supervising the group, preserving their negatives, and buying other negatives to make his collection as comprehensive as possible.

Brady’s Civil War photographs captured the true devastation of the war, bringing the terribly reality of the conflict to many Americans living comfortably away from the fronts. Then, suddenly, the fighting was over, and interest in Brady’s images vanished. Who wanted to see the violence and death of a finished war, still so fresh in the people’s minds?

Brady had thrown everything he had into creating his Civil War photos, including a rather sizable fortune. He had anticipated that the government would want his collection of negatives, but they declined. With no one purchasing his photos, Brady fell into bankruptcy and was essentially forgotten.

Mathew Brady

Mathew B. Brady first became interested in photography in 1839 after meeting Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph. After meeting Louis Jacques Daguerre, the inventor of the daguerreotype, Morse opened a studio in New York City at which he also offered classes and Brady was one of his first students. 

In 1844 Brady opened his own photography studio and quickly made a name for himself by taking photographs of famous Americans and exhibiting them. In 1849 Brady moved his studio to Washington, D.C. and throughout the 1850s experimented with different styles of photography. 

When the Civil War broke out Brady became enraptured with the idea of documenting the war and requested permission to do so from Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln agreed to Brady's request with the provision that he fund the effort himself. Brady agreed and set out to capture the war in photographs. He employed more than a score of men, including Alexander Gardner and George Barnard, to accomplish this feat and his photographers capture over 10,000 images during the course of the war.

Brady himself spent most of his time in Washington organizing his assistants and the photographs they submitted, rarely visiting the battlefields himself. This may have been due to his eyesight, which had begun deteriorating several years earlier. Brady's most famous exhibition from the war was entitled "The Dead at Antietam," which featured numerous photographs of corpses on the battlefield and brought the war home to the American people in a way not previously seen. 

All in all, Brady spent over $100,000 to document the war, expecting the government to purchase the photos after the war concluded. However the government refused, offering in 1875 to pay Brady only $75,000 for the prints. This pushed Brady into bankruptcy and he was forced to sell his studio. Mathew Brady died penniless and alone in a charity ward in 1896.

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