Monday, June 28, 2010

Civil War Photos

The U.S. National Archives is on Flickr, and has several collections available for public viewing, including a large selection of photographs by Mathew Brady who was, with his studio,was one of the most prolific photographers of the 19th century. His images have appeared in countless books and are part of the public consciousness of the Civil War.

He photographed everyone from Abraham Lincoln to John Quincy Adams, Ulysses S. Grant, Ambrose Burnside, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. His extensive portfolio has been essential to our understanding of the Civil War.

Bradly rarely left Washington, but engaged photographers from his studio to photograph scenes from the Civil War. In 1862 he opened an exhibition of images from the Battle of Antietam entitled "The Dead of Antietam." Many images were extremely graphic, but were new to an American audience whose usual encounters with the realities of war usually were softened by the traditional use of "artists' impressions" in most publications. 

He photographed 18 presidents from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley. Harrison was the only president he did not photograph during this time. His photographs of Lincoln have been used for the $5 bill and the Lincoln penny. Lincoln's last known photographic portraits were taken by Bradly's employee Alexander Gardner in Washington, D.C. in 1865. 

Brady's studio generated around 10,000 plates during the war and he expected the government to purchase many of the photographs when the war ended, but was forced to file for bankruptcy when this expectation was not met. After the death of his wife and his own deteriorating eyesight, he died penniless in the charity ward of a New York hospital in 1896.

Teaching with Documents, from the National Archive:
http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/brady-photos/

Selected Mathew Brady Photographs:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/sets/72157622549882756/

The larger National Archives photostream:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/




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