An early and enthusiastic student of photography, Mathew Brady (c. 1823–1896) had established his own daguerreotype studio in New York City by 1844. In 1858 he opened a second studio, the National Photographic Art Gallery, in Washington, DC, placing his talented employee, Scotland-born photographer Alexander Gardner (1821–1882), in charge of the Washington establishment while Brady himself commuted between the two cities. At the outbreak of the American Civil War in April 1861, Brady (almost certainly with Gardner’s able assistance) organized a corps of photographers to cover the conflict, securing permits from the Union authorities to make this possible. To broaden the scope of his war coverage, Brady also purchased the work of other cameramen in the field. Although it is uncertain how many Civil War field photos Brady took himself—probably not many—he was indisputably a catalyst in creating a priceless photographic record of the war.
The images in this book of postcards include some of Brady’s own portraits of prominent Civil War figures (including Abraham Lincoln and Confederate agent Rose O’Neal Greenhow) as well as images created by photographers who worked for, and were influenced by, Brady. Most prominent among them are Alexander Gardner, who left Brady to establish his own studio in 1863, and Timothy H. O’Sullivan (c. 1840–1882), who worked for Brady and later worked with Gardner. Gardner is credited with three-quarters of the known photographs of the Army of the Potomac, the main Union force in the Eastern Theater of operations; his name is associated with some of the most famous Civil War photographs, including those taken during President Lincoln’s visit to General George B. McClellan at Antietam in October 1862, one of which is featured here. O’Sullivan’s work includes immediate post-clash coverage of the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as well as many photos taken throughout combat-torn Virginia and in the Union-occupied area of South Carolina, where he recorded images of newly liberated slaves.
A tribute to Brady and the invaluable photographic record he was instrumental in creating, the thirty images in this book—all of them drawn from the vast Civil War photography collections in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress—provide compelling windows into the most rending conflict in American history.