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Mathew B. Brady Collection of Civil War Photographs
Pictures & Records
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Mathew B. Brady was already a well-known photographer when the Civil War began. He had studied under Samuel F. B. Morse and Louis Daguerre, the inventor of the daguerreotypy process. He opened a studio on Broadway in New York City in 1851, and another in Washington, DC, in 1856. He became famous for photographing notables, including presidents, generals, authors, and tycoons. His talent, combined with his early exposure to politics and the nation's capital, placed him in the right place at the right time when the war started in 1861.
Although Brady was known primarily as a portrait photographer in his early career, he had the foresight to understand the power of the camera in documenting an event as visually all-consuming as war. He coordinated a corps of photographers to work for him and document the war by taking the camera on the road. For the first time, the landscapes and horrors of battle could be seen anywhere, by anyone, with full comprehension that the images were very real.
The photos in this collection, taken by Brady and his crew of the decade's best photographers, are of battlefields, soldiers and officers, the living and the dead, scarred landscapes, and cities burned and bombed by invading troops. They portray the horrors of war's carnage and give us our only clear images of life in camp. When Brady displayed photos of the corpses at Antietem in his New York gallery, the shock reverberated through the north as words never could.
Through his work during the Civil War, Brady is sometimes referred to as the father of photojournalism. Others contributing to this collection are Timothy H O'Sullivan and Alexander Gardner, talented photographers in their own right. It is often their photographs that are attributed to Brady and ultimately helped make him famous.
Here are a few unsubstantiated quotes discovered while researching this publication.
Brady: "The camera is the eye of history."
Lincoln: "Make no mistake, gentlemen, Brady made me President!"
Using the collection
The photos are arranged by photo number, in the order presented by NARA in the original microfilm.
If you have a particular name, place, or event you wish to find photos for, use the search box, directly under the Brady Civil War Photos browse menu. Use common search techniques by typing the word, a combination of words, or words within quotation marks to narrow your search.
For example, typing Abraham Lincoln in the box, produces 24 hits, including photos in which the president is identified, but also photos of other men named Abraham or Lincoln. Typing "Abraham Lincoln" (within quotes) produces two hits. As another example if you're interested in seeing photos of Atlanta, Georgia, after it was devastated, typing ruins Atlanta in the search box yields 69 results, including photos of other places in ruins. Try "ruins Atlanta" (within quotes) to find one photo of a ruined railroad roundhouse in 1864 Atlanta.
When viewing a photo, you may find additional information of historic interest.
Example: Written beside this photo of Major Placidus Ord, is a description which provides an interesting historical note to the photo taken at the mansion formerly occupied by Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia. It reads that "In the window is the table upon which the surrender of Gen R.E. Lee's Army was signed."
From 4 rolls of microfilm
Civil War Collection
Read more about the entire collection of Civil War titles available at Fold3, including records of the Southern Claims Commission and pension files. Or, go directly to the Civil War browse menu and select a title.
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Explore the Mathew B. Brady Collection of Civil War Photographs by using the search or browse features here.