Mathew Brady was one of the most prolific photographers of the nineteenth century, creating visual documentation of the Civil War period. While Mathew Brady’s exact birth-date in Warren County, NY is unknown (circa 1822 – 1824), this year marks the beginning of the commemoration of Brady’s 200th birthday.
During the Civil War, Brady and his associates – notably Alexander Gardner, George Barnard, and Timothy O’Sullivan – traveled throughout the eastern part of the country and produced several thousand photographs, capturing the effects of the War through photographs of people, towns, and battlefields. Additionally, Brady kept studios in Washington, DC and the city of New York, where many influential politicians and war heroes sat for portraits.
The National Archives has digitized over 6,000 images from the series Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes. Although many photos in the National Archives are attributed to Brady, many were taken by others under his supervision. When Brady published photographs from his collection, he credited them with his own name whether or not he actually took the photograph.
These images can be viewed in the National Archives Catalog and on their Flickr page, organized into topical sets such as Civil War Entrenchments and Defenses, Lincoln’s Cabinet, and Union and Confederate Generals. Most major battles are represented in the sets, as well as Women of the Civil War.
Their images depict the multiple aspects of the war except one crucial element: battle. Photographs show camp life, routines, war preparations, the moments just prior to battle, and the aftermath of battle. The primitive technology of photography required that subjects be still at the moment the camera’s shutter snapped. Battle scenes are, therefore, missing from the record of history of this era. Learn more on the Educator Resources page and on DocsTeach.
Photos, from above: transport between decks on steamer; and Deck of monitor on James River, Va by Matthew Brady.
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