Civil War Spotlight: Mathew Brady

Posted: July 5, 2017 in Civil War Spotlight
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The Civil War was the first major conflict in which photography was extensively used. Photography was a relatively new invention, only in existence approximately thirty years before the Civil War began.

One of the most famous photographers of the war was Mathew Brady. Mathew Brady’s New York City and Washington D.C. studios, which he began in the 1840s, soon became very well-known. It did not take long for Brady’s name to become synonymous with the growing popularity of photography.

Image result for photo of mathew brady

Mathew Brady

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

By the time of the Civil War, Brady had nearly lost his sight. Many of the photographs attributed to him were actually taken by his assistants. Some of the most well-known photographs from the Civil War were taken by Mathew Brady and two of his assistants, Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan.

The power of photography was fully realized after the Battle of Antietam. Mathew Brady and his assistants took vivid photographs of the battlefield and Confederate dead. One month later, Brady opened an exhibition in New York City showing the horrors of war through his images.
A viewer of the exhibit wrote, “If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards, he has done something very like it.”

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

After the war, Mathew Brady was suffering financial hardship, so he sold his collection to the U.S. Government. This decision was key in ensuring the preservation of the photographs for future generations. Civil War photography has had two major impacts. The first great impact is that the Civil War was the beginning of battlefield photography. In every major conflict involving America since the Civil War, photography has been used. Battlefield photography has caused history to be documented and preserved in a unique way. The second impact is that photography thoroughly documented the people and places involved in the most crucial period of American history. The work of pioneering photographer Mathew Brady is one of the main reasons for the development and scope of wartime photography today.

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