Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865, contains 1,118 photographs which feature Civil War encampments, battlefields, and portraits (including Lincoln, Lee, and Grant) as captured by Mathew Brady and his staff of photographers. Brady's photography exhibits marked the first time Americans witnessed the carnage of war in their homeland.
These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.
These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection, although they may not be all-encompassing.
- The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
Related Collections and Exhibits
These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.
- The Abraham Lincoln Papers
- African American Odyssey
- African American Perspectives, 1818-1907
- American Life Histories, 1936-1940
- Civil War Maps
- Civil War Treasures from the New York Historical Society
- The Gettysburg Address
- The Hotchkiss Map Collection
- Taking the Long View, 1851-1991
- Walt Whitman Notebooks, 1847-1860s
- Words & Deeds in American History
Recommended additional sources of information.
For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.
The Civil War Photographs collection presents strong visual information about the course and character of the Civil War. Many of these photographs are rich with visual data that documents an important period in the history of the United States.
1) The majority of the pictures are of soldiers and officers, well-known and unfamiliar, sitting for portraits and in the course of performing their duties. Soldiers are shown loading weapons, standing in units, playing games, attending meetings, attending to the sick and wounded, burying dead.
Search on the names of famous army leaders, such as Grant, Lee, and Sherman. Search on soldiers for photographs such as:
"Portraits of a group of Federal soldiers [between 1860 and 1865]"
2) There are pictures of battlefields throughout the collection.
Search on the word battlefield, or on specific battles such as Antietam, Bull Run, and Cold Harbor. Search on Gettysburg for photographs such as:
"Incidents of the War" [ca. 1865]
3) There are photographs from various War campaigns throughout the collection.
Search on the word campaign or on specific Civil War campaigns. For example, search on The Wilderness Campaign for photographs such as:
"Fredericksburg, Va. Soldiers filling canteens" [1864 May]
4) Women appear infrequently, but the photographs suggest that women played a role in an organization called the US Sanitary Commission, which may have operated something like the Red Cross.
Search on women for photographs such as:
"Fredericksburg, Va. Nurses and officers of the U.S. Sanitary Commission" [1864 May]
5) Some photographs highlight industrialization and the technology used during the Civil War.
Search on guns, artillery, railroads, and bridges. For example, search on railroad for photographs such as:
"Richmond, Va., Damaged locomotives" 
6) The uncertain status of runaway slaves who escaped to the North is highlighted in a few pictures. In these photographs, the African-American subjects are captioned "contraband."
Search on black, colored, Negro, slavery, and contraband for photographs of African Americans. Search on contraband for photographs such as:
"Culpeper, Va., African-American contrabands at leisure" [1863 November]
1) Chronological Thinking
Students can use the photograph collection as a springboard for learning about causes and results of the Civil War. Pictures of events surrounding Lincoln's assassination can lead students to study circumstances and effects of the assassination. Using photographs showing the fate of conspirators in Lincoln's assassination, students can compare the Civil War justice system with crime and punishment today.
Search on assassination, conspirator, funeral,and Lincoln.
2) Historical Comprehension
Many photographs in the collection document contemporary lifestyle of the 1860s, in connection with the War and in general. Students can study structures in cities and small towns. For example, students can review photographs of Atlanta during Sherman's occupation. Students can compare building sizes, styles, and types in Civil War Atlanta to buildings in present day Atlanta.
Search on names of cities and towns, such as Atlanta.
3) Historical Analysis and Interpretation
Using this collection, students can begin to understand that photographers bring a point of view to their photographs. For example, the collection contains more photographs of Union (Federal) soldiers than Confederate. Students might be asked to:
Search on the words Union and Federal (404 hits) and Confederate (107 hits), and then make a hypothesis about why there are more pictures of Northern personnel and activities. Students might then use other sources to confirm or refute their hypotheses.
4) Historical Research Capabilities
Students can use the collection as a basis for research. For example, students might formulate a hypothesis to explain differences in style of dress and grooming among soldiers and armies. They might examine differences in uniforms between officers and enlisted men, and among different brigades. For example, the Zouaves of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry have uniforms that imitate the French infantry in Algeria. Students also may discover that some African American troops wear uniforms, but others with the Federal army do not. Using other sources, students can research reasons for differences in dress, and compare Civil War army dress to U.S. military dress codes today.
Search on soldiers, infantry, officer, company, and the names of specific army companies, such as Zouaves.
5) Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making
Students can use the photographs to study how people of the 1860s solved problems using the resources at hand. The photographs document peacetime and wartime technology. Students also can explore security measures of the time. They might find examples of breastworks built to fortify positions, blockhouses built to provide secure firing positions, signal towers, hot air balloons, and forts reinforced with gabions (wickerwork cylinders filled with earth) or even bales of cotton. Students can compare Civil War fortifications with those available today.
Search on balloon, bridge, breastworks, building, carriage, fortification, photographer, tent, tower, and wagon.
Arts & Humanities
Examples of language arts materials that can enhance a Civil War unit using Civil War Photographs include:
- Documents: "The Emancipation Proclamation"
- Novels: Across Five Aprils; An Occurrence at Owl Creek; The Red Badge of Courage
- Poetry: Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman
- Songs: "Dixie" and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"
- Speeches and Articles from abolitionists: Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison
- Spirituals: "Follow the Drinking Gourd" and "Go Down, Moses"
- Short Stories: Mark Twain
Photographs from Civil War Photographs can be used to support language arts teaching in the following ways:
Students can use photographs from the collection to illustrate stories, poems, songs, or first person narratives about the Civil War. Students can then describe reasons why they chose their particular photographs to illustrate the language arts selections.
2) Setting the Scene
The photographs can help students visualize the period in which Civil War stories are set. Students can study what soldiers looked like and what their living conditions were. They can examine towns, cities, battlefields, and camps during the War.
3) Creative Writing
After reading about the Civil War, students can review portraits of soldiers of different ages, ranks, and loyalties. Students can then write a piece from the point-of-view of one of the soldiers, using other photographs as illustrations. Students can be encouraged to write captions, journal entries, short stories, letters, diaries, or autobiographical sketches of subjects in the photographs. Students can then proof read and revise their draft writings.