The Role of Photography

Have you ever heard the saying “I learn something new every day”?  I had to hire the best roofing contractor Homewood AL has to offer because of the recent storms in the area. He was using a drone to take photographs of my roof and apparently he is a novice photographer on the side. I told him about how my side project is to research and write about the Civil War and he mentioned that it wasn’t until the Civil War period that photography was used to capture iconic war images of battlefields, armies, and the difficult times of that era.  This conversation with him sparked my curiosity about the use of photographs during the Civil War, so I decided to research the subject a little bit further.

One interesting fact is that both the Confederate and Union armies hired photographers to capture visions of the Civil War in photographs.  The cameras the photographers used were heavy and had a much longer shutter function than cameras today; therefore, most images were taken on the battlefields after the battles were finished.  Due to the nature of the cameras that were available at that time, action shots were practically impossible to capture on film.

One of the most famous, original photographers was a man named Mathew B. Brady.  (His name, Mathew, is actually spelled with one “t”, unlike the more common spelling of Matthew, with two “t’s”).  Mr. Brady had camera equipment and a darkroom, for developing film, that was mobile and relatively easy to tote around to onsite places.  This allowed him and his team of photographers to take pictures of battlefields, army camps, and military personnel at various locations.  Once their photos were printed, this allowed the general public the chance to see war photos for the first time ever.

Thousands of Civil War photos were available for the public to see.  There were also portraits taken of military generals and politicians.  These war photographs changed the viewpoints of many civilians, as they could now visualize causalities of war, the carnage of the battlefields, or the poor conditions of temporary hospitals where soldiers were treated after battles. 

There are many moments of Civil War history that we have learned through the use of photo-journalism.  The photos of the Civil War mark a period in United States’ history that changed everything about how our country developed from that point forward.

It is quite interesting to study these photos today, and imagine what life during the Civil War time period must have been like.  For most of us today, this may be too much to comprehend.